The Known World by Edward P. Jones (Amistad, $15). An amazing novel about a horrific truth: In pre–Civil War America, there were free black Americans who actually owned black slaves. Jones develops his characters without judgment, though, and so adeptly that I felt for all of them. The slaves' suffering made me want to put this book down many times, but I couldn't. It's too good.
The Black Lights by Thomas Hauser (Univ. of Arkansas, $22.50). A boxing promoter told me that this 1986 book was going to blow my mind, and it did. It's an unapologetic tour of the good, bad, and ugly business of the sport I love most.
Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Harper Perennial, $17). Though most of us are tired of the volatile opinions and malicious gossip that pass as news on cable these days, we still have an appetite for juicy details about our would-be leaders. This inside look at the 2008 presidential campaign tells on everyone, confirming our suspicions that politics is a mucky business.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Harcourt, $9). The movie is really good, but it pales in comparison with Goldman's 1973 novel. I have loved this story forever. So adventurous. So utterly romantic. And so witty it still makes me laugh.
The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro (Vintage, $26). You want to know how real political power works? This biography of New York's Robert Moses, an unelected public-works kingpin, offers that and more. As I read, I came to both despise and admire the man. He did create Lincoln Center, but even that project was pushed through with little regard for the people it displaced.
50 Years of Happiness by Derrick Bang (out of print). If you were a Peanuts fan as a child and want to revisit that time and place, this is how. Almost everything is in here — the comic strips, the history. I first read this book at a dinner party, tucking myself into a corner with it after I found it on a shelf. It was completely rude of me but worth it.
— In her new memoir, Handbook for an Unpredictable Life, New York City native Rosie Perez details how she overcame a turbulent upbringing to become a dancer, choreographer, and Oscar-nominated actress.