The Wanderers by Richard Price (Mariner, $15). The author of Clockers deftly dips in and out of the lives of a group of gang members, delivering a multi-perspective rendering of the Bronx circa 1963 that's also a great coming-of-age book. Price — just 24 when he wrote this — masterfully conveyed the confusion, anxieties, and violence of boys becoming men.
Winesberg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (Dover, $3.50). Published in 1919, Winesberg, Ohio exposes the desperation and loneliness of the residents of a small, mid-American town. It was among the first books to render the kind of suburban angst that would later be taken up by Updike, Cheever, and Franzen.
Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz (Anchor, $15). Mahfouz captured post–World War II Cairo with a group of memorable characters who all live in a single alley. The book evokes Dickens at his most squalid, introducing us to hash dealers, a cut-rate dentist who steals teeth from cadavers, and "the cripple-maker," a character who breaks children's legs so they might beg more effectively.
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank (Penguin, $15). Along with Bridget Jones's Diary, The Girls' Guide essentially launched chick lit. These stories came out in 1999, and while Candace Bushnell's "Sex and the City" columns had covered similar terrain, Bank writes with an earnestness and pathos that give her characters greater depth and empathy.
Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Ecco, $15). Set in Havana during the early '90s, Gutiérrez's stories focus on a single character, Pedro Juan, who romps through a series of loosely connected vignettes that usually involve marijuana and copulation. The book shines light on a society in decay and crisis, yet never loses its humanity or sense of humor.
A Hollywood Education by David Freeman (out of print). Freeman, a magazine writer, came west during the early '80s to take up screenwriting. His deadpan tales of coke-crazed producers, needy starlets, and neurotic screenwriters add up to a kaleidoscopic view of not just Hollywood, but American culture itself.