Love In Infant Monkeys -- Lydia Millet (Soft Skull)
Millet uses the lives of real historical characters and their interactions with animals to create short stories displaying a rare mix of intelligence, humor and emotional resonance, some heartbreaking, some funny, some just weird. Madonna shoots a pheasant on her English estate and muses on the Kabbalah, Thomas Edison electrocutes an elephant, and in the title story a psychologist's scientific objectivity crumbles in an alcoholic breakdown. Written with wit and style to spare.
Asterios Polyp -- David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon)
Mazzucchelli abandoned a potentially lucrative career in mainstream comics to develop his art and follow his muse, and this graphic novel is the glorious result. The story of an arrogant, emotionally stunted architect who hits bottom and reclaims his soul is both complex and affecting, a groundbreaking creative work that values head and heart equally.
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original -- Robin D. G. Kelley (Free Press)
A detailed and definitive look into the life of a central figure in 20th century American music, Kelley's biography dispels myths about the legendary jazz pianist and composer: Monk was better schooled in music than condescending critics of his time knew. Kelley also makes clear that Monk suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder and was fortunate to have strong women in his life who nurtured his genius.
Big Machine -- Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)
LaValle takes big chances with his epic story of an ex-junkie initiated into a secret society called The Unlikely Scholars undertaking a quest to find a mysterious Voice that has haunted African Americans for hundreds of years. A gripping novel that suggests a Stephen King novel as written by Ralph Ellison.
Zeitoun -- Dave Eggers (McSweeneys)
Eggers tells the real life story of a Syrian-American contractor ensnared in a post-Katrina Homeland Security nightmare in a crisp self-effacing style that makes it all the more powerful.
The Skating Rink -- Roberto Bolaño (New Directions)
Inherent Vice -- Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)
Chronic City -- Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi -- Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)
The Caryatids -- Bruce Sterling (Del Rey)