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Book World Picks Its 10 Best Books of the Year

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fiction

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AMERICAN RUST, by Philipp Meyer (Spiegel & Grau, $24.95). This powerful novel about two poor young men caught up in the murder of a homeless man scrapes beneath today's economic headlines to show us a community corroded by poverty and despair. -- Ron Charles

A GATE AT THE STAIRS, by Lorrie Moore (Knopf, $25.95). Profound reflections on marriage and parenthood, racism and terrorism, and especially the baffling, hilarious, brutal initiation to adult life. -- Ron Charles

THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE, by Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely (Knopf, $28.95). Although it can be read as a simple romance, this is a richly complicated work. Masterfully translated, spellbindingly told, a resounding confirmation that Orhan Pamuk is one of the great novelists of his generation. -- Marie Arana

THE STALIN EPIGRAM, by Robert Littell (Simon & Schuster, $26). In what may be his finest novel, Littell dramatizes the horrific events that followed after the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote a 16-line epigram that attacked the all-powerful Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. -- Patrick Anderson

WOLF HALL, by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt, $27). A brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry VIII's formidable adviser Thomas Cromwell. -- Wendy Smith

Nonfiction

FAMILY PROPERTIES: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, by Beryl Satter (Metropolitan, $30). A penetrating examination of financial discrimination. The most important book yet written on the black freedom struggle in the urban North. -- David J. Garrow

HALF THE SKY: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf, $27.95). Opens our eyes to an enormous humanitarian issue and does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material. This is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed. -- Carolyn See

POPS: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30). An exceptional biography of, in Teachout's lovely phrase, "a major-key artist." -- Louis Bayard

STITCHES: A Memoir, by David Small (Norton, $24.95). A shockingly candid illustrated memoir of one family's legacy of anger and repression and sadism. -- Michael Sims

A STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and Their Remarkable Families, by Michael Holroyd (Farrar Straus Giroux, $40). A completely delicious and wickedly entertaining biography of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, the queen and king of 19th-century English theater. -- Michael Dirda


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