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Our 25 Favorite Books of 2002

Depraved Indifference
HarperCollins, 319 pp., $24.95
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Loosely based on a real-life mother-son grifter team, the final installment of Indiana's American crime trilogy takes the get-ahead aspirations of a corrupt family to hilarious and dark extremes. In the opening section, dying dipsomaniac Warren recalls seedy cohorts and scams he concocted with his ruthless, manipulative wife, Evangeline. The latter half follows Evangeline and her son in their absurd social-climbing scheme of identity theft and murder. Indiana consistently crafts his brutal observations into lucid, rhythmic sentences. All the while, a hint of tragedy courses underneath, bringing a compelling tone to this commentary on class, family, and crime in America.

Get "Heppy": George Herriman
illustration: from Krazy & Ignatz, 1927–1928, Fantagraphics Books
Get "Heppy": George Herriman

Color commentary: Nathan Fox
from Ego Trip's Big Book of Racism (ReganBooks)

Ego Trip's Big Book of Racism
ReganBooks, 292 pp., $22.95
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If the problem of the 20th century was that of the color line, perhaps our biggest problem today is that we're terminally uncomfortable talking about race. The second book from the smart, wry, and sadly defunct hip-hop magazine Ego Trip exists to annoy and provoke—"We just hate everybody," the dedication half-jokes—but it does so with a furtive sense of hope. Consisting of hundreds of crass-but-true lists ("Top 10 Blacks According to Whites," "Top 10 Tragic Mulattos") and staggering, often bizarre anecdotes of racism, Ego Trip's cunning and playfully confrontational book reminds us that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Globalization and Its Discontents
Norton, 282 pp., $24.95
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With this book, Clinton adviser, former World Bank chief, and Nobel laureate (Economics, 2001) Stiglitz officially declares that the emperor has no clothes. Defecting from the "Washington Consensus" (the IMF, World Bank, and U.S. Treasury), he delivers an account of the failure of market fundamentalism, the belief that a country's economic development rests solely on market forces. It's a war story from the corridors of power, the staggering confession of a financial insider with a political conscience and a healthy degree of common sense.

Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal
D.G.E., 720 pp., $85
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Outsider art historian MacGregor devoted 12 years to this study of Henry Darger, the reclusive Chicago janitor whose beautiful, sometimes disturbing watercolors (illustrating his 15,145-page fantasia) only filtered to the public after death, thanks to a perceptive landlord. MacGregor is the ideal guide to the often infernal realms of Dargeriana, piecing together the sad life and the singular art, bravely addressing the violence welling in the labyrinth's darker corners. He brings to the task an uncanny sympathy and an audacious but necessary psychoanalytic approach. This is the best book we will ever have on the most important artist we almost never had.

Krazy & Ignatz
Fantagraphics, 2 vols. (1925-1926 and 1927-1928), 118 pp. each, $14.95
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If only our world were more like that of Krazy and Ignatz. These new collections of George Herriman's Krazy Kat cartoon strips from 1925 through 1928 (the strip originally ran from 1913 to the mid 1940s) follows the peculiar love triangle between androgynous Krazy, scheming brick-thrower Ignatz Mouse, and sentimental but officious Offisa Pupp. Set against a surreal Southwest landscape of cacti, cabbages, and precariously stacked cliffs, there's poetry in Krazy's absurd phrases and magic in the image of a hero(ine?) so unselfconscious that a brick to the head becomes a sublime symbol of love. Per Krazy, "There is a heppy lend—furfur awaay!"

Doubleday, 260 pp., $24.95
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William Burroughs's word virus in a Buffy scenario, Chuck Palahniuk's latest pop-nihilist tract wonders if the end of mass media would be such a bad thing. When a reporter on the sudden-infant-death beat finds the same children's anthology at each cribside, open to the same ancient lullaby, he turns ambivalent serial killer, a lethal mantra in his brain ready to uncoil at any moment. Climaxing in spellbook one-upmanship, the novel itself becomes an incantation—or an arena anthem. Lullaby hones its shut-the-fuck-up misanthropy into something like poignant despair: a plea to reclaim language from the perverting miasma of white noise.

The Mount
Small Beer Press, 238 pp., $16
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Charley's an engaging, smart, and very athletic 12-year-old. In fact, he's such a prime specimen that he's the racing steed for the infantile future leader of the Hoots, a cuddly alien species who came to Earth to breed wild humans as show horses. Octogenarian Emshwiller's fourth novel is a potent allegory about trading freedom for a soul-killing security, but it's most affecting as the story of a boy who'd rather live in comfort with a friendly owner on his back than face his barely civilized father and his weird ideas about living in caves, and in a democracy.

My Loose Thread
Canongate, 121 pp., $18
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Not for the fainthearted, My Loose Thread charts the nervous breakdown of Larry, a teen so tortured by the terrible things he thinks he's done that he eventually commits real atrocities. Larry's narrative is laconic and mysterious—even his pronouns are cryptic. But as he questions his memory, others' perceptions, and language itself, his ruminations become a rich glimpse into a youth's short-circuited worldview. Cooper takes on button-pushing topics with seriousness and raw intelligence; though he responsibly refuses to justify his protagonist's behavior, he also makes Larry too thoughtful, inquisitive, and of the moment to write off as a simple embodiment of evil.

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