Mr. Fox , Helen Oyeyemi
This unusual, surrealistic adaptation of the Bluebeard fable tells the interwoven tale of a writer, the eponymous Mr. Fox, who is addicted to killing off the heroines of his novels. He soon becomes trapped between his questionably-real muse and his definitely-real wife as the former gives him a taste of his own medicine by forcing him into the role of the character rather than the creator. Bonus: check out the list of twisted fairy tales Oyeyemi curated for us!
The Angel Esmeralda , Don DeLillo
Not only is this book important because it marks the first time DeLillo’s short stories have been collected and published in one volume, it is also devastatingly beautiful of its own accord. It makes sense — given DeLillo’s relative disinterest in plot as opposed to atmosphere, and the wideness of so many of his novels, we’ve always thought he ought to be primarily a short story writer anyway. Terrifying and touching in turns, these stories are the obvious work of a master.
The Pale King , David Foster Wallace
Though it pains us to say it, this isn’t the best novel on this list. It’s wonderful in its own way, but as an unfinished novel raised by editors, it obviously lacks the high polish and full scope that most books written and published today enjoy. But we still think that for fans of literature, and especially for the millions of DFW-groupies out there, this is a must-read. Just slog on through, and you’ll feel good after. We promise.
The Sense of an Ending , Julian Barnes
As the winner of this year’s Booker Prize, you can bet all your snootiest literary friends will have snapped this one up (and claimed to have read it way before the fact). But there’s a reason to read besides cultivating your holiday cocktail party topics — Barnes’ eleventh novel is a true delight, an elegant story of time and memory that is destined to be a classic for many years to come.
Blue Nights , Joan Didion
Another gorgeous memoir of loss from the indomitable Joan Didion, this frank work of failure, family and love was one of the most touching stories we read all year. Not to be missed.
One Day I Will Write About This Place , Binyavanga Wainaina
This incredible first memoir about a bookworm growing up in Kenya details not only the cultural and political landscape, but the inner workings of those who are affected by it. More wonderful than that, however, is the gorgeous, evocative language that sets the story in place, so much that you can hear and smell as well as see yourself there.
The Marriage Plot , Jeffrey Eugenides
No, this novel did not make our list for the vest. Or, not for the vest alone. Eugenides’ first novel in ten years, this tender story of love, loss and literary theory is an English major’s dream, and essential for anyone who judges their lovers in terms of the books they read. And yes, you can display this one front and center next time you have visit from a paramour.
Swamplandia! , Karen Russell
Sure, the premise — the youngest daughter of a family of alligator wrestlers searches for her sister, who has run off to marry a ghost — seems a little sweet to really hit home, but trust us (and everyone else who can’t stop talking about this book). The prose is electric and dreamy all at once, and Russell more than earns her plotline. In fact, we were caught hook line and sinker just fifteen pages in, and we bet you will be too.
1Q84 , Haruki Murakami
Another must-read based on its hype alone, Murakami’s newest behemoth of a novel is a fantastic, magical romp through a harrowing dystopia. Sure it has its faults, but like many of Murakami’s fictions, it makes up for all of them by leaving the reader in a state of marvelous awe.
The Art of Fielding , Chad Harbach
Touted as “Franzen-like,” which is a bigger compliment in the past year than it’s been in a while, this first novel (about-baseball-but-not-really-about-baseball) sings with an easy grace and a surprising maturity.