The book-club book
Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies won the first-time author the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for good reason: the collection of short stories about life in India and the experience of Indian immigrants here gave American readers more insight into that culture than we might have into our own. Details are Lahiri's strength and within the first few lines of The Namesake, Lahiri's second book, it's details that draw the reader in. Ashima Ganguli, nine months pregnant with her first child, stands in her Cambridge, Mass. apartment trying her best to concoct a snack resembling her favorite sold on the streets of Calcutta. That she can't quite approximate it becomes the book's thread, as first Ashima, and then her son Gogol, struggle to define themselves in terms of American culture. That neither quite finds their place-nothing's that simple-is what gives the book breadth and makes it more than a worthwhile read.
The guilty-pleasure book(s)
It's not a new thing for insiders to want to spill all to us outsiders. Neither is it unusual for those tell-alls to be set in New York, a town that's more myth than real, especially for those of us living on the other coast. There's The Nanny Diaries-the tell-all penned by two former Manhattan nannies who didn't much care for their bosses. Then there's The Devil Wears Prada, for which disgruntled former Vogue editorial assistant Lauren Weisberger put about a pinky's worth of effort into making the book fiction rather than fact. Plum Sykes' recent Bergdorf Blondes (despite the book's lame title, Sykes has a brain in her pretty head) is about-again-the shallow world of Vogue-ites. And despite their own well-heeled lives, Jill Kargman and Carrie Karasyov's The Right Address takes some cheap shots at their Upper East Side socialite peers.
The eye-candy book
Though published three years ago, Supermarket, photographer Rudy VanderLans' look at suburban encroachment on the California desert, is hip and vibrant, though almost too much so for its purposeful commentary on Californians' attempts to make the desert-this state's last pieces of open space-inhabitable.
The train-wreck book
It's hot outside, Jack's wife Chloe is having an affair, Jack's got a thing for his obnoxious neighbor's odd girlfriend and-oh yeah-it's really hot outside. Jean Thompson's City Boy, set in Chicago during one of those Chicago summers, tells the story of an unraveling marriage, a tale made all the more grating given the background music to the couple's crumbling is their upstairs neighbor's excessively loud reggae music. All the reader can do is watch as Jack and Chloe screw up their lives. Sometimes even fictional people can make us feel a little better about ourselves.
The life-lesson book
There's nothing like schadenfreude to get a reader going. New York Times columnist Dan Barry's Pull Me Up is the story of an ordinary guy with one twisted life. Barry's father, a UFO enthusiast, drags the family out on quests for little green men. His mother is a Johnny Cash fan who refuses to give up her Irish citizenship. When young Dan goes for his first job interview at the Times-his dream job-on the way there a bum spills beer on him, ostensibly why Barry doesn't get the job. Eventually he lands a job at a smaller newspaper where he willingly allows his work to supplant the reality of his own life. He does, in the end, get the job at the Times, though there's more tragedy to face before the book's ultimate happy ending.
The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. Having a job no longer guarantees you'll get by. What gives?
When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School by Sam Kashner. Beat understudy takes a look at his heroes.
Oblivion by David Foster Wallace. Short stories from the author of Infinite Jest.
Candyfreak: The Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond. Screw Hershey-fantastic storyteller Almond tours quirky, lesser-known confection factories.Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century by Lauren Slater. An engaging look at 10 seminal psychology experiments.