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Beyond the Bestseller

A guide to lesser-known titles that shouldn’t be.


“The Night Country” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22) by Stewart O’Nan. Set in a New England town on Halloween, this Gothic story is narrated by the ghosts of three teenagers on the anniversary of their deaths. O’Nan spins an utterly creepy tale that shows how grief and loss are ghosts in their own right. This book would be a great read for someone ready to break out of the monotony of Stephen King. O’Nan builds a ghost story that is both eerie and incredibly well-written.

“Parasites Like Us” (Viking, $24.95) by Adam Johnson. Bizarre and hilarious. Johnson gives us the world of anthropologist Hank Hannah, whose only connection to those around him is his knowledge of lost civilizations. With two of his graduate students, he must find his way through a world crumbling into a new Ice Age. Spinning a yarn of magical realism, Johnson is as funny as Dave Barry book while telling an utterly compelling story.

“The Fortress of Solitude” (Doubleday, $26) by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem’s wonderful novel is as much a coming-of-age novel as it is a love song to Brooklyn. Dylan Ebdus’ family was one of the first white families to move into an all-black neighborhood, and the story of his rough adolescence as well as his rocky adulthood is both compelling and beautiful. Lethem’s story is perfect for those who love the coming-of-age fiction of J.D. Salinger and the New York stories of Paul Auster.

“How Soon Is Never?” (Three Rivers Press, $13) by Marc Spitz. Joe Green’s Regan-era, adolescent-awakening came at the hands of the ’80s band The Smiths. So as an adult, when he is assigned to write about the band for the magazine he works for, he can’t help but attempt to reunite the band. That effort becomes a crusade to win the girl he loves and to reclaim the idealism of his youth. Spitz’s first novel is a stunning and captivating look at life, music and love. Not only is it perfect for all of those Smiths fans, but also for everyone who likes a romantic comedy as compelling as anything by Helen Fielding.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” (MacAdam/Cage, $25) by Audrey Niffenegger. Librarian Henry De Tamble is unable to stop himself from jumping through time, leaping either 10 years forward or 10 years back in his life. This makes for an unusual love affair with Clare Abshire, whose life moves forward at a usual pace. To make things even more awkward, every time Henry makes a time jump he arrives naked. Funny and brilliant, Niffenegger’s first book is a must-read. This book would make a great read for anyone who loves science fiction. Niffenegger is able to tap into that same mystical well that formed the novels of J.K. Rowling and Issac Asimov, while telling a story that is touching and compelling. S

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