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“May you live in interesting times” is a quote commonly attributed to Confucius, probably erroneously, but Robert F. Kennedy did use it in a speech in 1966, adding a rueful twist: “Like it or not, we live in interesting times....” Regardless of your thinking on these current times, they are certainly anything but boring, and we feel the same about the books published this year.

Once again, we take the opportunity near year's end to review the year in books, highlighting the very best of what American publishing had to offer in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, comics, religion, lifestyle and children's. There were the authors we expected to deliver, and they did: Louise Erdrich with The Plague of Doves, Richard Price with Lush Life, Jhumpa Lahiri with Unaccustomed Earth, Lydia Millet with How the Dead Dream. A breakthrough surprise about cricket, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, delighted us, while Tim Winton's Breath took ours away. We listened to our elders in How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People; thought about our planet with The Soul of the Rhino; examined our history in The Hemingses of Monticello and Abraham Lincoln: A Life; and, thanks to Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, we even considered Jesus for President.

  1. Watching The Spring Festival By Frank Bidart

    Book Cover: Watching The Spring Festival By Frank Bidart
    (literature and fiction)

    "In his first collection of short lyrics—a finalist for the NBA—Bidart reflects on aging, regret and a life lived in close contact with, if not through, pop music, art, dance and other monuments of culture."

  2. For All We Know By Ciaran Carson

    Book Cover: For All We Know By Ciaran Carson
    (literature and fiction)

    "Long hailed as a master poet in his native Ireland, Carson fortifies his reputation here with this meditation on love and mystery that takes the classical fugue as its model."

  3. Colosseum By Katie Ford

    Book Cover: Colosseum By Katie Ford
    (literature and fiction)

    "Motored by a deeply personal connection to New Orleans and its inhabitants, Ford chronicles the destruction Katrina wrought, both on the city itself and on Ford's faith—religious and otherwise."

  4. The Shadow Of Sirius By W.s. Merwin

    Book Cover: The Shadow Of Sirius By W.s. Merwin
    (literature and fiction)

    "The latest by one of America's great living masters of the lyric poem—Merwin's best book in a decade—finds the poet reflecting movingly on his own mortality, his oracular voice seeming to predict the past as if it were yet to come."

  5. National Anthem By Kevin Prufer

    Book Cover: National Anthem By Kevin Prufer
    (literature and fiction)

    "A rare poetry collection: as angry and ironic over the state of contemporary America—figured here as a great classical empire in decline—as it is funny and perversely pleasurable."

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