Annual Book Guide 2001

From the 120,000 books published this year, we've arranged a retrospective show for discriminating readers.

First, let us recommend a few works that we found particularly captivating. The portraits in some of these novels are so realistic that the I's seem to follow you around the page. In the nonfiction gallery, you'll find titles that will change the way you frame the world. Further back, stroll among noteworthy books in a rich variety of styles.

Even novice collectors on a limited budget can acquire a masterpiece in this landscape of fine literary art. For the price of a single Rothko, you could buy every book here. But speculators in the unpredictable world of modern publishing are advised to pursue additional information on our website, where each of these abstracts is linked to a full review.

Take your time. The covers of this gallery never close.

Recommended Fiction

The Bay of Angels, by Anita Brookner, Random House, $23.95

Brookner's 20th elegant novel perfects an examination of loneliness that threatened to grow monotone in her last few books. The narrator is a compulsively analytical young woman named Zoe, who lives in quaint isolation on the margins of life. When a wealthy, older man falls in love with her widowed mother, Zoe's childhood fairy tales seem to come true. But when he suddenly dies and his affluence evaporates, Zoe finds the circumference of her own life begins to shrink toward the center of her mother's failing health. Brookner's wit glows like a kind of background radiation that charges everything here - even the tragedy. She has never been more compellingly brilliant. (April 19)

True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey, Knopf, $25

In this bracing narrative, Carey gives a voice to Ned Kelly, the outlaw who terrorized Australia in the 1870s. He tried to be good, but a barrage of dispiriting prejudice and harassment finally pushed him too far. Listening to Ned's breathless testimony to his infant daughter, you can't help but hope he'll somehow outrun the English landlords, the army of police, and even the record of history that insists he was hanged in prison at the age of 26. Carey has raised a national legend to the level of international myth. An avalanche of a novel that won this year's Booker Prize. (Jan. 18)

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, Atlantic Monthly, $24

Enger's first novel is a rich mixture of adventure, tragedy, and healing. The humble Land family lives in a small Minnesota town in the early 1960s. The father works as a janitor, but he also performs miraculous deeds. When Rubin, the asthmatic narrator, is 11, his strong-willed older brother kills a pair of cruel bullies and runs from the law. Guided only by their father's prayers, the family sets out to find him. Enger has written a novel that's boldly romantic and unabashedly appealing, a collage of legends from sources sacred and profane - from the Old Testament to the Old West, from the Gospels to police dramas. (Sept. 6)

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, By Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins, $26

In this novel of striking variety and imaginative power, Erdrich returns to the Ojibwe natives of North Dakota. Having lost everything, Agnes DeWitt steals the identity of a dead priest and walks into a community ravaged by disease and sapped by clever lumbermen. From the first mass she celebrates, Agnes is tested in body and spirit. For the next 80 years, only wholehearted devotion to the healing effect of forgiveness enables her to survive and bless these desperate people. The history of her life is a startling collection of stories that shift like seasons from tragedy to humor, legend, and mysticism. National Book Award nominee. (April 12)

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26

Bristling with energy and erudition, this omnivorous social comedy skewers a Midwestern family dealing with chronic dysfunction and illness. The Lamberts are a Norman Rockwell portrait in acidic hues. While the retired patriarch wrestles with Parkinson's disease, his wife throws herself into one last Christmas at home with their three adult children - each a facet of personal failure. In a wonderful sendup of biotech hype, Wall Street hucksterism, and pharmaceutical hubris, Franzen weaves the private tragedies of the Lambert family through a culture gassed up on the American promise of self-invention. National Book Award nominee. Oprah pick. Oprah unpick. (Sept. 13)

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo, Knopf, $25.95

The mills that caused Empire Falls, Maine, to mushroom have closed, but the Whiting family still owns the industrial husks and the tired souls of its inhabitants. One of these cowed citizens is Miles Roby. At 42, he's a college dropout whose wife is filing for divorce and whose dream of owning a restaurant may never be realized. But through it all, he's a good father and a loyal friend. Russo holds the fading culture of small-town life in a light that's both illuminating and searing. His novel captures the interplay of past and present, comedy and tragedy, nation and individual in the tradition of America's greatest books. (May 10)

Recommended nonfiction

Terrible Lizard, by Deborah Cadbury, Henry Holt, $27.50

The suggestion of a few maverick fossil hunters that creatures might somehow evolve into new species was not to be considered in 1822, when Gideon Mantell published his first book about dinosaurs. In the gentlemanly scientific society of Georgian London, only a very limited number of paying jobs existed for scientists. What one discovered or repressed could make or break a career. "Terrible Lizard" heats up as respected gentlemen fight like velociraptors to promote their ideas. In Cadbury's capable hands, we begin to understand the scale of the social, theological, and financial problems that early dinosaur hunters faced. And we witness the birth of the scientific understanding of the world. (May 31)

Constantine's Sword, by James Carroll, Houghton Mifflin, $28

In this magisterial and searching study, Carroll probes the dark question of the link between "ancient Christian hatred of Jews" and "the 20th century's murderous hatred that produced the death camps." The problem, he claims, begins with the Gospels, which present the Jews as responsible for the Crucifixion. Things became even worse when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Whereas previously, Christians had focused on Jesus' exemplary life and Resurrection, the center of the drama now became his Crucifixion and death. As a Roman Catholic, Carroll feels compelled to examine how the religion that means so much to him became tainted with anti-Semitism. (Feb. 22)

The Metaphysical Club, by Louis Menand, FSG, $27

The title of this eloquent biography of American thought comes from a group of men who met in 1872: Charles Peirce, a scientist and logician; Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Civil War hero who would serve on the Supreme Court; and William James, the future founder of American psychology. Along with John Dewey, who revolutionized education, these men proposed a new way of thinking called pragmatism. They came to believe that "ideas are not 'out there' waiting to be discovered, but are tools - like forks and knives and microchips - that people devise to cope with the world." The triumph of this book is its engaging demonstration of parallel developments in science and in philosophy. (June 21)

John Adams, by David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, $35

The second US president finally takes his place as a key actor in all the major events of his time. Adams successfully defended the British soldiers who fired the shots that resulted in the Boston Massacre; he was the strongest voice for independence in the Continental Congress; he served as ambassador at large during the Revolutionary War; he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris; he was indispensable to the founding of the American Navy; while president, he successfully resisted the calls for war with France - and in doing so, he probably defeated his reelection. The trick for McCullough is to analyze this massive amount of material and blend it into a seamless narrative. He does this beautifully. (May 31)

The Shaping of a Life, by Phyllis Tickle, Doubleday, $25.95

In this refreshing autobiography, a religion editor at Publishers Weekly describes her development from an ordinary child in Tennessee to an intelligent "intentional Christian," doctor's wife, and mother. Early on, she was self-consciously aware of the differences between what she saw and what is, the world of appearance and the issues of the soul. Throughout the whole, she traces the path of her unfolding relationship with God and the transforming influence of catching others in the vestibule of the spirit - of catching others at prayer. The book is also a study of the language and poetry of 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian culture within its literary, historical, liturgical, and prayerful contexts. (May 24)

Noteworthy fiction

Mercy Among the Children, by David Adams Richards, Arcade, $25.95

When a 12-year-old New Brunswick boy pushed his friend off a church roof, he swore to God that he would never harm another soul. That code is viciously tested in the years ahead. Richards has constructed a profoundly moving tragedy about the smoldering rage of poverty and the extraordinary cost of principled peace. Winner of Canada's Giller Prize. (Oct. 11)

The Hiding Place, by Trezza Azzopardi, Atlantic Monthly, $24

Dolores, the horribly burned daughter of a poor Maltese immigrant in Cardiff, Wales, delivers a series of delicately rendered scenes about her family's decay in the 1960s. Her hauntingly cool voice is the hybrid perspective of a child's innocence and an adult's irony. Despite the suffering in this book, a tenacious love beats beneath its surface. Booker Prize nominee. (Jan. 11)

The Clothes They Stood UP IN, by Alan Bennett, Random House, $14.95

When the Ransomes return from the opera one night, they discover burglars have stolen everything but the clothes they're standing in. Mr. Ransome immediately goes back to his daily routine (work, bath, Mozart, bath II, sleep), but Mrs. Ransome is left to re-create their home from scratch. The challenge forces her to rediscover the world and its ability to delight, even arouse her. The effect is always charming and often hilarious. (Feb. 15)

The Ash Garden, by Dennis Bock, Knopf, $23

This story observes the delicate interaction of three lives seared by World War II in profoundly different ways: a young girl from Hiroshima, an early atomic- bomb scientist, and a Jewish refugee from Europe. Each presents a face of thoughtful composure, but inside, they burn with anger, guilt, or remorse. What makes the novel so compelling, though, is its emotional restraint. (Sept. 27)

Carry Me Across the Water, by Ethan Canin, Random House, $23.95

August fled the Nazis, fought in the Pacific, raised a family, resisted the mob, told off Lyndon Johnson, and retired rich. What makes his life fascinating is Canin's treatment - a series of short moments that glide back and forth as effortlessly as memory. In the twilight of his life, August bravely contemplates how to repent for doing his duty, how to gain forgiveness from a victim long dead. (May 17)

The Constant Gardner, by John le Carré, Scribner, $28

When the widower of a murdered philanthropist begins investigating his wife's death, he becomes a target of the British government and a giant pharmaceutical company that's been using Africa as a testing ground for experimental drugs. As always, le Carré delineates a global thicket of corruption, but most of the villains here are conflicted people participating in a system that rewards their sins by disposing of them far away. (Dec. 7, 2000)

The Deadwood Beetle, by Mylene Dressler, BlueHen, $23.95

Tristan Martens notices his mother's sewing table in an antique store. As a child in Holland, he had carved on it the words: "When the Jews are gone, we will be the next ones." The idea of it sitting in a store as an embodiment of sympathetic solidarity is a misrepresentation that horrifies him. A haunting story about an old man's search for forgiveness. (Aug. 23)

Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, MacAdam/Cage, $22

Dunn has produced something between a crossword puzzle and a political allegory. The Nollopians are followers of Nevin Nollop, who wrote the pangram: "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Trouble starts when the letter Z falls from his monument. The council announces: "The letter Z should be utterly excised from our communal vocabulary!" Other letters follow. (Oct. 4)

Death of a River Guide, by Richard Flanagan, Grove, $24

This spectacular story takes place during the four or five minutes it takes Aljaz Cosini to drown. While his lungs fill with water, his mind surges with memories - not just his own, but visions that swirl through 200 years of ancestral struggle on the island of Tasmania, all the way back to the crime that blended his white and Aboriginal blood. (March 8)

The Columnist, by Jeffrey Frank, Simon & Schuster, $22

Encouraged by George Bush (the elder), a pompous journalist writes his memoirs, inadvertently revealing his insatiable desire for fame and sex. Brandon Sladder waxes eloquent in phrases drenched in grandiosity, hackneyed metaphors, and sentimental clichés. A viciously funny satire that puts real-life columnists on notice. (June 7)

Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold, Hyperion, $24.95

Charles Carter, who billed himself as "Carter the Great," amazed audiences during the same time Harry Houdini was escaping from handcuffs and safes. In a book full of conjurers, Gold emerges as the best magician of all, pulling surprises out of his hat throughout this wildly entertaining story, which captures America in a moment of change and wonder. (Sept. 20)

Paradise Park, by Allegra Goodman, Dial Press, $24.95

Through all her dead-end jobs, drugs, and boyfriends, something much deeper keeps pulling at Sharon. When she sees God on a whale watch, she sets off to find Him like a bargain shopper at the Mall of America. With an unconscious sense of humor, she's endearing even when she's most self-righteous, throwing herself into one faith after another. A celebration of the incredible way "all things work together for good to them that love God." (March 1)

How To Be Good, by Nick Hornby, Riverhead, $24.95

A comic story that twists our moral fiber to the breaking point. Katie is a hard-working doctor and a loving mother. But she's unhappily married to a bitter, acerbic man. On a whim, he gets involved with a spiritual healer and decides to be good. In every way. All the time. Who could live with that? (July 5)

Everything You Need, by A.L. Kennedy, Knopf, $25.95

This strikingly odd story revolves around two related activities: writing and parenting. A misanthropic pulp novelist has arranged to bring his 19-year-old daughter to his writers' colony off the coast of Wales. But she doesn't know he's still alive. Kennedy is a novelist of extraordinary emotional breadth, as willing to be sweet and sentimental as she is to be coarse and repellent. (July 19)

Ex-Libris, by Ross King, Walker, $26

As soon as a nearsighted, club-footed, asthmatic stationer in London in 1660 begins looking for a mysterious book, thieves and murderers begin looking for him. It's an outrageously convoluted descent into codebreaking, disguises, poisons, potions, cemeteries, ancient wisdom, and forbidden magic, all drawn through King's extraordinary knowledge of the 17th century. The spawn of Edgar Allan Poe and the Encyclopedia Britannica. (March 15)

The Grand Complication, by Allen Kurzweil, Hyperion, $24.95

The adventure begins for reference librarian Alexander Short when a gracious old man asks him to find a book called "Secret Compartments in Eighteenth-Century Furniture." Soon, Alexander is spying, disguising, and stealing his way toward the world's most complicated watch, a Breguet made for Marie Antoinette. A rollicking, witty suspense tale set in the New York Public Library. (Aug. 9)

Thinks..., by David Lodge, Viking, $24.95

In the university setting Lodge satirizes so well, this anti-love story concentrates on the mind, the brain, and the mystery of thought - "the last frontier of scientific enquiry." When a charismatic leader in the field of artificial intelligence has an affair with a novelist, their cerebral jousting and sexual antics are revealed in chapters from different points of view. The effect is a kind of intellectual and moral vertigo. (May 31)

Half a Life, by V.S. Naipaul, Knopf, $24

An Indian man runs to London to escape his father's hypocrisy and construct a past that will impress his fellow students. But the social rules there are no less complex than the rigid caste system he left behind. Written with the haunting efficiency of an ancient legend - a brisk accumulation of simple actions and conversations that accrue to build something powerful and unsettling. Naipaul won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. (Oct. 25)

I, Roger Williams, by Mary Lee Settle, Norton, $24.95

Branded a traitor, a heretic, an Indian lover, even "divinely mad," the founder of Rhode Island smelted his ideas about the primacy of conscience in the flames of England's religious controversy. In re-creating him, Settle demonstrates remarkable fidelity to his passionate voice. (May 24)

Noteworthy nonfiction

Far Appalachia, by Noah Adams, Delacorte, $23.95

The host of NPR's "All Things Considered" took a year to explore Appalachia's little-known New River. An enchanting portrait of one of America's most depressed regions. (April 12)

Wild Blue, by Stephen Ambrose,

Simon & Schuster, $26

Ambrose's latest chronicles the lives of bomber pilots who flew bulky B-24 Liberators. The story comes alive when he focuses on lanky young George McGovern, later a US senator and presidential candidate. (Aug. 9)

American Chica, by Marie Arana,

Dial, $23.95

Daughter of a Peruvian father and an American mother, Arana grew up in both cultures. This memoir struggles to make sense of that dual identity. National Book Award nominee. (May 17)

Double Fold, by Nicholson Baker, Random House, $25.95

Most of the world's libraries have been destroying their bound newspapers and brittle books in the process of "preserving" them on microfilm. Baker claims much is being lost in translation. (April 5)

Give Me That Online Religion, by Brenda Brasher, Jossey-Bass, $24.95

More than a million Internet sites draw seekers to diverse expressions of religion, testifying to the spiritual impulse among those not interested in traditional worship. (May 24)

An Hour Before Daylight, by Jimmy Carter, Simon & Schuster, $26

The former president led a childhood characterized by Depression-era simplicity and hard work. Blessed with a keen memory, he reveals a complex world. (Jan. 11)

God's Name in Vain, by Stephen Carter, Basic, $26

A leading legal scholar claims it's right for religious people to be involved in politics. But religions, he says, lose their "spiritual selves" when they stoop to political activism. (Dec. 28, 2000)

The Coming Collapse of China, by Gordon Chang, Random House, $26.95

Contrary to warnings that Beijing will project its military and trading might, Chang focuses on China's political and economic weaknesses. He finds ample grounds to predict a meltdown of the Communist regime. (Aug. 2)

Christianity: A Global History, by David Chidester, HarperSanFrancisco, $32

This history of Christianity covers its doctrines from Jesus up to the year 600, the practices of Roman and Eastern churches through the Reformation, and the spread of Christianity around the globe. (Dec. 28, 2000)

A New Religious America, by Diana Eck, HarperCollins, $27

The American story of religious freedom continues to involve a proliferation of faiths and a redrawing of the religious landscape. (July 26)

Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, Metropolitan, $23

An acclaimed author with a PhD cleans houses, waits on tables, and works as a Wal-Mart sales clerk to give a ground-level view of life in the working-class trenches. (July 12)

How to Use Your Eyes, by James Elkins, Routledge, $28

This gorgeous coffee-table book offers a compelling invitation to really look at things we too often take for granted. (Nov. 30, 2000)

Aquagenesis, by Richard Ellis, Viking, $25.95

A dazzling tour de force that combines deep insights of evolutionary biology, marine biology, and paleontology to trace the evolution of life in the sea. (Nov. 1)

To An Unknown God, by Garrett Epps, St. Martin's, $24.95

In 1990, a landmark Supreme Court case on the use of peyote by native Americans diminished religious rights for all citizens of the United States. (Feb. 22)

The Granite Kiss, by Kevin Gardner, Countryman, $27.95

Gardner helps us see (and even build) New England's beautiful stone walls. A Thoreauvian do-it-yourself guide. (Nov. 1)

A World Made New, by Mary Ann Glendon, Random House, $25.95

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has served as an inspiration for people all over the world. This fascinating story is also a reminder of the key role Eleanor Roosevelt played as a delegate at the UN. (March 8)

Heart, by Gail Godwin, Wm Morrow, $24

"We must develop a new consciousness of the heart," Godwin urges in this idiosyncratic survey of "the ways we've imagined the heart through time in myth and art and popular culture." (Feb. 22)

War in a Time of Peace, by David Halberstam, Scribner, $28

Halberstam examines American foreign and military policy of the 1990s, emphasizing the experience and personalities of key players in a post-Vietnam era. Everywhere he looks, he finds "ghosts of Vietnam." (Sept. 13)

Four Wings and a Prayer, by Sue Halpern, Pantheon, $23

This story of the monarch butterfly's migratory journey suggests that the best way to know natural phenomena is to look from many perspectives - aesthetics, science, and mythology. (June 7)

Dogs and Demons, by Alex Kerr, Hill & Wang, $27

Japan functions on a set of outmoded principles, like its policy of "poor people, strong state," which subordinates the quality of life in order to challenge the world with industrial power. (May 3)

Our Vietnam, by A.J. Langguth, Simon & Schuster, $35

An enormous and compelling history of America's involvement in Vietnam, and a collection of character portraits that beats most bestselling fiction. (March 29)

Next: The Future Just Happened, by Michael Lewis, Norton, $23.95

Following several entrepreneurs, Lewis shows how the Internet is shaping society, not always as we hoped. (July 19)

Nature Loves to Hide, by Shimon Malin, Oxford, $27.50

A physicist claims that scientific discoveries require a new view of reality, more like what religious seers report. (July 26)

Germs, by Judith Miller, et al, Simon & Schuster, $27

This tragically timely book by three New York Times reporters covers bioterror attacks in the US and Japan; American, Soviet, and Iraqi biological weaponry; and the debate over vaccinating soldiers against anthrax. (Sept. 27)

The Mystery of Courage, by William Miller, Harvard, $31.50

An absorbing cultural investigation into the nature of courage. (Dec. 21, 2000)

Long Shadows, by Emma Paris, Bloomsbury, $27.50

Paris examines how tragic periods of history are remembered through special ethnocentric filters. (June 7)

Landscapes of the Soul, by Douglas Porpora, Oxford, $27.50

Many say they believe in God, yet they remain emotionally unmoored from God and morally adrift. The remedy is to take God (in whatever form) into our hearts. (July 26)

An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, by Chet Raymo, Walker, $26

Sky maps, diagrams of constellations, and magnificent photos from deep space help Raymo make us feel at home in a universe of 100 billion galaxies. (June 28)

Richard Wright, by Hazel Rowley, Henry Holt, $35

A biography of the African-American novelist who mythologized the marginal man and, by the last decade of his life, found himself without a home. (Aug. 30)

The Tapir's Morning Bath, by Elizabeth Royte, Houghton Mifflin, $25

A journalist follows field biologists into the Panamanian rain forest to figure out what drives them. (Sept. 13)

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, Houghton Mifflin, $25

Schlosser examines meatpacking plants, flavor-engineering factories, and fields of cows in this scathing expose of the social costs of fast food. (Feb. 1)

Why Religion Matters, by Huston Smith, HarperSanFrancisco, $25

A legendary scholar of world religion attacks the modern belief that the scientific method is the most reliable path to truth and that, at best, God is a moderately useful placebo. (Dec. 28, 2000), by Cass Sunstein, Princeton, $19.95

Democracy is challenged when new technology allows each of us to receive "filtered" versions of reality. The Internet should be made more responsible to the needs of community. (March 15)

Return to Reason, by Stephen Toulmin, Harvard, $24.95

A philosopher calls for "reflective practitioners," people more willing to be reasonable than strictly rational. His concept of reasonableness stems from "knack, the instinctive knowledge of cooks and baseball players." (Aug. 16)

The Modern Mind, by Peter Watson, HarperCollins, $40

The 20th century was about "coming to terms with science." It not only changed the things we think about, but the ways we think about those things. (March 15)

The Force of Spirit, by Scott Russell Sanders, Beacon, $22

Whether writing about organic farming, the importance of storytelling, carpentry, old age, or his first Bible, Sanders speaks in these essays with gentle, but penetrating insight. (Dec. 14, 2000)

Reverence, by Paul Woodruff, Oxford, $19.95

A philosopher revives an appreciation for reverence in a culture that celebrates irreverence, and rescues the idea of virtue from its proponents on the right and its opponents on the left. (Oct. 4)

Hans Christian Andersen, by Jackie Wullschlager, Knopf, $30

Wullschlager's biography shows how Andersen transformed the fairy tale into something close to the modernist novella. Richly detailed, playfully humorous, gently ironic, his stories not only delighted children, but adults as well. (June 14)

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.