As the calendar year nears its end all sorts of individuals and publications will fulfill their love of listmaking and ranking by declaring their ten best -- or ten worst -- of this and that. In the world of booklovers, the one that carries the most weight is the Ten Best Books of the Year from the "review of record," the New York Times Book Review. This year's list will appear in the December 14 issue and is as follows:
Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser. Although Millhauser may be best known for two novels (Edwin Mullhouse, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler), he works mainly as a short-story writer. This latest collection shows the magical realist/fable-like style that has won him comparisons to Borges, Poe and Nabokov.
A Mercy, by Toni Morrison. Like the Nobel laureate's acclaimed novel, Beloved, this new tale deals with the effects of slavery; this time, however, the story is set in the 1600's rather than the 1800's.
Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill. A story of post-9/11 New York City, dealing with themes of alienation and assimilation. The main character is a Dutch banker, who takes up with a group of South Asian amateur cricket players.
2666, by Roberto Bolano. A posthumous work from the acclaimed Chilean writer (1953-2003). It's a huge novel with multiple narrative threads, all coming together in a crime-plagued town on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri's first collection of stories -- Interpreter of Maladies -- won the Pulitzer Prize. This new volume again shows compassion, empathy and close observation in tales of Bengali-Americans and others trying to find their way in the United States.
The Dark Side, by Jane Mayer. A New Yorker writer gives us the background to all the controversial policies -- Guantanamo, "extraordinary rendition," warrantless surveillance, and the rest -- that have played such a central part in the Bush administration's "war on terror."
The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins. Another journalistic work dealing with current issues. Filkins is a longtime New York Times reporter in the Middle East and presents an account of the recent strife-torn history of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes. An esteemed British novelist here pens a memoir, with a special emphasis on his spiritual journey from atheism to agnosticism.
This Republic of Suffering, by Drew Gilpin Faust. The president of Harvard University -- whose training is as an historian -- examines how the horrific casualties of the Civil War served in the end as a factor to help the war's antagonists reunite as a single country.
The World Is What It Is, by Patrick French. An authorized biography of the Trinidadian writer -- and Nobel Prize winner -- V. S. Naipaul. However, unlike most authorized accounts, this one is unsparing in portraying the disturbing aspects of its subject's personal life, as well as his literary genius.
More about the Ten Best list -- and links to reviews -- can be found here.