We asked Penguin Group authors to tell us which books they are giving, and which books they'd most like to receive this holiday season. Our inboxes were immediately flooded with emails about books they can't wait to share with their loved ones—books for all ages, new and old, from publishers large and small.

Find out which books your favorite writer is giving to family and friends this holiday!

Download the 2010 What to Give, What to Get flyer here »

Khaled Hosseini
Charlaine Harris
Jan Karon
Terry McMillan
Kathryn Stockett
Nick Hornby
Tana French
Chang-rae Lee
Sarah Dessen
Richelle Mead
Keri Smith
Jasper Fforde
Dinaw Mengestu

Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Give:

  • City of Thieves by David Benioff—Benioff is a versatile writer. He is already established as one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood today. And now this harrowing and beautiful book, which he wrote as a tribute to his grandfather. This is a riveting war novel and an engaging coming-of-age story. City of Thieves is tender, illuminating, and, be warned, often shocking.
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, a Man Booker Prize winner—A dark and very funny novel about class struggle in modern-day India.
  • Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower—An outstanding short-story collection mostly about men, their troubled relationships with their fathers, brothers, and the women in their lives. The final story is unforgettable. A very promising young writer. I would eagerly read his follow up.
  • What Is the What by Dave Eggers—Okay, I know, I have plugged this book before. Countless times. But it's that good. This is a chronicling of the hardships, disillusions, and hopes of the long-suffering people of southern Sudan. It is impossible to read this book and not be humbled, enlightened, transformed.
  • Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary—A very engaging, thoroughly entertaining, and informative narrative of the history of Islam and the evolution of Islamic society.

Get:

  • Life by Keith Richards and James Fox. I had a chance to read an excerpt of this book from a magazine and found myself totally engaged in the candid, always entertaining, and mischievous voice of one of rock's all-time legends. I had never understood how deeply passionate he was and is about the blues.
  • Earth (The Book) by Jon Stewart et al.—Stewart may be one of the last voices of reason, it seems to me sometimes. His great gift is to get us to laugh at our own absurdities.
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen—This is a no-brainer pick. I don't think I need to explain why.
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese—He is a fellow physician and, while I have yet to find a way to incorporate medicine effectively into my storytelling, Dr. Verghese has, by all accounts, done just that and written a gripping and ambitious book. Also, my wife read it and raved about it.

Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series

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Give:

  • What to give this Christmas? I love to give books, truly. But it's a delicate process. You want to send the recipient something they'll enjoy reading... no point in giving an elderly aunt Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry books, unless you have an unusual elderly aunt. I really enjoy sending books I'm very enthusiastic about, not just stuff I have lying around. Here are some fabulous gifts: Charlie Huston's three Henry Thompson books. They're not for the fainthearted, but they're terrifically written and tear along at a roller-coaster pace, and when I read the last one I cried in public. I also plan on giving some lucky person, probably a woman, the three books in Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts series (starting with Unholy Ghosts) because the colorful writing and the world-building just sucked me in. For people on my gift-giving list who have a hard-boiled streak, especially if they're outdoors people, I love to give a C. J. Box or William Kent Krueger mystery; and it really doesn't matter which one, because the lucky recipient will surely go buy all the others. For friends of mine who tend to the more political side, I'd definitely give Barry Eisler's Inside Out. Though this may be totally self-serving, for a book with a little bit of everything, a book that will introduce the reader to all sorts of writers that she may want to pursue, I'd recommend the anthology Toni L. P. Kelner and I edited, Death's Excellent Vacation. That's some mighty fine storytelling.

Get:

  • What do I want to receive? If anyone could steal the manuscript of the next: Laurell K. Hamilton, Lee Child, Patricia Briggs, Carolyn Haines... well, you get the idea. I feel like such a privileged insider when I get to read a book early. And I'm so trustworthy! I would never let a plot point slip.

Jan Karon, author of the Mitford series and most recently of In the Company of Others

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Give:

  • I'd give my friends with historic houses a copy of Wait for Me! by the Duchess of Devonshire. It would inspire them, perhaps, to add a gift shop, an outdoor loo, and chickens, of course—a little something to pay down our outrageous county taxes.

    My daughter, a brilliant photographer, may well receive a small U-Haul of the best books of photography ever printed—including the collected works of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Smith, and Dorothea Lange, to go on the shelves of her new home in Hawaii.

    Sorry to tell you this, but everyone else will get jars of squash pickles.

Get:

  • As for what I'd like to receive—volumes of poetry, poetry, and more poetry. I have fallen in love again with poetry (not just that schoolgirl-crush sort of thing, but am throwing myself at it, unashamedly).

    Hooray for books at Christmas—nearly always the best thing under the tree.


© Stephanie Rausser

Terry McMillan, author most recently of Getting to Happy

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Give:

  • Some Sing, Some Cry, by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza, and The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson—Both tell powerful stories of how black families survived and evolved in America during Reconstruction: one is a novel and the other is nonfiction that reads like a novel. It's refreshing to read what is often forgotten or ignored about how African Americans migrated up north, as well as what some had to endure, which caused them to want to flee. I also intend to give Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell, because it's a beautifully written memoir about female friendship and the loss of it. I'll probably give away my own novel Getting to Happy to folks who are expecting me to!

Get:

  • I possess or buy just about every book that piques my interest, regardless of how long it takes me to get around to reading it, so this is difficult. However, I think I'd love to get the latest of these series:

    The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, and New Stories from the South. I love reading short stories and these series never disappoint. Some of the writers are new, and I am thrilled when I discover fresh voices, many of whom don't follow the traditional rules and structure in their stories and essays.

Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help

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Give:

  • Lizzie by Dorothy Shawhan. The story of a wild young girl in a strict Southern finishing school in the 1920s. Shawhan's gallery of voices—both men and women—kept me riveted.

Get:

  • A galley of Donna Tartt's third novel. Or even a rough draft.

© Sigrid Estrada

Nick Hornby, author of Juliet, Naked

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Give:

  • Two of my favorite books of the year sound a lot heavier than they actually are. Sarah Bakewell's How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer is informative, smart, fresh, and ambitious; one of the many things Bakewell does brilliantly is show how the life of a writer continues long after his death. Montaigne died over four hundred years ago, but he invented the personal essay, and his influence is everywhere. Novelist Darin Strauss's Half a Life is a dazzling piece of memoir. Strauss killed a girl in an accident when he was a teenager, and this short book is about how that one enormous moment has had an impact on every day of his life since. I read Laura Cumming's brilliant A Face to the World, about the history of self-portraiture, last Christmas. It's out in paperback now, and I might read it again. It's one of the best works of cultural criticism I've come across.

Get:

  • I'm terrible. I buy every book I want, this driving my family to distraction when it comes to presents. There are a couple of things I've got my eye on, though. This year I tried to write lyrics for Ben Folds; I suppose I did write lyrics for Ben Folds, seeing as he sung them,and then released them on an album. But I'd still like to understand how it's done properly, hence my wish for Stephen Sondheim's Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981). I'm a big fan of Maira Kalman's work, but she's not quite so well known in the UK, so I suppose I'll have to buy And the Pursuit of Happiness, her new book about democracy. And Garry Trudeau's 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective would really, really beat a matching scarf and hat.
Tana French Photo
© Anthony Breatnach

Tana French, author of In the Woods and The Likeness

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Give:

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams—I know people who haven't read it because they assume that it's a children's book. I did read it when I was a kid (and when we went on a beach holiday that summer, and I saw wild rabbits in the garden, it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life), but I still reread it and get blown away by the depth of characterization, the power of the plot, and the sheer beauty and cadence of the writing. In a nutshell, a small group of wild rabbits strike out on their own after one of them has a vision of their warren being destroyed...but, like all truly great books, it's so, so much more than a summary can get across.
  • Black Ajax by George MacDonald Fraser—One of my best friends lent this to me, a while back, and I loved it. It's based on the true story of Tom Molineaux, an ex-slave from the U.S. who almost became the boxing champion of Regency England. It's told through an array of voices, all in full nineteenth-century slang and each one utterly distinct from the rest—Tom's trainer, his first love, his patron, an anonymous butler... Tom is heartbreaking: courageous, fragile, and ultimately broken by a society that was never going to treat him with decency. This one's for anyone who loves expert characterization and dialogue (well, monologue) that leaps off the page straight into your ear.
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale—The true story of one of England's first detectives and his investigation into the 1860 murder of little Saville Kent. I've got this theory that crimes (and, by extension, detection) tell you a huge amount about the time and place in which they're committed: bad people—and, more often than we'd like to think, good people—will always do bad things, but the shape of those bad things is determined by their context. This book does a wonderful job of exploring the crime, the detective process, and the world in which they happened, and showing how tightly those strands were woven together.

Get:

  • I've never been able to throw books away, but a lot of my favorites have been reread so many times that the spines are basically gone and the pages are falling out, so I'm gradually coming to terms with the fact that I may need replacements. These next two are held together by sticky tape and rubber bands.
  • National Velvet by Enid Bagnold—This is another one that people assume must be a children's book. It's about a shy fourteen-year-old girl called Velvet whose great passion is horses; she knows her stubborn piebald is something special, and she's going to give him his chance to shine. I first read it when I was seven, and loved it—even then, I could feel that the writing was something special, subtle and intricate and perfectly pitched. What I missed, though, is that it isn't a children's book at all. It's a book about how deeply mysterious we human beings are, not only to the people we're closest to, but even to ourselves; about how much is waiting inside us for its moment, and about the breathtaking wonder of seizing that moment when it comes; about the glory of ordinary things, as well as extraordinary ones.
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White. This is the version of the King Arthur saga that ruined me for any other version. My mother gave it to me on a long-haul flight when I was about ten, and it bought her one kid's worth of absolute silence straight across the Atlantic. The characters are never stock figures; they're real, complex, flawed human beings—exceptional people in an immensely high-stakes situation, but still only human, loving one another, doing their best, making terrible mistakes and paying the price. This is the book that gave me my first inkling of how complicated adult passions could be, and of how vividly the greatest writing could bring them to life.
  • I'd also love to get Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. In a south Dublin boys' school, fourteen-year-old Skippy (surprise!) dies. As the rest of the book explores the last year of his life and the dynamics of the school, it gradually becomes clear that Skippy's death is nowhere near as simple as it seemed. People I trust have described this one as intense, moving, intelligent, and very funny—a black comedy that perfectly captures the emotionally charged world of teenagers. Also, I live in Dublin and I love it, so I'm always interested in a book that snaps it from a new angle.
  • Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child. Herb loves books, but when he finds himself being chased through various fairy tales by a bratty Goldilocks, he has to deal with the mess he made of the book—the mustache he drew on the Queen, the stickers and crumbs and oddments he stuck on the pages, the bit he tore out and stuck back in upside down... My daughter is one, and it's actually for older kids, but she loves this book so passionately that all the wonderful bits—pop-ups, pull-outs, and surprises— have been dragged off the page and stashed somewhere. We need a new one.

© David Burnett

Chang-rae Lee, author of Native Speaker and the forthcoming The Surrendered

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Give:

  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, a brilliantly incisive and hilarious dystopian novel about our tech/money/sex-sodden culture. It is indeed a sad and true portrait of the way we live now, but you'll be laughing too hard for it to hurt too much.

Get:

  • Any books by the great Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, whose inventive, deeply intellectual narratives playfully upturn our notions of self and language.

© FPO photo

Sarah Dessen, author of Along for the Ride

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Give:

  • Books are one of my favorite things to give, especially for kids. They don't require batteries, have no volume, and don't squeak when you step on them. Triple win! My friends' children will be getting the latest Anna Dewdney book, Llama Llama Holiday Drama, as well as whatever of her earlier books—Llama Llama Red Pajama, Llama Llama Misses Mama, Llama Llama Mad at Mama—they don't already have. For the grown-ups, I'm giving Kate Atkinson's latest, When Will There Be Good News? I read this book while on vacation, and it basically blew my doors off (to use one of my husband's race-car terms). Even better, it's one of a series with the same character, so if people like it as much as I did, they can go back and read the two others that came before it.

Get:

  • To get—the fun part!—I am hoping for Emma Donoghue's Room, which I've heard the absolute best things about from both authors and readers. I also have a weak spot for celebrity memoirs, so I've been eagerly awaiting what has to be the Moby Dick (so to speak) of the genre, Life by Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones from an inside view? I am SO in. Finally, two of my favorite humorists have new books out that I'm hoping to get my hands on for the New Year: Half Empty by David Rakoff and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. Since I have a three-year-old, I don't have as much time to read as I'd like, but essays are perfect for bank lines and preschool pickup. Plus, you look subversive. Can't beat that.

Richelle Mead, author of the Vampire Academy series

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Give:

  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce—When people tell me, "Wow, it's so refreshing to see you write about a strong heroine," I always think: What books have you been reading? It hit me recently that strong heroines are so familiar to me because I grew up with a background in high fantasy—where girls and women unabashedly wield swords and magic against impossible odds. Tamora Pierce's books are among the finest examples of this, and for those who shy away from the genre, her books are written in a way that's very accessible. There's no "Ye Olde English" here, and the issues she presents with sex and social class are timeless, whether they're taking place in our world or a fantasy kingdom.
  • Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper—This is one of the most amazing books I've ever read and one that I can't pass on enough. Every time I reread it, it makes my stomach queasy with longing for a better world. Beauty is half fairy tale and half environmental cautionary tale. Aside from its wonderful story, what makes it truly great is that Ms. Tepper is one of those genius authors who teaches so much without the reader even realizing it until the end.

Get:

  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins—Pretty sure I'm the last person in the world to read this, and dodging spoilers has been only moderately successful! Still, I've been purposely putting this off so that I can have it on hand for holiday travel. This is one of the most engrossing series I've read in a while, and it manages to convey so much societal commentary with writing that's quick, lively, and compulsively readable. I've lost a lot of sleep with the first two and have high expectations for the series finale.
  • Rampant by Diana Peterfreund—Two words: killer unicorns. With the popularity of paranormal novels running rampant (no pun intended), it's nice to see someone tackling a new type of creature. What's even better is that DP has taken something we normally associate with rainbows and sparkles and turned it on its head. I love juxtapositions like that and think we need a lot more of them.

Keri Smith, author of Wreck This Journal and most recently of Mess: The Manual of Accidents and Mistakes

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Give:

  • (I suppose this is not technically a "give.") I plan to mail several of my friends a note and a ten-dollar bill. The note will read: Dear Reader, I am giving you a task to complete this year. You must track down a copy of Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. In my own experience this is much more challenging than it sounds, as this particular book can be quite elusive (and prone to disappear the minute it knows it is being looked for). There are three rules you must follow in doing so: 1. It must be a used copy. 2. You cannot enlist help (i.e., you must locate a copy yourself). And 3. I would like to hear the story of where and when you found it (a photo perhaps?). If you do not wish to complete this challenge, please feel free to pass it on to someone else who you think would enjoy it.
  • The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen—I have become rather obsessed with books that have a nontraditional structure. I suppose I am slow to the gate with this title, but I am really enjoying perusing the illustrations in the margins and getting a glimpse into the eclectic mind of a twelve-year-old genius. This is one to curl up with under the covers and stay up way past your bedtime for. The tiny detailed maps of everyday life help me to see things in ways I'd never considered before (as all great books are apt to do).
  • Little House on a Small Planet: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities by Shay Salomon—For my clan of friends who live in an alternative fashion. We have had endless talks about big life changes we are working on in an effort to live more efficiently and consciously.

Get:

  • The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects by John Tingey—I am fascinated by stories of ordinary people whose lives at some point take a drastic turn for the more interesting (and decidedly non-ordinary). Around the turn of the century, W. Reginald Bray was going about his rather ordinary life of being an accountant, when he learned that the smallest item one could send through the mail was a bee and the largest, an elephant. This sent him on a journey of extreme "postal experimentation," which earned him the name "the Human Letter." A hero myth of the most fascinating kind. The edition is beautifully designed and a pleasure to hold in your hands. The story makes me think of the José Saramago book All the Names, in which a clerk in a records department becomes obsessed with finding a woman whose card he is filing.
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr—I have long suspected many of the things suggested by Nicholas Carr in this book: that we are losing touch with the sources of information, that the Internet creates a loss of concentration, that we are living in an era of distraction. It is important that we question all of this, even though it might be unpopular to do so. I would like to look at ways to expand my brainpower, not limit it. I feel that over the last few years, my attention span has significantly waned, which coincides with an increase in online time. I am hoping this book is a good place to begin a personal brainpower revolution.
  • The Archivist by Martha Cooley—I found this in my favorite bookstore the other day and was taken by the first paragraph, which I promptly wrote down in my journal: "With a little effort, anything can be shown to connect with anything else: existence is infinitely cross-referenced.... A cat is a mammal, a narcissist, a companion, a riddle." A story about a librarian who is in charge of storing the letters of T. S. Eliot. Takes place in postwar New York. The cover made me pick it up. Now you have to go look it up.
  • Leavings: Poems by Wendell Berry—Who couldn't use more poetry in their daily life? Wendell should be required reading everywhere.

Jasper Fforde

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Give:

  • I've been a fan of William Langewiesche for almost ten months now. Fly by Wire: The Geese, The Glide, The "Miracle" on the Hudson was one of the high points of my reading this year. I'm more into nonfiction than fiction, to be honest, and this was one of those books that I just picked up to while away the time on a flight between Denver and L.A. Fly by Wire is first of all an astonishing tale—how Captain Sullenberger glided an airbus onto the Hudson for a safe landing with no loss of life. What Langewiesche has done, though, is extraordinary. He has picked apart every single aspect of the story, and gives the reader a glimpse at all the players in the incident. The sort of geese that got sucked into the engine; the politics of aviation deregulation; the corporate battle between aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus; and the technological impasse between those who think pilots should fly aircraft, or that pilots should give input data to an aircraft that then flies itself along preset parameters. But it's not all techy boysey stuff. The book also goes into the human side of the event. Landing a plane on water is one thing, but getting everyone out from a sinking plane is quite another.
  • I've always been a fan of Christopher Hitchens, especially and particularly because I don't agree with everything he says. Only reading stuff you agree with is as dull as a dinner party where everyone agrees that we should all drive Toyota Priuses (Prii?), eat twigs, and live in yurts—hideously dull. There is a homogeneity of opinion in life that shuns the outside, contrary, or dangerously commonsense view, and that is why I firmly applaud Hitchens not just for his often outrageous outspokenness, but for his astonishing intellect and willingness to say and think the unthinkable. His memoir Hitch-22 is not his best book, but is certainly one of his most entertaining.
  • Stephen Fry has entered the exalted state of a "UK Living National Treasure" and his contributions to broadcasting, acting, TV, and radio seem limitless. He has been part of the British landscape for as long as I can remember, and he has always been refreshingly honest about his own failings—of which he tells us he has many. His Fry Chronicles lifts the lid on some of the best-known Fry adventures with a jaunty and engaging writing style that flows off the page like silk. I'll be giving a copy of this book to my wife so I can read it. In return, she will probably buy me a book on dressmaking. (She's on the kidney list, by the way.)

Get:

  • I'm not one of the Human race's biggest fans, although I dearly love several individuals, and would certainly offer a kidney to at least eight of them. (I have eight kidneys, you know.) So the books I tend to enjoy reading are about the more ridiculous foibles of the amusing dance around reality that we as a group tend to indulge. Theodore Dalrymple is an ex-prison doctor and psychiatrist who is well placed to give opinions on the blowback of popular trends in society. His recent book: Spoilt Rotten! The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality is one of those books that makes uneasy reading for huggy liberals, and asks harsh questions over the bizarre sense of sentimentality that seems to have befuddled us Brits ever since millions of us queued up to sign a book of condolences for a princess we didn't know. Dalrymple looks at the downside of an overblown sense of sentiment, which resulted this year with a murderous thug who saw himself as a victim and found 32,000 people agreeing with him, and even opening a tribute Facebook page in his posthumous honor. I like controversial books, and especially ones that challenge the unchallenged.
  • The book I would most like to be given is The First Folio by William Shakespeare and features thirty-six plays by a little-known Elizabethan playwright and dramatist. Although full of errors, spelling mistakes, and in many places unreadable prose, the book would be something I would like to be given. Naysayers might consider it too rare, but I have it on good authority that the Folger Shakespeare Library has seventy-nine copies. They can't need all of them, surely? Of course, if the Folger were too disgustingly mean to slip a copy out of the back door and into my waiting hands, my disappointment could be assuaged by a first-edition copy of either Principia Mathematica, On the Origin of Species, or Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
  • I've been a fan of Annie Leibovitz for a long time now, a state of affairs I suspect in which I am not alone. Most photographers—the really good ones, I find, have a certain disconnect from the world that gives them the raw obsessive energy to go out and capture the extraordinary images that they do. Martin Parr, Ansel Adams, and Don McCullin are all fantastic photographers, but I've never felt their explanations of "how they did what they did and why" were ever satisfactory. And knowing how artists do their work is fascinating. I was delighted to find, then, that Leibovitz can write about "how she did what she did and why" with a sense of ease, fine prose, and startling objectivity that many artists cannot grasp due to the very same self-confidence and ego that got them there in the first place. That's why Annie Leibovitz at Work is firmly on my "Get" list.

Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air

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Give:

  • David Vann's Legend of a Suicide. David Vann's book is one of the most beautiful and haunting novels that I've read in a while. I first picked up Legend of a Suicide seven months ago, shortly after I had finished the last edits on my own novel and was beginning to worry about whether or not I'd ever be able to write something again. I read the book in a single evening and found my faith in fiction fully affirmed. Vann's prose is eloquent, elliptical, and dense, and he uses it to tell a story that is as heartbreaking as it is a triumph of imagination, of life over death.

Get:

  • Madame Bovary, translated by Lydia Davis. Madame Bovary is one of those novels that deserves, or perhaps demands, multiple readings over the course of a lifetime. The first time I read it as an undergraduate, I was certain that I had missed something. Years later in graduate school, I felt I had come closer to understanding the mystery behind why Emma Bovary was such a compelling and unforgettable character. I imagine now that if I read it again through Lydia Davis's eyes, I'll make another small but significant step forward in understanding the genius behind Flaubert's prose.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Egan is one of those rare, inventive writers who extends the form of the novel into new territory while never losing the heart and depth that mark great fiction. The excerpt from the novel had me floored, and the punk rock kids in L.A. that populate the novel felt as close to my heart as my own radically different memories of childhood. I have the feeling that A Visit from the Goon Squad could probably breathe new life and enthusiasm into anyone worried over the fate of the novel in our hyperconscious, multitasking world.