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[Salon Book Awards]

Alias Grace
By Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

Cold Mountain
By Charles Frazier
Atlantic Monthly Press

Because They Wanted To
By Mary Gaitskill
Simon & Schuster

Mason & Dixon
By Thomas Pynchon
Henry Holt

The Reader
By Bernhard Schlink
Pantheon

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How Proust Can Change Your Life
By Alain de Botton
Pantheon

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
By Anne Fadiman
Farrar Straus & Giroux

Into Thin Air
By Jon Krakauer
Villard

Echoes of a Native Land
By Serge Schmemann
Knopf

Close to the Machine
By Ellen Ullman
City Lights Books

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Reader's choice awards
Your best books of 1997

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___T H E__S E C O N D__A N N U A L
salon book awards

SALON SALUTES OUR

FAVORITE BOOKS OF 1997

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Illustration by Scott Laumann

| F I C T I O N |

ALIAS GRACE By Margaret Atwood
COLD MOUNTAIN By Charles Frazier
BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO By Mary Gaitskill
MASON & DIXON By Thomas Pynchon
THE READER By Bernhard Schlink

| N O N F I C T I O N |

HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE By Alain de Botton
THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN By Anne Fadiman
INTO THIN AIR By Jon Krakauer
ECHOES OF A NATIVE LAND By Serge Schmemann
CLOSE TO THE MACHINE By Ellen Ullman

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BY DWIGHT GARNER AND LAURA MILLER | The publishing industry spent most of 1997 bemoaning flat book sales and airing its dirty laundry like a big dysfunctional family in the latest it's-all-my-mother's-fault memoir, but as readers we simply wallowed in terrific books this year. Choosing Salon's five favorite works of fiction proved a particularly daunting challenge -- anyone eavesdropping on the flurry of transcontinental phone calls that preceded the announcement of our final list would have heard plenty of agonized groans as we winnowed it down to the selection you see here. Among other things, the year saw new books from such éminences grise as Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and Saul Bellow, plus dazzling first novels from Charles Frazier and Arundhati Roy. In a less stellar year, Rick Moody's "Purple America" and Cynthia Ozick's "The Puttermesser Papers" would have been shoo-ins, and with regret we weren't able to honor top-drawer literary entertainments like Diane Johnson's "Le Divorce" and Alex Garland's "The Beach."

Nonfiction beguiled us in 1997, rather than knocking us out (even if Jon Krakauer's nail-biter "Into Thin Air" kept us up until the wee hours), but the effects were just as lasting. For us, memoir mania hasn't so much dissipated as moved on. We'd much rather read about an author's work life than her childhood these days -- and Ellen Ullman's "Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents" struck us as one of the most original books we read all year. (Thomas Lynch's "The Undertaking," about his own adventures in "the grim trade," made us -- briefly -- consider extending the list of nonfiction winners to six titles.) You won't, however, find weighty histories and biographies among our winners -- those books receive honors elsewhere. We've chosen to spotlight nonfiction titles that read like great stories, the kind of books you rush home from work to read, rather than definitive studies. For that reason, we've made it a policy to steer clear of miscellaneous essay collections in favor of unified works, but two remarkable books -- David Foster Wallace's often brilliant "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" and film critic David Thomson's "Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts" -- also tested our resolve.

After days of wincing and wheedling, we finally arrived at this list, 10 books whose praises we'd gladly sing to total strangers, but more importantly, books we're pressing into the hands of family and friends. Excuse us -- we're print-addled, sleep-deprived and nearly cross-eyed -- but from where we stand (knee-deep in books, of course), 1997 was a very good year.


 

N E X T+P A G E+| Fiction Awards | Nonfiction Awards

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ILLUSTRATION BY SCOTT LAUMANN


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