Reader’s Advisory: “Best Book” Sleepers

Annual “best books” roundups always reflect a mix of love and duty, as any book reviewer or awards judge knows. On the theory that many of the lesser-known picks on these lists are actually the best-loved, we took another look at the year’s “Best Books,” trying to spot books with broad appeal that slipped under our radar this year, and perhaps yours, too. Some of these titles don’t have holds list, so you may actually find them on the new book shelves.

(Check out our list of Under-the-Radar Literary Picks too!)

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C. E. Mayo

Library Journal chose this historical novel about the short-lived career of Austrian archduke Maximilian as Mexico’s emperor in the 1860s for their best books longlist. It also got a fair amount of coverage from book bloggers –  including Bookslut and others – after Unbridled Books sent the author on a lively blog tour. According to World Cat, 239 libraries have the book. Those we checked had 4-6 copies with no reserves.

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
C. M. Mayo
Retail Price: $26.95
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Unbridled Books – (2009-05-05)
ISBN / EAN: 193296164X / 9781932961645

The Art Student’s War by Brad Leithauser

This paean to Detroit and one of its immigrant families in the decodes after WWII by a native son and author of five novels was a New York Times Notable Book and is available in 151 libraries in modest quantities with modest reserves. The full review in the Times called it

“One of the finest novels about Detroit’s history to come along in years. With its generous and cleareyed vision of the city’s grand past, it will particularly resonate with readers who remember the glory days of the American Rust Belt.”

The Art Student’s War
Brad Leithauser
Retail Price: $28.95
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Knopf – (2009-11-03)
ISBN / EAN: 0307271110 / 9780307271112

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy

This story collection set in Montana about characters adept at creating misery for themselves was the only short story collection to appear on the New York Times Top 10 list for 2009, in a year the critics acknowledge was a superlative one for short stories. It’s in 558 libraries, says World Cat; those we checked had 20 or fewer copies, with up to twice as many reserves.

The full New York Times review praises Meloy’s wry humor and exceptional restraint,  while the Los Angeles Times review notes that “Meloy’s richest territory is the fork in the road at right and wrong, the moment when a person’s moral compass wavers.”

Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
Maile Meloy
Retail Price: $25.95
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover – (2009-07-09)
ISBN / EAN: 159448869X / 9781594488696

Big Machine by Victor LaValle

A Publishers Weekly Top 10 pick, Victor LaValle’s second novel is about about faith and the monsters and mental sustenance it can create, particularly among America’s underclass. World Cat says 401 libraries have it, some with modest reserves.

The Washington Post places LaValle’s work in an “increasingly high-profile and important cohort of writers who reinvent outmoded literary conventions, particularly the ghettos of genre and ethnicity that long divided serious literature from popular fiction.”

Big Machine
Victor LaValle
Retail Price: $25.00
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau – (2009-08-11)
ISBN / EAN: 0385527985 / 9780385527989

Lowboy by John Wray

This novel about a paranoid schizophrenic teenager who spends his days riding the New York City subways was on the Amazon.com editors’ Best Books longlist. More libraries have it than any other book on this list – 875 libraries, according to World Cat – yet reserves are low, despite solid coverage in highbrow print venues like the New York Times and New York magazine and hipster blogs like Largehearted Boy.

Lowboy
John Wray
Retail Price: $25.00
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux – (2009-03-03)
ISBN / EAN: 0374194165 / 9780374194161

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