Books to seek out or forget

The good was balanced by the bad in 2000

A pox on the critics' breathless obligatory best 10 books of the year. Let's try something different � a big ol' holiday gift list and cocktail party primer on the year in books.

Here's the whole shootin' match of this reviewer's reading for the year � the good, bad, the unfinished and the stunningly mediocre.

The unbelievably good

� "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay," Michael Chabon. Literary fiction isn't supposed to be this rollicking.

� "Being Dead," Jim Crace. My current best book of the year. Exquisite and disturbing.

� "Mountain City," Gregory Martin. Beautiful and unsentimental tale of a dying Nevada town.

� "Mr. Phillips," John Lanchester. Hysterically funny. Probably my favorite reading experience of the year.

� "Writing on Drugs," Sadie Plant. Part literary criticism, part biological primer, part critique of the illicit drug trade.

� "White Teeth," Zadie Smith. Oh, to be just 24 and so darn talented.

The very good

� "The Toughest Indian in the World," Sherman Alexie. Stories that "taste like grief."

� "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You," Amy Bloom. Gorgeous stories of love and its discontents.

� "House of Leaves," Mark Danielewski. A post-modern ghost story.

� "The Question of Bruno," Alexsander Hemon. An exile in Chicago.

� "The Name of the World," Denis Johnson. Academic send-up and May-December love story.

� "Assorted Fire Events," David Means. Unsparing short stories.

� "Pastoralia," George Saunders. Quirkily futuristic stories of losers and woe.

Flat-out delightful

� "Noodling for Flathead," Burkhead Bilger. Tales of cock fights, huntin' dogs and channel cats.

� "The Hunting of the President," Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. The greatest misses and stunning lows of the anti-Clinton right.

� "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," Helen Fielding. Have a glass of wine, sneak a cigarette and enjoy.

� "The Night Listener," Armistead Maupin. "Tales of the City" author's long-awaited new novel about sickness, friendship and trust.

� "Joe College," Tom Perotta. A Jersey kid goes to Yale and becomes Big Dork on Campus.

The good

� "Friend of the Earth," T.C. Boyle. Reliable, amusing writer peeks into the future � and it is grim.

� "Sam the Cat," Matthew Klam. Very funny. Borderline misanthropic.

� "Shopgirl," Steve Martin. Surprisingly good read from L.A. comedian/writer.

� "Anil's Ghost," Michael Ondaatje. A beautifully written, but creepy story of Sri Lanka.

� "Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain," Michael Paterniti. Yes, Virginia, Einstein's brain used to live in Lawrence.

� "The New Gilded Age," edited by David Remnick. Solid collection on the dot-com economy from the writers of the New Yorker.

� "Weird Like Us," Ann Powers. Misfits unite!

� "The Devil and Sonny Liston," Nick Tosches. A bare-knuckled tale of fury.

Ones I'm still trying to get to or have just started that promise to be good

� "The Blind Assassin," Margaret Atwood. Hoping she gets even better with age.

� "From Dawn to Decadence," Jacques Barzun. A history degree in 877 pages.

� "Sidetracks," Richard Holmes. A biographer explores his craft.

� "Quarrel & Quandry," Cynthia Ozick. Smart if not a bit rambling.

� "Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World," Cynthia Roth Peirpont. Insightful essays on literary women like Ayn Rand, Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin.

� "Make Believe," Joanna Scott. Odd novel seen through the eyes of a 3-year-old.

Ones I started and quit

� "How to Read and Why," Harold Bloom. One interesting chapter on Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," but also filled with � gasp! � typical Bloomian bluster.

� "Island of Lost Maps," by Miles Harvey. Great detective story ruined by bad prose.

� "A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius," David Eggers. The kids loved it, but I couldn't maintain.

� "Dream Stuff," by David Malouf. Couldn't get into these stories.

� "The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst," David Nasaw. Good chapter on the campaign against "Citizen Kane."

� "Blue Angels," Francine Prose. This book was nominated for a National Book Award? Were the judges alive?

� "The Human Stain," Philip Roth. Please, no more Zuckerman.

� "Rope Burns," F.X. Toole. Tough but overwrought boxing tales.

More overrated than our Jayhawks

� "Bobos in Paradise," David Brooks. Self-appointed apologist for elite consumers.

� "Suburban Nation," Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. More "architecture for living" platitudes from the New Urbanists.

� "In America," Susan Sontag. She blows it in the last third of the book. No business winning the National Book Award.

The mediocre

� "Picture Windows," Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen. The changing suburban face of Long Island.

� "False Alarm," Heather Drohan. Light San Francisco novel.

� "Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man," Joseph Heller. Poor guy. Not a good book to end on.

� "Einstein in Love," Dennis Overbye. Einstein was a cad.

� "Bodega Dreams," Ernesto Quinonez. A barrio Gatsby.

� "Be The One," April Smith. Thriller about a female scout for the Dodgers.

� "The Heartsong of Charging Elk," James Welch. An American Indian stuck in 19th-century France.

Please, shoot me before I have to read another page

� "Horse Heaven," Jane Smiley. "Horse Hell" would be more like it.

� "Tripping," Charlie Hays. A 400-plus page book of first-person accounts of acid trips. Yes, it's as horrific as it sounds.

� "Mamzelle Dragonfly," Rafeal Confiant. My first � and only � byline from the New York Times and the book's a total dog.

Happy holidays and happier reading.

� Mark Luce sits on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. You can e-mail him at


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