The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson

Sometimes there are books you feel a duty to read out of fairness before passing judgment. Friends, it’s a noble thought, but let me tell you: I have read Eat, Pray, Love for this purpose, and it wasn’t worth it. Everything you think about that book is true — judge away. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, on the other hand keeps you reading and reading — even though your subway stop was three back and you’re late for work. Yes, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest was the one released in Summer 2010, but Dragon Tattoo is by far the best book in the trilogy, and the promise it holds is why you’ll slog through the other two. – JC

Super Sad True Love Story

by Gary Shteyngart

I never became emotionally involved in Super Sad’s characters, and when you don’t really care what happens to someone, it’s hard to travel 300-plus pages with him. The book was entertaining enough — hey, it’s not Freedom — but in reading some of Shteyngart’s lesser prophecies, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the author was making the joke just because he could — as if Shteyngart was reading over my shoulder, saying “See what I just did there?” Having just kind of slagged it, why have I included it here? The truth is, after finishing it, I’ve thought about this book a lot, and felt compelled to talk to a lot of people about it. The sociability of a book’s ideas is a different yardstick to measure by, but often the one that counts in the end. For a satiric work that prophesies America’s apocalypse, it’s absolutely essential. Super Sad is true and scary — so it must be doing something right. – JC

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is a wonderfully skilled stylist, but what puts him in the top league of writers is that he is purposeful in building on every aspect of the novel where lazier writers might fall back on two or three and pay lip service to the rest. Plot, characterization, historical accuracy, dialogue, and setting — check. Writing in English the words of a Japanese midwife speaking Dutch as she would have spoken it in 1799 is one summersault in the air too many for most writers. Yet Mitchell seems to pull it off with such ease that we forget he’s the one doing it. Thousand Autumns is what a novel is supposed to be. – JC

Light Lifting

by Alexander Macleod

All seven stories in this Giller nominated collection of short fiction are equally riveting. Macleod skillfully captures a variety of narrative voices, but his prose really triumphs in the description of physical exertion, which is portrayed in vivid and intricate detail. Physical activity becomes intertwined with sorrow, fear, love, and hope in Light Lifting, and Macleod explores these emotions with remarkable sensitivity. – BK

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

Oscar is an overweight science fiction nerd, an ardent lover of women, and an absolute romantic failure. The novel initially centers on his sexual frustration, but the focus shifts to his mother and sister, who, like Oscar, suffer from an ancient family curse. Diaz blends an erudite narrative voice with Spanish, street talk, and a smattering of geek-speak. The result is a portrayal of love and identity that is at once vibrant, funny, and tragic. – BK

Great House

by Nicole Krauss

Great House has none of the whimsy of Krauss’ best-selling novel, The History of Love, but it is just as richly imagined. Krauss delicately weaves together the narrative threads of four different characters who cannot escape the sadness of their past and who are all connected by an oversized desk that comes to symbolize their pain. – BK

We’ll get to them eventually: More of 2010’s important reads….

Mordecai: The Life and Times

by Charles Foran

Like many admirers of Mordecai Richler’s fiction, I find the author himself an intriguing personality. He was beloved as a writer, but notorious for the same irreverence and caustic wit that make his characters so damn likeable. One can see how this paradox alone would provide a solid basis for a fascinating biography. – BK


by Kathleen Winter

Set in a remote village in Labrador, Annabel explores the life of a child who was born a hermaphrodite and raised as a boy named Wayne. Despite his parents’ attempt to suppress the truth of his birth, Wayne cannot help but sense his sexual duality. Annabel has been nominated for a prestigious trio of Canadian awards (the Giller, Writers’ Trust and Governor General’s awards) and has garnered much critical acclaim for its exploration of gender and identity. – BK

Eating Animals

by Jonathan Safran Foer

As a longtime vegetarian, I am probably predisposed to like Eating Animals, which offers an unflinching portrayal of factory farming and commercial slaughterhouses. But I’m also curious to see how Safran Foer, a brilliant and popular fiction writer, tackles this very real, very unpalatable subject. If his novels are any indication, Eating Animals will be a bright, well-crafted read. – BK

The Four Fingers of Death

by Rick Moody

The year is 2025. Montese Crandall is hired to turn a novel out of B-movie horror schlock The Crawling Hand. It’s supposed to be funny. The New York Times called it “fast-and-loose-and-ambitious-as-Pynchon” and “rock-’n’-roll-dystopian.” I don’t know what “rock-’n’-roll-dystopian” means, but it sounds awfully dangerous and fun. – JC

Parrot & Olivier In America

by Peter Carey

It is written by Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda; True History of the Kelly Gang; My Life as a Fake; etc.). Olivier bears close resemblance to Alexis de Tocqueville. He is accompanied to America by Parrot, an English orphan and aspiring artist. Reviews have led me to believe that what ensues is a 19th-century road trip / feel-good comedy about best buds. – JC


by Tom McCarthy

For the longest time — until I started writing this right now, actually — I’ve had no clue what this book is about. What I do know is that you should never trust someone who says she doesn’t judge a book by its cover and I’ve felt this cover watching me as my back was turned every time I’ve stepped into a bookstore this fall. As it turns out, it’s about the life of a man named Serge, who is born in 1898. Generally speaking, the book’s theme is communication, or something. In its review, The Guardian compared McCarthy to James Joyce, and C was short-listed for the Man Booker. Not that any of that matters, because I’m going to read it anyway. – JC