The Bride of E
By Mary Jo Bang, October

Mary Jo Bang's previous book, Elegy, a series of poems for her deceased son, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her newest collection, The Bride of E, is organized alphabetically, and reminds us of poetry's indebtedness to the raw substance of letters. "B Is for Beckett" reads only "There is so little to say." In spare, aching lines, Bang evokes distance and absence while still adhering to the heart of things—and the comforting texture of words. Graywolf, 96 pp., $22

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
By Lydia Davis, October

A syllabus of violence: Packer at Baghdad University, 2003
Warzer Jaff
A syllabus of violence: Packer at Baghdad University, 2003


The Collected Stories gathers just under 200 stories by Davis, the writer whom Rick Moody has called "the best prose stylist in America." Some stories clock in at a conventional 15 pages, while others are only two, or one, or just one sentence, as in "Away From Home": "It has been so long since she used a metaphor!" Davis's stories are consistently soulful and surprising, from spot-on Kafka imitations to discourses on the tenderness of dictionaries. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 739 pp., $30

The Interrogative Mood
By Padgett Powell, October

The word "interrogative" means "of the nature of a question," and The Interrogative Mood fulfills this definition several thousand times over. Every sentence in this "novel" is a question; you don't so much read it as let it shove and jangle you into unexpected and highly pleasurable states of mind. Powell is a master of nouveau Southern lyricism, which reflects the growing predominance of Piggly Wigglies, Walmarts, and McMansions. How this book works is beyond me, but, miraculously, it does. Ecco Press, 176 pp., $21.99

Love in Infant Monkeys
By Lydia Millet, October

The title of this outlandish short-story collection, Millet's follow-up to her novel How the Dead Dream, comes from a scientific paper by Henry Harlow, an American psychologist known for his cruel experiments with rhesus monkeys. The title story is representative of the whole, in which celebrities (Madonna, Thomas Edison, Noam Chomsky) engage in awkward and revelatory encounters with animals (pheasants, giraffes, komodo dragons). With wit and deep pathos, Millet shows how we've fallen from the kingdom that animals still inhabit. Soft Skull, 186 pp., $13.95

Manhood for Amateurs
By Michael Chabon, October

If it's true that, as Time has written, Michael Chabon is the Updike of his generation, then Manhood for Amateurs is his Self-Consciousness, Updike's revealing memoir. The gorgeously written disclosures herein include Chabon's daily marijuana use during the '80s and '90s, his affection for his ex-father-in-law, and a teen love affair with one of his mother's friends. Styled as reminiscences on being a father, son, and husband, Manhood works as a saltier, fleshier companion to Chabon's literary guidebook, Maps and Legends. Harper, 320 pp., $25.99

Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art
By James Rosenquist with David Dalton, October

This highly entertaining memoir by the great pop artist, known for his billboard-influenced paintings, describes the rocky transition from abstract expressionism to pop art from the inside. But its strength comes from Rosenquist's big-hearted Midwestern storytelling. Highlights include observing de Kooning on a week-long bender, sitting in the front row before an unknown Elvis Presley, and gazing down on 1950's Times Square from scaffolding 22 stories high. Alfred A. Knopf, 384 pp., $50

Tiepolo Pink
By Roberto Calasso, translated by Alastair McEwen, October

According to Roberto Calasso, the celebrated Italian novelist and essayist, the work of the 18th-century Venetian painter Giambattista Tiepolo was the embodiment of sprezzatura. The term is essentially untranslatable, but it comes closest to "nonchalance" or, in Tiepolo's case, "the concealment of affectation through the mastery of craft." Calasso brings to Tiepolo's overlooked masterpieces the same hermeneutical zest he brought to Kafka in his 2005 novel K. The book's 81 full-color illustrations make it worth the cost. Alfred A. Knopf, 320 pp., $40.

By Witold Gombrowicz,translated by Danuta Borchardt, November

Gombrowicz, a long-deceased Polish novelist and dramatist, is probably the most well-regarded 20th-century European writer most Americans have never heard of. Sontag, Kundera, and Updike all praised him endlessly. Written two years after Ferdydurke,his 1937 masterpiece of eloquent lunacy, Pornografia explores the carnal longings of two exiled intellectuals, who later become embroiled in an underground assassination plot. The origins of much of Kundera's genre-bending work can be found here. Grove Press, 176 pp., $23

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