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My Top 5 Books of 2004

1. Women in their Beds by Gina Berriault (1997; SF author)
Berriault is (or, sadly, was) California's version of Alice Munro a superbly gifted short-story writer whose work haunts you with infinitely perfect moments: the bewilderment of a child who has killed his brother and can't understand what it means; the smell of eucalyptus trees and, on warm days, the feeling that hangs in the air around them. Simply put, a jewel of a book.

2. You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon (2004)
Called "a story writer's novel" by the Washington Post, You Remind Me of Me is filled with wonderful prose that is at once simple, exact, and dreamlike. The characters are, without exception, wonderfully human: they have hopes and thoughts, inner lives and outer lives, a knowledge of who they are and a knowledge of who they were supposed to be.

Note: I am friends with Dan, and he took my last name for a restaurant where one character works. The book is still unremittingly excellent.

3. The Question of Bruno by Alexander Hemon (2000)
By turns melancholy, comic, and tragic, Hemon's book is filled with marvelous evocations of life in the former Yugoslavia. The prose is jaw-dropping, especially considering that Hemon learned English only as an adult.

4. Esther Stories by Peter Orner (2001; SF author)
With his collection of short-shorts, Orner breaks away from the 20-page, 5,000 word short story and is able to create a different tone for his stories, at once conversational and probing. Worth reading for the first story, ("Initials Etched on a Dining-Room Table, Lockeport, Nova Scotia") alone.

5. How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer (2003; SF author)
More than one writer I know saw Julie Orringer's story "When She is Old and I am Famous" in the Paris Review (or, subsequently, in the Pushcarts) and made a note of her name, so as not to miss her book whenever it came out. The book is more than worth that effort, filled with stories that are both technically impressive -- "Pilgrims" comes to mind -- and wonderful reads, again and again.