Hardcover books can be so forbidding, can't they? Those imposing, inflexible covers, that terrifying $20-plus price tag. Whereas paperbacks--so soft, so yielding, so informal, so ... cheap. Some of last spring's best books are just coming out in paperback, so if you waited till now to read them, your patience is rewarded. And what's a year, anyway? Isn't great literature timeless?
THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS By Brian Greene Quick, how many dimensions does space-time have? Answer: 11. Does time really flow forward? Nope. Is teleportation possible? Yep. Greene, a superstring expert who teaches physics and math at Columbia University, uses The Simpsons characters to illustrate the ground rules of a universe that is so much weirder than you thought. Result? Science that's as much fun as science fiction.
ALOFT XBy Chang-Rae Lee It's like an optical illusion. Look at Jerry Battle one way, and he's got it made: retired, pile of money, kids grown, nice house. Tilt the picture just slightly, and it tells another story: his daughter is sick, he's haunted by memories of his dead wife, and his son is screwing up the landscaping business Jerry spent his life building. Of course, Jerry likes the picture the first way, but that second picture keeps looming. The quintessential novel of suburban blight, Aloft is as perfect and manicured as a Long Island, N.Y., lawn.
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND By Carlos Ruiz Zafón Barcelona, 1945. A young boy becomes fascinated by a strange novel by a man named Julián Carax. But who was Carax? No one can agree. And why have all other copies of his books been destroyed? And who is that guy following the boy around, speaking in riddles and smelling of burned paper? The Shadow of the Wind is a sophisticated, Borgesian thriller about--and for--those select few for whom books and people, reading and living, are one and the same.
OUT By Natsuo Kirino Four very different women work the night shift at a factory outside Tokyo for nothing wages. All four are lonely, exhausted and miserable. But only one is miserable enough to strangle her abusive husband with a belt. You will think you're loving Out because it's a tense, atmospheric, sweaty, claustrophobic, cutting-up-bodies-in-the-bathroom crime thriller. But it's also a journey through a rarely glimpsed Japan, a lower-middle-class Japan of yen-hungry loan sharks and ragged tatami mats. Housewives don't come any more desperate than this.
THE DEW BREAKER XBy Edwidge Danticat One needs a new term to describe Danticat's book: A novel-in-stories? A story-circle? In the first chapter the daughter of Haitian expats living in Brooklyn learns that her father is not, as she thought, a former prison inmate. He was a prison guard and, worse, a torturer and an executioner for the bloody Duvalier regime. The chapters that follow explore the rings of aftermath that spread out from his crimes like terrible ripples; in the final, riveting chapter, we confront the torturer himself at work.