1. Oryx and Crake -- by Margaret Atwood -- Opening with that old warhorse of many a futuristic novel and film - the "last man on earth" scenario - Margaret Atwood nevertheless treads where few have gone before. Snowman is indeed the last of his kind, but he is not alone. In the bizarre position of being the only one to have witnessed the end of one world and the beginning of another, Snowman remembers his past with fear and longing. Atwood's gift lies in her ability to entertain and provoke with each whispery turn of the page.
2. Wonder When You'll Miss Me -- by Amanda Davis -- Newly thin, Faith is haunted by her former fat-girl persona as well as memories of the violent past she survived. Finding new life in a traveling circus, Faith learns to park her past where it belongs. The author died in a small plane crash while touring for this book; her prose has an eerily transcendent quality and substance to burn.
3. Devil in the White City -- by Erik Larson -- The most dazzling potential and darkest predilections of mankind unfold against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago in this nonfiction account by the author of Isaac's Storm.
4. Fugitives and Refugees -- by Chuck Palahniuk -- Portland is home to more strippers, draft-dodgers, lunatics and two-bit criminals than any other city in America. And who better to tell their stories than Chuck Palahniuk?
5. Monster of God by David Quammen -- As Roy Horn could attest, man-eating animals are nothing to mess with. David Quammen drives home our place in the food chain with elegant, visceral precision.
1. Blankets by Craig Thompson -- Forget that this book is a graphic novel. The story contained in the words and pictures is pure literature. Thompson captures a late-adolescent romantic crisis, and a young-adult religious analysis, with elaborate, breathtaking beauty. While his pages teem with well-chosen words and simple images, they also give room for enormous expanses of white and sudden, surprising filigrees. It's as complex and multi-faceted as love, spirituality, and adolescence. And you can read it entirely in an evening without feeling like you've been cheated.
2. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson -- A 900-page first book in a trilogy that wraps the late 1600s in modern techno-fiction. Stephenson's use of historical figures (Newton, Leibniz) and situations is both hilarious and sobering. And his language is elaborate and unnecessarily beautiful.
3. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson -- An enjoyable romp through science and history, with Bryson's incomparably graceful prose as guide.
4. Rising Up and Rising Down -- by William Vollmann -- A seven-volume history of violence related with expansive attention and imagination by one of America's greatest contemporary authors.
5. Collected Poems of Robert Lowell -- More than most poets, Lowell, who mined history and his personal life for subjects, benefits from anthologizing. This spellbinding tome documents his changes and responses over a creative lifetime.