Must Reads: A Round Up Of 2005ís Most Essential Page Turners

BY WARREN COHEN

December/January 2006

FICTION
The March
(Random House)
By E.L. Doctorow
Doctorow's epic historical fiction reaches a new high with his interpretation of General Sherman's legendary March to the Sea in which 60,000 Union troops tore through Georgia and the Carolinas to hasten the end of the Civil War. While Sherman - who left a path of destruction in order to psychologically break the South - is vividly portrayed, Doctorow spends most of the time focusing on the imagined life stories of slaves and jaded army soldiers.

MYSTERY
Oblivion
(William Morrow)
By Peter Abrahams
Gumshoe Nick Petrov is a mystery novel's typical boastful tough guy who finds missing people for a living. But when the surefooted investigator wakes up in a hospital bed with no memories of the previous two weeks, he's forced not only to resume an unsolved case but also figure out who he is. Abrahams shuffles times and places so that readers are sometimes as out of sync as Petrov until the thrilling end.

MEMOIR
The Tender Bar
(Hyperion)
By J.R. Moehringer
"Everyone has a holy place, a refuge, where their heart is purer, their mind clearer, where they feel close to God or love or truth or whatever it is they happen to worship," writes Los Angeles Times journalist Moehringer. For him, that place was The Publican, a bar in Manhasset, Long Island where his Uncle Charlie served drinks. Moehringer portrays all the colorful barflys who served as his father figure in place of his own absent dad.

CELEBRITY
700 Sundays
(Warner Books)
By Billy Crystal
The comedian's ode to his family and his own Long Island upbringing is a bittersweet memoir. His dad died when he was 15, leading to Crystal's estimation that he shared only 700 Sundays with his old man. Along with his family life, Crystal recounts his own introduction to movies and music (his uncle owned the record label that first recorded Billie Holiday) with classic wit and Catskills charm.

BUZZ
Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud
(Houghton Mifflin Company)
By Jonathan Safran Foer
With some pages filled with photos, fingerprints and even long strings of random numbers, Foer's second novel rides what must be called an experimental edge. Unique characters like a deadbeat grandfather who doesn't speak but has the words yes and no tattooed on each hand adds to the novelty. But Foer's unorthodox styling creates a poignant tale of a 9-year-old boy's search for meaning after his father dies in the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

COMEBACK
The City of Falling Angels
(Penguin Press)
By John Berendt
It's been more than a decade since Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil reigned on the bestseller lists, but that hasn't dulled John Berendt's spark. In his new book, the action shifts from Georgia to Italy, where a fire has destroyed Venice's famous opera house. While following the aftermath and resulting post-disaster trial, Berendt meets his typical assortment of local crazies - poets, surrealist painters, and Ezra Pound's mistress, to name a few.

SURPRISE
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
(William Morrow)
By Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Most economists are normally so boring they make accountants seem hip. But Levitt (with writer Dubner) ignores typical subjects like finance and taxation to number-crunch his way to fascinating conclusions about various social issues. Some controversial but fascinating analyses include the relationship between abortion and crime, how campaign finances don't really determine election winners, and how backyard swimming pools are more dangerous to children than guns.

SCIENCE
Blink
(Little, Brown)
By Malcolm Gladwell
Is your marriage in danger of failing? Is that pricey antique statue in your foyer a fake? Experts in these fields can tell you the answers within seconds, thanks to what Gladwell dubs rapid cognition, or conclusions made in the blink of an eye. Find out how to improve your own decision making and rely more on instinct from an author whose obscure anecdotes indicate that he must read psychological textbooks for fun.

HISTORY
1776 (Simon & Schuster)
By David McCullough
Most people 1776 as the triumphant year of the Declaration of Independence. But back then, rookie general George Washington was hastily recruiting an amatuer army of farmers and shoemakers to fight a daunting war against England's massive military. McCullough's past tomes about Truman and the Panama Canal have become de facto history references. His new work explains how the outgunned colony kept the declaration from becoming a historical footnote.

SPORTS
Necessary Spectacle: Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs, and the Tennis Match That Leveled the Game
(Crown)
By Selena Roberts
Roughly 50 million television viewers watched the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match (also dubbed "The Libber Versus the Lobber") between Wimbleton champions Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Though Riggs boasted that he was a male chauvinist pig and the world's greatest women's tennis player, he suffered the stink of defeat in three straight sets. Roberts reveals the inside story of the famous bout and shows how King's victory sparked a rich future for women's sports.

ROCK 'N' ROLL
Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story
(Scribner)
By Chuck Klosterman
Driving to the sites of such rock and roll tragedies like the Seattle greenhouse where Kurt Cobain was found, the Mississippi field where Lynryd Skynyrd's plane crashed and the Rhode Island club where more than 90 Great White fans died in a fire may seem to make for a depressing book. But Klosterman uses his 6,557-mile trip to wrestle profound questions about music, death and the romantic and spiritual importance of the band KISS.

POPULAR CULTURE
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
By Jonathan Mahler
To those living in NYC back in 1977, it must have seemed like the end of the world: rampant urban crime and fiscal problems, serial killing, and recurring blackouts that spawned urban riots. (The book's catchy title refers to a quip Howard Cosell during a World Series broadcast, when he saw flames outside Yankee Stadium.) But in hindsight, the embers of '77 lit new trends like disco and punk music, the revival of cities, and even bombastic sports celebs like Reggie Jackson.