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Helene Stapinski

Helene Stapinski is the author of Five-Finger Discount and a second memoir, Baby Plays Around, which was published this month by Villard.

The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr (Penguin, $14). This book, my favorite memoir, is poetry disguised as literary nonfiction. Mary Karr’s story of growing up in East Texas was the first and best of the rash of memoirs that came out in the 1990s. Each and every sentence is a pleasure.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Vintage, $13). Years of fiction writing were simply practice for what Truman Capote called his “nonfiction novel.” Capote saw a small story in a newspaper about the brutal murder of a Kansas family and took it from there. The first book of its kind, it brought the “new journalism” to new heights. In Cold Blood rocked the world in 1965 (the year I was born) and rocked me in 1989. It continues to do so. It’s so good, I can forgive Capote for taking a little “creative license” near the end.

Naked by David Sedaris (Back Bay, $15). Whenever I’m miserable, all I need to do is take down this David Sedaris collection and the dark clouds part. The man taught me to have no mercy.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (Riverhead, $14). I can’t leave Nick Hornby’s rock ’n’ roll novel off my desert-island top six. An incredibly smart, hysterically funny, and surprisingly touching story of a music geek in love, it’s required reading for all Elvis fans (Costello, not Presley).

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje (Vintage, $11). The writer Luc Sante turned me on to this little-known, luminescent gem, Michael Ondaatje’s impressionistic fictional account of the tragic life of New Orleans jazz cornet player Buddy Bolden. It may be the only book to ever nail down what music actually sounds like—and where it comes from.

To Kill a Mockingbird

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