Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (Harper Perennial, $16). I didn't think I'd like this novel because it's about the making of a movie — 1963's Cleopatra. But it doesn't trade on Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's fame. Instead, it's an ambitious, warmhearted, generations-spanning study of people linked to the production, with the most masterly what-happened-to-them-all-in-the-end conclusion I've read in a long time.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (Faber & Faber, $15). This is one of those books that make you smarter. In addressing how misleading the media's reporting of medical news can be, it exposes the biases, evasions, and muddy thinking that contaminate so much scientific research, beginning with the very planning of studies.
The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers by Mary Norton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). I've been reading this five-book series to my 6-year-old, and it's a marvel. You might expect it to be exciting in plot and revelatory in point of view (you start to see the whole world as if you're 4 inches tall). But its portrait of a tense but loving family is also remarkably subtle in its characterizations.
The Ultimate David Sedaris Box Set (Grand Central, $100). With its 20 discs of pieces read inimitably by the author, this audiobook collection has made me laugh out loud more often than any other work of literature I can remember. Sedaris's observations on the process of language acquisition, in "Me Talk Pretty One Day," manage to be both hilarious and memorably sad.
The Bees by Laline Paull (Ecco, $26; available May 6). Paull's soon-to-be-released debut — a crazily sensual epic about passion and revolution in a beehive — is currently buzzing in my head: I've never read anything that's made me so aware of the sense of smell, and how feeble ours is compared with that of other creatures.
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (Oxford, $8). An exposé about neglected children that is fantastically comic and hard-hitting at the same time. Dreamy and conceited Mrs. Nickleby is one of the great annoying mothers of literature.
— Emma Donoghue is the Irish-born author of eight novels, including Room, a 2010 best-seller that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Frog Music, her latest, takes inspiration from a real-life 1876 murder in San Francisco.