A Day at the Beach by Geoffrey Wolff (Vintage, $16). This brilliant collection of essays somehow fell out of print after its original 1992 release, but that wrong has just been righted. We readers once again have access to Wolff's wealth of experience, his dazzling writing, and the unflinching assessment he brings to everything, especially himself.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Riverhead, $28). I'm not a fan of historical fiction or child narrators. But this novel about the abolitionist John Brown narrated by a child slave — a boy passing as a girl called Onion — is the most electric, provocative, and funny (I mean really funny) book I've read in years.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf, $26). Every year on Claire's birthday, her father tries to give her away, hoping to place his daughter into a better life. Danticat manages to balance love and poverty, beauty and loss, and in doing so she gives us a more compassionate understanding of the world.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood/Putnam, $27). All I want to reveal to you about this book is that it's a knockout and you should buy it and read it. The people I sell it to come back raving. When they say they want another book like it I tell them the truth: There is nothing else like it.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown, $30). Donna Tartt is often reported to be a recluse. There hasn't been a book from her in 11 years. Where has she been all this time? It turns out she's been working on The Goldfinch, a novel so ingenious, beautiful, and complex you'll marvel that she got it done so quickly.
Local Souls by Allan Gurganus (Liveright, $26). Many voices are interchangeable, but not Gurganus'. In a world of Jeff Koons puppy sculptures, Gurganus's prose is the entire Sistine Chapel with a couple of Renaissance tapestries thrown in. His vision of fictional Falls, N.C., as well as his vision of humankind, is generous, lush, irreplaceable.