By Michael Cunningham

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham is best known for The Hours, an extended homage to Virginia Woolf. In his latest tour de force, Cunningham finds inspiration in another literary figure, Walt Whitman, who briefly appears as a character and whose poetry is threaded throughout Cunningham's wildly disparate narratives. Set against a Manhattan backdrop, Days is structured as a triptych of three extended stories in which Cunningham artfully weaves tales of alienated characters searching for connections. "In the Machine" occurs during the industrial revolution and follows a child convinced that the dead can communicate through assembly line equipment. "The Children's Crusade" concerns a forensic psychologist's efforts to solve a series of post-9/11 suicide bombings. "Like Beauty" is the story of an android falling in love with an alien, set 150 years in the future. In each case, Cunningham invests his characters with an intense pathos. At a crucial moment in "The Children's Crusade," the protagonist feels her relationship with her lover unraveling: "Nobody stayed in character all the time. This was intimacy. You saw each other through the dark spells. You didn't need—you didn't want—to be spared the fears and doubts, the crying fits, the self-recriminations." Readers need not be historical fiction fans or sci-fijunkies to understand the author's thrust: The need to feel a sense of belonging is not limited to our time.


By Susan Casey

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Though the Farallon Islands off Northern California are so barren and stormy as to be nearly uninhabitable, seabirds and marine mammals flourish there. Casey, the development editor for Time Inc. (PEOPLE's parent company), saw a BBC documentary about the islands and became fascinated with the great white sharks who return there every year, as well as with the lives of the cheerful biologists who brave the extreme climate to study the creatures. In 2003 she headed west to join them and quickly found herself slipping in bird guano on sheer rocky paths, wearing flea collars around her ankles to ward off vermin and learning how to handle a 17-ft. boat in surging shark-filled seas. Casey creates compelling portraits of the legendary predators, as well as of the scientists who "made a career choice that had nothing to do with money and everything to do with the fact that they'd never lost the child's sense of amazement about nature."


By Robert B. Parker

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Though he's written more than 50 books (including the popular Spenser series), this is one of Parker's few forays into the western genre. His hero, lawman-for-hire Virgil Cole, is a tough-as-nails cowboy who's done it all when it comes to wrangling" bad guys. And that's the problem: Before each gunfight, Cole gives his deferential partner (the narrator) a rundown of how the battle will flow, and everything plays out as predicted. Luckily, Cole doesn't understand women, so he falls for the devious Allie, even though she's bad news. It leads to an ending more surprising than satisfying.

FICTION The Perfectionist by Rudolph Chelminski

A revealing look at the rise and fall of French chef Bernard Loiseau, who killed himself in 2003.

THE SURVIVOR by John F. Harris

Lively and well-researched, this account of Bill Clinton's White House years is by a Washington Post correspondent who understands the subtleties of capital culture.


The L.A. Times reporter serves up telling profiles of the 19 men behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

SINATRA: THE LIFE by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

Dense and intimate, Sinatra offers first-rate reporting and a fresh take on the lonely kid from Hoboken, N.J., who became a legend.

When I Knew

Celebrity photographer Robert Trachtenberg posed one question to dozens of people: At what moment in your life did you know you were gay? The anecdotes and photos he collected in response make up the whimsical and touching collection, When I Knew.

"I was 8 years old, playing hopscotch out on the street. My dad and his friend Mickey were watching me skip and hop around. Mickey finally turns to my dad and says, 'Ben, I think you got a problem.' "—Barry Karas, political fund-raiser

"I knew I was gay when the most I exciting part of my Bar Mitzvah was meeting with the party planner." —Howard Bragman, public relations executive

"My father was watching the evening news. The announcer said that Judy Garland had died. I fainted. I was 9."—Andrew Freedman, marketing and film industry professional

  • Contributors:
  • Jonathan Durbin,
  • Heidi Jon Schmidt,
  • Bob Meadows.