Jesse Ball, one of America's most celebrated young novelists, is the author of A Cure for Suicide, Samedi the Deafness, and six other highly original works. His latest, Census, is a fable about the travels of a father and an adult son with Down syndrome.
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (Indiana Univ., $18).
If copies of this book were given to us at birth, there would be many more children preserving their imaginations into the shallow waters of adulthood. It is a post-apocalyptic novel told in an invented dialect. Simply read the words aloud to yourself and you'll understand them. Reading this burning tale, one feels company in one's heart.
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy (New Directions, $13).
The clarity and power of Jaeggy's style is staggering and important. The story here concerns two girls in a boarding school, and there is something deeply stylish to the telling, like an incandescently red bird painted on wet brown foliage.
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (Flatiron, $16).
Arudpragasam's elegant debut novel takes place in a refugee camp being rained with bombs. The book's great power, though, lies in the author's awareness of the meaning embedded in simple things. There is no need to search for what is marvelous in the sensational; the marvelous is already present.
Torture of Women by Nancy Spero (Siglio, $48).
This book, a bundle of death and pain, reproduces a 125-foot collage by Spero in which she incorporated the text of Amnesty International documents that detail incidents of horrific torture visited on women. But Spero is not a fatalist. She is insisting that we take seriously our responsibility as witnesses.
Animal Liberation by Peter Singer (Harper Perennial, $15).
Since the Industrial Revolution, people have been unnecessarily subjecting animals to drastic horrors. And yet the activity continues, because people do not care enough about crimes they don't see. But Singer reminds us that we are complicit if we don't act. Read this 1976 classic and see whether you can refute it.
Walks With Walser by Carl Seelig (New Directions, $16).
In recent years, the number of Robert Walser obsessives seems to have swelled, and this portrait of the Swiss writer feeds our Walsermania. An editor and friend, Seelig knew Walser during several difficult decades, and appears to have been a marvel himself. His portrait of Walser left me in tears.