Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (Random House, $15). The nested, multiple narratives in Mitchell’s brilliant novel, each written in a different style—19th-century traveler’s journal, ’70s airport novel, sci-fi debriefing/celebrity interview—made me stop writing for a while, because I was so sure I couldn’t do that.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $15). This has been one of my favorite books for years, and I just “reread” it by listening to it on my iPod. A friend of mine was horrified, but I don’t see why: The audiobook forces you to slow down to the pace of men walking through Mexico or riding on horseback—no skimming—and drops you into the huge, mannered nightmare journey of the book.
Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth (Norton, $15). A spectacular novel about the African slave trade, and about the people on an ill-fated ship sailing from Liverpool to the Guinea Coast. It’s the kind of novel you live in, caught up in the hope and the horror of everyone on board.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (Nick Hern, $20). When I was a teenager, I read science fiction, but not fantasy. When I finally found my way to Pullman’s trilogy, which is marketed to teens but suitable for adults, I couldn’t stop reading. The books are so beautiful, and full of wonders, and grounded in the idea of children at risk in a manipulative and misguided adult world.
Her First American by Lore Segal (New Press, $15). A young Viennese Jewish refugee comes to the United States in the early 1950s and falls in love with an older man, a black intellectual with a drinking problem. It’s an absolute delight—terribly sad when it’s sad, and incredibly funny.
The All of It by Jeanette Haien (Harper, $12). A tiny novel in which a priest out fishing in rainy Ireland sorts through the story told to him by a woman, just widowed, about how she came to live with her husband. The information is revealed so masterfully, and Haien achieves intense emotional effects in such a short space, that I still don’t really know how she did it.