NBCC member Heller McAlpin’s pick for the NBCC Good Reads Spring 2008 list, recommendations by NBCC members, awards winners and finalists:
It’s hard to pick just one book per genre for NBCC’s Best Reads—which I prefer to think of as Most Heartily Recommended, the books we’re most likely to urge on friends. I generally tailor my recommendations to the person asking, usually mentioning two or three titles at a time. People like having options.
Over the years, the books I’ve been most excited about touting are by authors I’d never read before they hit my desk in galleys (such as Andrei Makine’s “Dreams of My Russian Summers” or David Edmonds’ and John Eidinow’s “Wittgenstein’s Poker”), or by more established authors I’d somehow overlooked or hadn’t read in a long time (such as Jim Harrison’s “The Summer He Didn’t Die” or Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Bad Girl”). Which isn’t to slight books that take an admired writer to a new level: “The Hours,” “Atonement.”
But face it: the single standout, the book that really wows, is a rarity.
This season, however, Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth” is a standout, though it’s a quiet dazzler. No pyrotechnics, no fancy footwork; just more of the same emotional depth and sensitive, assured prose that we’ve come to expect from her. This book demonstrates unequivocally that stories are Lahiri’s form: she’s a master of distillation and endings. The last three linked stories in particular are stunning, her best work to date.
I’m also steering friends toward the title story in Cynthia Ozick’s “Dictation.” It’s classic Ozick, playful, sly, utterly literate and delectable.-Heller McAlpin