Each December, our reviewers choose their top books; today's list is by author John McFarland.
Love in a Dark Time: and Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature by Colm Tóibin (Scribner, 2002)
A provocative, penetrating collection of essays on the literature, art and films of gay and lesbian artists, including Oscar Wilde, Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Bishop and James Baldwin, by an author more widely noted for his fiction.
A Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer, translated from the German by John Brownjohn (Bloomsbury, 2008)
A 30-year obsession is upended when Erneste, the perfect waiter of the title, receives a letter from his lost love, forcing a revisit to a painful past. This is a literary novel of the highest caliber, with nary an extraneous word.
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings (Random House, 2010)
The definitive biography of the celebrated novelist, short story writer and playwright who dominated world literature for decades with his worldly (and often morbid) tales of passion gone wrong, and how his personal life was haunted by... passion gone wrong.
Nobody's Perfect by Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce with Daniel Paisner (Atlantic Monthly Press)
A thrilling, emotionally complex revisit to the legendary almost-perfect baseball game of June 2, 2010, complete with the satisfying back story of the careers (and psychologies) of the pitcher and the umpire who shared a first-base call that made history.
The Fatal Touch by Conor Fitgerald (Bloomsbury)
An intricate, satisfying crime novel set in Rome, with a quirky engaging detective training a new assistant in the ways of homicide investigation while all around them corrupt forces want to stifle (and maybe hurt) them.
Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
This satisfyingly atmospheric novel focuses on Dublin, its famous Abbey Theater, John Millington Synge and the actress Molly Allgood, who served as the muse for the mature-and-dying Synge when she was only a lass and could (and did) have her heart broken for a lifetime.
Paper Conspiracies by Susan Daitch (City Lights)
A mesmerizing novel about the construction of stories, some true and incredible, others false yet widely believed to be true, and the damage that can be done by the promotion of the latter.
The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America's Culinary Revolution by Patric Kuh (Viking, 2001)
The crème of restaurants in the United States from 1941 onward carried French names with menus derived from classic French cooking. Following the trail from that age, based on the haut modèle, to the era of locavoracious small-plate boites that emerged after Berekely's Chez Panisse put California (and fusion) cuisine on the map is delicious (and not at all fattening).
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray (Random House, 2004)
A riotously comic novel that is equal parts P.G. Wodehouse and J.P. Donleavy, focusing on a loony Irish family, their Bosnian immigrant servants, lowlifes of Dublin slums and a greyhound that is running, running, running away from what society demands it to do (just like the family).
Open by Andre Agassi (Knopf, 2009)
A blisteringly candid autobiography of the tennis star who rose to the top of his sport despite hating the game he mastered: inspiring, insightful and loving.