Best New Books for May!

The best books of the month

I just noticed that Amazon has finally unveiled their “Best Books of the Month” page — a selection of May’s best new books, as chosen by Amazon’s own book editors. They’ve identified nine very special books, including new novels by some famous authors, and some very interesting non-fiction! (For a shortcut to Amazon’s list, just visit .)

Here’s what’s on the list…

In One Person

John Irving wrote some of the most famous novels of the last 50 years — everything from The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire to The Cider-House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. But this time he’s written a more poltical story, according to the book’s description on Amazon, which calls it “precisely the kind of astonishing alchemy we associate with a John Irving novel…, brilliant, political, provocative, tragic, and funny!”

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: a Novel

Eight American soldiers survive an intense firefight in Iraq, only to be honored with a guest appearance beside the Dallas Cowboys during a Thanksgiving halftime show. There they meet a wild cast of characters, according to the book’s description on Amazon, and “Over the course of this day, Billy will begin to understand difficult truths about himself, his country, his struggling family, and his brothers-in-arms – soldiers both dead and alive. In the final few hours before returning to Iraq, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.”

An Uncommon Education

This thought-provoking novel tells the story of a woman in college who’s “consumed by loneliness,” according to the book’s description on Amazon, “until the day she sees a girl fall into the freezing waters of a lake.” There’s a secret Shakespeare society, rituals, friendship, and enthusiastic students, offering a “compelling portrait of a quest for greatness and the grace of human limitations,” and a novel that’s both “poignant and wise.”

Season of the Witch
This is a fascinating history of San Francisco during a period of transformation — from 1967 to 1982. A reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle called it “A gritty corrective to our rosy memories…enthralling, news-driven history…smart and briskly paced tale…” (They added, “I found it hard to put down!”) This 482-page book looks absolutely fascinating, and it was written by David Talbot, who co-founded and (according to Wikipedia) has also written for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Time Magazine.


Toni Morrison has already won a Nobel prize, so it’s a literary event when she releases a brand new novel. “Nobody owns a sentence like Ms. Morrison,” Amazon writes in their review, describing its “slender, lyrical prose” that tells the story of a Korean war veteran and his sister who’s been abandoned by her husband. One newspaper called it “an intimate story with epic implications,” and another said author Toni Morrison was “at her best,” calling Home “her finest work since the groundbreaking 1992 novel Beloved.


The story of a female spy in World War II is based on the author’s own memories of her personal connection to a real-life spy. Her mother worked in England’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force alongside another woman who was recruited for Britain’s “Special Operations Executive” program. “The role of SOE was destruction, not intelligence,” the author remembers on the book’s page at Amazon. “In the famous words of Winston Churchill, they were to ‘set Europe ablaze’.” The author’s father, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, air-dropped supplies to the same undercover agents when she behind enemy lines in France. Amazon describes the book as “a smart, well-paced spy thriller based on the true, extraordinary story of the SOE…”

The Passage of Power

Biographer Robert A. Caro has spent several decades producing a series of definitive books about the life of President Lyndon Johnson. And according to the book’s description on Amazon, he’s still delivering the pieces of a very powerful portrait. “Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as ‘one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age. A masterpiece’.”

“This is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming…”

This book actually has a very long subtitle that sardonically lists out all the things it will help the reader overcome. (Like grief, disease, shyness, decrepitude “and more. For Young and Old Alike.”) But it’s really a new dark humor advice memoir by Augusten Burroughs, delivering “raw, hard-knock-life advice,” according to Amazon, “veering from brutal to hilarious to deeply compassionate.” It looks brutal but intriguing, and it’s described on Amazon’s page as a “no-holds barred” book that “will challenge your notion of self-help books!”

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

This isn’t just any investigation into a wealthy energy producer. It was written by a staff writer for The New Yorker who also spent 20 years as a reporter at The Washington Post, where he’d won a Pulitzer Prize, according to the book’s page on Amazon. Various reviewers described the book as masterful, magisterial, meticulous, or multi-angled, with one calling it a “must-read” that at the same time is both “riveting and appalling.” And one Amazon customer even warned that “You can’t put this book down. It just grabs you!”

Amazon Announces Best Books of 2011

Go the #### to Sleep cover illustration

It’s that once-a-year day when Amazon chooses the very best book of 2011. In fact, they’re released their list of the one hundred best books of the year, plus top 10 lists “in more than two dozen categories, from Literature & Fiction to Children’s Picture Books to the new category Kindle Singles.” On that special web page, Amazon’s also also created separate links for “Print editions” and “Kindle books” — which means you’re also be able to see Amazon’s picks for the 100 best ebooks of 2011. (Though the lists seem nearly identical.)

And some books even earned the highest honor, of not just being in the top 100, but but in the top 10.

“There are three first-time novelists among our top 10 picks,” announced Amazon’s senior books editor, noting their #1 pick was a debut novel — about baseball. “The Art of Fielding,” just released in September, is a story of friendship and coming of age, and in the nine weeks since its release its received over 135 reviews on Amazon. Its average rating is three and a half stars on Amazon — but at least one reviewer blamed their one-star review on what they see as a trend among Kindle ebooks.

“Why is it that all Kindle samples start off well? I was lured into buying the book by the sample. Downhill from there…”

But fortunately there’s something for everybody in Amazon’s “best of 2011” list — including a new book by Kurt Vonnegut. (It’s “While Mortals Sleep,” a collection of unpublished short fiction.) Amazon’s top 100 also features some interesting nonfiction titles, including the new biography about Steve Jobs and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, plus biographies about actress Diane Keaton and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. I’m intrigued by Steven Levy’s new book about Google (titled “In the Plex”). And there’s even a parody of children’s bedtime picture books called, simply, “Go The *** To Sleep”. (It’s available for just $3.99 on the Kindle, and there’s also an audiobook version – read by Samuel L. Jackson that was named one of Amazon’s 10 best audiobooks of the year.)

It looks like Amazon’s fiction choices are equally impressive. Just yesterday Stephen King released a new novel about the Kennedy assassination — titled 11/22/63 — in which Lee Harvey Oswald may ultimately be confronted shortly before his infamous day in American history. Ironically, it’s already racked up three one-star reviews — though two of them are just complaining about the ebook’s price of $18.99. And its third one-star review complained the price included “audio/video for other devices.” There is a cheaper ebook version without them — for just $16.99 — though I’m actually impressed that for just $2.00 more, you get an ebook with supplementary video and audio material!

“With choices from literary masterworks to genre fiction to nonfiction, there’s something for everyone,” gushed Amazon’s senior books editor. And I’l admit I was also intrigued by a new book from Tom Perrotta — The Leftovers, a comedic novel about the Rapture released just 10 weeks ago. It’s fun browsing through Amazon’s lists, just to see what they selected as their “bests” in each category. For example, in the graphics novel category, there’s the yet-to-be-released Batman: The Black Mirror and a collection of new “Love and Rockets” stories by Jaime Hernandez.

Unfortunately, these graphic novels aren’t available yet for the Kindle. But I’m hoping that will change very soon, since Amazon struck a deal with D.C. Comics to make digital versions of 100 graphic novels available exclusively on the Kindle Fire. They’ll include popular superhero titles like Watchmen, Batman: Arkham City, and Green Lantern: Secret Origin — as well a MAD magazine collection and, 13 volumes of Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It touched off a minor controversy, with Barnes and Noble protesting the exclusivity by pulling the print editions off their shelves.

Amazon’s list ultimately doubles as a reminder that this year not every book will be available for the Kindle. For example, Amazon’s “Best of 2011” page also includes their selection of the top 10 best book covers of the year — print editions only. I was surprised that the cover of the new Steve Jobs’ biography made in onto their list — which is available as a Kindle ebook. But the list also includes a breath-taking coffee table book, a print-only edition whose cover is a black-and-white photo showing sunshine on a snowfield, titled “The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition”.

To see all of Amazon’s “Best of 2011” lists, point your web browser to