My Ántonia by Willa Cather (Dover, $4.50). I've read this book at least a dozen times, and every time I fall in love with Black Hawk, Nebraska, and Antonia "Tony" Shimerda. To borrow Cather's words, I see the town, like Tony herself, "in the full vigor of her personality, battered, but not diminished."
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (Anchor, $15). A recent college grad without much outdoor experience walks into the Alaskan wilderness and makes a series of foolish mistakes, then a fatal one. That's the narrative seed. But by retracing McCandless' steps, harnessing his spirit, Krakauer shows how McCandless lived a full, adventurous life. A triumphant elegy.
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins (Bantam, $16). Just a few paragraphs into the first chapter of this 1994 novel, you feel as drunk and dizzy as Gwen, the heroine, who's downing martinis as the stock market and her life crash. "Now's the time to slip into your bulletproof bra," a co-worker tells Gwen. Thus, the bananas-crazy adventures begin.
The River of Doubt by Candice Millard (Anchor, $16). Teddy Roosevelt has just lost his final run for president, this time as a third-party candidate. To pick himself up, he goes on an adventure on an uncharted tributary of the Amazon. With reporting as lush as the jungle and writing as fluid as that river's current, Millard manages to make the journey at once terrifying and irresistible.
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (Harvest, $15). An epic literary ride through the sweltering South with narrator Jack Burden and his boss, Gov. Willie Stark — along with a cast of broken souls. You know things aren't gonna end well, but you don't want to miss the trip.
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (Signet, $5). Samuel Clemens wanted to be a riverboat pilot about as much as he wanted to write ("Mark twain" was a term used to signify water deep enough for safe passage), and this is the story of the time he got his chance. He puts aside his wry tone often enough to make his love for the Mississippi unmistakable.