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Check out our Best Books Web app for a fun and interactive version of this year's best books, featuring reviews, author interviews and more. And click here for our 40 top children's books.

We all love numbers, rankings, and lists; herald the best of anything, and we're seduced. After Bo Derek walked down the beach in her blonde cornrows, it was all about being a "10." At PW, we get to pick our "10," the books published this year that stayed with us, that we talked up, handed around, and of course argued about among ourselves. This year we were quiet: we weren't drinking, we didn't come anywhere near to blows, and Rose Fox, our fantasy, science fiction, and romance editor, got her slot in the Top 10 with Maureen McHugh's After the Apocalypse, a wild and wicked story collection taking on the future. We didn't, however, abandon the famous (the National Book Awards took care of them). The reviews staff was generally crazy for Eugenides's The Marriage Plot (our newest editor, Jessamine Chan, went to Brown, but she didn't tell us until later), and Ann Patchett's bestselling State of Wonder got on for being just terrific, while Tina Fey (Bossypants) is our celebrity who can write (and part of a backstory that we won't reveal). We paid tribute to the big guns taking on the big guns: Robert Massie's Catherine the Great, Paul Hendrickson's Hemingway's Boat, and Christopher Hitchens being himself in Arguably, his collected essays. But we also reached out with Donald Ray Pollock's heart-racing The Devil All the Time, Ali Smith and her disconcerting party guest (There but for the) and Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina's coming-of-age, One Day I Will Write About This Place.

—Louisa Ermelino




The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Like many of the heroines of the Victorian novels she favors, Madeleine Hanna, Brown University class of 1982 English major, must choose between men: the hungry wanderer Mitchell Grammaticus or the brilliant but troubled Leonard Bankhead. Madeleine goes with the latter, sidelining her own intellectual pursuits in favor of riding a manic depressive's roller-coaster through the dawn of semiotics, post-structuralism, identity politics, and psychopharmacology. A coming-of-age novel that's as unapologetically erudite as it is funny, fun, and profound.





The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)

Take a man from Ohio who's worked blue collar, send him for an M.F.A., and set him loose. Pollock, whose debut collection, Knockemstiff, was a knockout, strikes again with a terrifying cast of rural characters: the haunted WWII veteran, the husband and wife serial killers who target young men along the Interstate, the predatory revival preacher and his wheelchair-bound guitar-playing cousin, all tied together with violence, sin, and gorgeous prose into a mesmerizing slice of Americana.




State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett (Harper)

The best two female adversaries in recent memory cut a swath through the Amazon rain forest in Patchett's exotic, intelligent, ambitious, and engaging novel. A straitlaced, sincere research scientist from Minnesota is sent to find and assess the progress of the unorthodox septuagenarian doctor who's gone native while on a fact-finding mission to extend female fertility.




After the Apocalypse

by Maureen McHugh (Small Beer)

Incisive, contemporary, and always surprising, McHugh's second collection confronts near-future life with an ironic and particular eye. Her characters live with zombies, struggle to make ends meet on the Arizona–Mexico border, and cope with China's descent into capitalism in stories that stretch the boundaries of imagination.




Bossypants

by Tina Fey (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur)

We know Fey's wit from her writing (and acting) in SNL, 30 Rock, and whatever movie she stars in, but she adds to her wit a disarmingly frank and uncensored account of her life, stitching together the serious and the comic.




Catherine the Great

by Robert K. Massie (Random)

Pulitzer-winning biographer Massie—of Nicholas and Alexandra and of Peter the Great—now relates the life of a German princess, Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress Catherine II of Russia. Once again Massie delivers, with this masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch.




There but for the

by Ali Smith (Pantheon)

One night at an unruly dinner party, a guest named Miles goes upstairs, locks himself in the spare bedroom, and refuses to come out—for months. Smith uses this absurd bit of theater to explore some serious issues, privacy (reference is made to the U.K.'s carpet of CCTV cameras) and authenticity among them. But it's the author's effortlessly inventive form (narration comes from four different characters, none of whom knows Miles well), and her playful, breathlessly ebullient style that make this book a gem.




Hemingway's Boat

by Paul Hendrickson (Knopf)

There's never been a biography quite like this one. Hendrickson covers Papa's rise and fall by focusing on his most steadfast companion: his boat, Pilar. She was the stage on which Hemingway fished, brawled, wrote his novels, ranted about his poor reviews, raised his sons, and seduced other men's wives. The stories are rich with contradiction and humanity, and so raw and immediate you can smell the salt air.




One Day I Will Write About This Place

by Binyavanga Wainaina (Graywolf)

A Kenyan Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this sublime word-drunk memoir from the Caine Prize–winning author describes a coming-of-age rent by political troubles and suffused by a love affair with language.




Arguably: Essays

by Christopher Hitchens (Hachette/Twelve)

As a political, cultural, and literary critic, Hitchens stands alone, as demonstrated by this major collection of mostly recent essays and reviews covering a range of topics, from America's founding fathers to the state of the English language. You don't always have to agree with this fearless polemicist to appreciate his erudite mind.

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