by Don DeLillo
In a year when the assassination of John Kennedy was remembered at wrenching, excruciating length, this novel about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald may have been the most original contribution to our understanding of the hopelessness, the fear, the calculated insanity that can lead to events like those of Nov. 22, 1963.

by Kirk Douglas
Douglas' acting style—dimpled good looks combined with teeth-gritting toughness—carried over to make an honest, uncompromising book out of what could have been just another rise-to-stardom autobiography.

by Louise Erdrich
The third novel in Erdrich's series chronicling the lives of a Chippewa Indian family, this stark, unsentimental book begins in 1912, when the old ways no longer have power and the only apparent substitute—white man's law—is hardly to be counted.

by Jonathan Franzen
St. Louis seems to be the city involved in this ominous, bleakly funny first novel. But it's things American that are on trial—from malls and schools, which are testimonials to superficiality, to centers of power, which are testimonials to corruption.

by Albert Goldman
The sobering aspects of this biography brought the late John Lennon's admirers down to earth. In ferreting out the ex-Beatle's seamier qualities, Goldman also refocused attention on Lennon's music, which no longer must be regarded as the work of a holier-than-us prophet. But: see Worst of Pages.

by David Grossman
It took courage for Grossman, an Israeli novelist, to write a book that was understanding of, if not sympathetic to, Arabs in the occupied lands. His report is no mere symbolic feat, however; it vividly portrays two peoples trying to solve what often seems a hopeless problem.

by William Kennedy
Resembling not so much a novel as a color-splashed tapestry that goes on for yard after intriguing yard, this tale celebrates some eccentric 19th-century Americans—an erotic dancer, a bare-knuckle fighter, an escaped slave—and their never-flagging enthusiasm.

by Gabriel García Márquez
An elegant, touching love story—two people meet in their youth and separate for more than 50 years—unfolds against García Márquez's meditations on everything from social change in Latin America to the intimate rituals of aging.

by David C. Turnley (photographs) and Alan Cowell (text)
While there are many new books on South Africa, this one—notably in its concisely framed photographs—suggests what it might be like to look underground and see the trembling, grinding and shifting of the earth just before a quake.

by Anne Tyler
Maggie Moran, this novel's heroine, means well, but doesn't know when to stop. Tyler, however, knows exactly when to stop—to keep the poignant from turning maudlin, to keep the witty from turning silly, to keep the profound from turning pretentious.