The Best Books of 2008

Creepy Earth Mothers! Portuguese drag queens! Voice writers pick their favorites of the year.

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America
Edited by Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland
Ecco, 608 pp., $29.95

Unlike the electoral college, these editors hold all states in equal regard. They've assembled a stellar cast of writers penning essays on every state, from Susan Orlean on Ohio to Jonathan Franzen on New York. Accompanying the superb pieces are oddball charts that reveal Rhode Island to have the highest concentration of drive-throughs, with West Virginia winning for toothlessness. Plan your travels accordingly. ALEXANDER NAZARYAN

Unaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Knopf, 333 pp., $25

Nazi Literature in the Americas
Danny Hellman
Nazi Literature in the Americas

Jhumpa Lahiri is an artist of the family portrait, drawing upon the shades of love that color us as we crawl from childhood to old age. The eight stories in Unaccustomed Earth have in them an emotional wisdom anchored in character. Lahiri uses the intimate whispers of the first person to tell of thwarted love, illness, mixed signals, and death—capturing these moments with clarity and grace, a tangible knowledge of how souls twist in the wind. LENORA TODARO

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation
By Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell
Hill and Wang, 160 pp., $35

If the Constitution is a living document, the last eight years have left it badly battered. But this intelligently written, lushly illustrated tome offers an antidote to the grievous misreadings that have spawned the likes of Guantánamo. Hennessey interweaves the Framers' intent with contemporary battles over constitutional law, while McConnell colors history with masterful strokes. A civics lesson no one should miss. ALEXANDER NAZARYAN

What Can I Do When Everything's on Fire?
By António Lobo Antunes, translated by Gregory Rabassa
Norton, 585 pp., $19.95

If you liked Almodóvar's All About My Mother, you'll appreciate this trippy Portuguese exercise in fragmented subjectivity. Antunes's novel explores an urban milieu of marginalized drag queens, junkies, gypsies, and underground discos as viewed through the emotionally unstable mind of young Paulo—son of Lisbon's most famous (and profligate) transvestite. Almost does for Lisbon what Ulysses did for Dublin. CAROL COOPER

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