The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (Overlook, $16). A hilarious narrator goes on a loony mission to catch up with his runaway wife, following the trail of credit card receipts she leaves from Arkansas to Belize. He's driven by resentment and pettiness — and yet he is also clearly entertained by the world around him. This is, to me, a very American voice.
True Grit by Charles Portis (Overlook, $8). Two books on one list — this guy outdid himself! Portis' most famous book is a more traditionally structured story than Dog of the South, and yet its central voice is so likable — somehow cynical and, at the same time, forgiving.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Dover, $4.50). Do I need to waste your time telling you this is the book of books? Sorry about the N-word, but it must be taken in the context of the time it was written. Plus it's clear to me that Twain was making a strong (and sly) statement about the humanity of those who were then labeled the N-word.
Tragically I Was an Only Twin: The Complete Peter Cook edited by William Cook (Arrow, $15). This is a collection of pieces the great Peter Cook either wrote or improvised. Cook, to me, represents the most naturally funny man there ever was. He could spin comedy out of the smallest comment.
Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington (Vintage U.K., $15). After reading an energetic, positive review buried deep within The New York Times one day, I bought this Glasgow-set first novel and was thrilled by the writing: Swing Hammer Swing! is funny, clever, and bleak as hell. I wrote Torrington a fan letter, the only one I've ever written. Never received a reply. No hard feelings.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Grand Central, $9). You already know this. Lyrical writing. A child's point of view, but done with intelligence and sensitivity, and a lesson at the end that is the only lesson you ever need to know to become a good person. So say I.