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Friday, March 21, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Northwest Magazine / Cover Story

Spring books: 100 most likely to provoke, intrigue and inspire us this season

If you don't work in the book business, here's something you may not know: The number of books published in America has exploded over the past 20 years. Last year, almost 115,000 books were published in this country, according to one reliable estimate.

So this time around, we've tried to be selective with this list, winnowing it down to the 100 most provocative, intriguing and readable books we are most likely to pick up this spring and summer. We tend away from authors who reliably put out two or three books per year (you know who they are, and what they're writing) and toward those who deserve and can use the notice. Among these hundred worthy titles, we hope you find some treasures for your bookstand.

LITERARY FICTION & POETRY

March

"Shroud" by John Banville (Knopf). The latest from the Irish writer ("The Untouchable") portrays an aging, ailing Belgian scholar and World War II refugee who is a master liar — and doesn't want his secrets exposed.

"Office of Innocence" by Thomas Keneally (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). The author of "Schindler's List" sets his new novel in World War II Sydney, where a popular young priest copes with the murder of a woman he loved.

"Somersault" by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Philip Gabriel (Grove). The first new novel by the Japanese writer since he won the Nobel Prize is about a religious movement that goes down a very dangerous path.

"The Songs of the Kings" by Barry Unsworth (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). In his latest novel, the Booker Prize winner ("Sacred Hunger") retells the story of Agamemnon and his daughter Iphigeneia, with Odysseus in a supporting role as "blowhard."

"Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems" by Alice Walker (Random House). The prize-winning African-American novelist ("The Color Purple") offers a book of verse.

April

"Cosmopolis" by Don DeLillo (Scribner). DeLillo ("Underworld") explores "the impact of money on every aspect of our culture" in a novel about a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager.

"Loot" by Nadine Gordimer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The South African Nobel laureate ("A Sport of Nature") gives us 10 new short stories.

"Crabwalk" by Günter Grass, translated by Krishna Winston (Harcourt). The new novel by the German Nobel laureate ("The Tin Drum") focuses on the worst maritime disaster of all time: the loss of 9,000 people in the sinking by a Soviet submarine of a German cruise ship-turned-refugee carrier in January 1945.

"Good Faith" by Jane Smiley (Knopf). The Pulitzer Prize-winner ("A Thousand Acres") takes on 1980s America in a novel about get-rich schemes and unbridled greed.

"Bay of Souls" by Robert Stone (Houghton Mifflin). The author of "Damascus Gate" writes a psychological thriller about a professor at a rural college who becomes obsessed with a new female colleague who's an expert on Third World politics.

"The Light of Day" by Graham Swift (Knopf). The Booker Prize-winning British writer ("Last Orders") pens a tale of "love, murder and redemption" with this story of a divorced ex-policeman in an "all-consuming" relationship with a former client.

May

"Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood (Doubleday). As she did in "The Handmaid's Tale," the master fiction writer turns to the future, portraying a world left devastated in the wake of ecological and scientific disaster.

"Ten Little Indians" by Sherman Alexie (Grove). A new collection of stories by the Seattle author ("Indian Killer").

"Best Friends" by Thomas Berger (Simon & Schuster). This novel is about two lifelong friends whose fundamental differences are becoming more obvious and problematic after 20 years of buddyhood. By the author of "Little Big Man."

"The End of Youth" by Rebecca Brown (City Lights). The prize-winning Seattle author ("The Gifts of the Body") links 13 short stories, including her bittersweet "Smokers," which appeared in The Stranger a few years ago.

"Monkey Hunting" by Cristina García (Knopf). A Chinese-Cuban family saga spans more than a century, from 1857 to the Vietnam War. By the author of "Dreaming in Cuban" and "The Agüero Sisters."

"The Wandering Hill" by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster). McMurtry's second volume in a projected quartet — "Sin Killer" was volume one — continues the story of the Berrybender family in the 1830s Wild West.

"Man About Town" by Mark Merlis (Fourth Estate). The gay author who made a splash with "American Studies" writes a novel about a congressional adviser who finds himself clinging to an image from his boyhood — a model in a swimsuit ad — when his love life and career fall apart.

"The Tattooed Girl" by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco). A reclusive author in failing health, realizing he can no longer live alone, unwittingly invites a hate-filled young woman into his house.

"The Feast of Roses" by Indu Sundaresan (Atria). The Bellevue-based author of "The Twentieth Wife" publishes a new novel about the further adventures of Mehrunnisa, the wife of a Mughal emperor who becomes the most powerful woman in her husband's Indian empire.

June

"The Other Side of Silence" by André Brink (Harcourt). The gifted South African novelist ("A Dry White Season") sets his new book in colonial South-West Africa, where a young German woman is banished to a "phantasmagoric" outpost that serves as "prison, nunnery, brothel."

"Long for This World" by Michael Byers (Houghton Mifflin). The Seattle short-story writer ("The Coast of Good Intentions") delivers a first novel about a medical researcher who — in Seattle riding the dot.com boom — enters "a minefield of personal and medical ethics." "Mortals" by Norman Rush (Knopf). A new novel by the National Book Award-winner ("Mating"), set in 1990s Botswana where the fates of a CIA agent, his disaffected wife and an iconoclastic holistic physician all messily meet.

"Evidence of Things Unseen" by Marianne Wiggins (Simon & Schuster). The author of "John Dollar" writes a tale about "two generations of lovers who reflect the dual nature of the atomic age."

July

"Hey Nostradamus!" by Douglas Coupland (Bloomsbury). In the late 1980s, a catastrophic episode of teen violence changes a suburban community forever. By the author of "Generation X."

"Pastries" by Bharti Kirchner (St. Martin's). The Seattle author ("Darjeeling") writes about a Seattle baker whose business is endangered when a chain bakery threatens to open down the street.

"Reunion" by Alan Lightman (Pantheon). A 52-year-old professor is seduced by the past when he attends his 30-year college reunion in this novel by the author of "Einstein's Dreams" and "The Diagnosis."

August

"The Hero's Daughter" by Andreï Makine, translated by Geoffrey Strachan (Arcade). The ever-dependable Russian writer, based in France, examines the fate of a "political prostitute" for the KGB in 1980s Russia.

"Lust" by Geoff Ryman (St. Martin's). The wildly imaginative novelist ("Was," "253") pens a tale about a scientist who becomes the unwitting subject of an experiment in which all his sexual imaginings, whether about his gym instructor, Daffy Duck or his younger self, take on disturbingly concrete form.

POPULAR FICTION

March

"Into the Inferno" by Earl Emerson (Ballantine). The North Bend firefighter-writer's latest novel focuses on a Seattle freeway truck collision and cleanup, and its toxic consequences. "Kingdom River" by Mitchell Smith (Forge). A novel by a Lynden author, set in a future Ice Age, about a warrior people in what was once northern Mexico.

"Zulu Heart" by Steven Barnes (Warner Aspect). The Longview writer continues his "alternate history" series about the African colonization of America.

April

"Darwin's Children" by Greg Bear (Del Rey). A sequel to the Seattle writer's "Darwin's Radio," in which an evolutionary "upgrade" of the human species takes a nasty turn.

"Lost Light" by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown). Harry Bosch is back, retired from the L.A. police force but investigating an old murder and battling FBI agents newly emboldened by anti-terrorism laws to do just about anything they want.

"Between Sisters" by Kristin Hannah (Ballantine). The Bainbridge romance writer's latest concerns two estranged sisters in the Pacific Northwest who discover whether they can reconcile with their estranged mother and each other.

"Twelve Times Blessed" by Jacquelyn Mitchard (HarperCollins). A 43-year-old woman copes with a year in which "everything changes" in the latest novel by the author of "Deep End of the Ocean."

"Late for the Wedding" by Amanda Quick (Bantam). Jayne Ann Krentz's historical romance alter ego reprises her characters Lavinia Lake and Tobias March, who search a country house for a killer.

"Villa Incognito" by Tom Robbins (Bantam). The Bard of La Conner writes a novel of still-missing Vietnam MIAs, beautiful women and an outlandish figure from Japanese folklore.

"Louisiana Breakdown" by Lucius Shepard (Golden Gryphon/Independent Publishers Group). A horror novella by the Vancouver writer ("Valentine") set in a Louisiana town "where hoodoo meets Jesus, and townsfolk pray to both."

"All He Ever Wanted" by Anita Shreve (Little, Brown). A three-decade story of marriage, betrayal and redemption, from the author of "The Last Time They Met."

"The Kalahari Typing School for Men" by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon). The fourth in the delightful "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series, featuring various complications in the life of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's foremost and regrettably fictional lady detective.

May

"The Bobby Gold Stories" by Anthony Bourdain (Bloomsbury). That "Kitchen Confidential" rake writes a novel about a "loveable criminal" who gets out of the clink, works the club-restaurant racket and loses his heart.

"The Sinister Pig" by Tony Hillerman (HarperCollins). Sgt. Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn investigate a murder that may involve the woman Chee loves, a crime that has "hazy federal connections."

"Sappho's Leap" by Erica Jong (Norton). The author of "Fear of Flying" ventures back 2,600 years in this fictional exploration of the Greek poet's life.

June

"Trading Up" by Candace Bushnell (Hyperion). Beach book — the author of "Sex in the City" and "Four Blondes" constructs a comedy of manners around a lingerie model.

"To the Nines" by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's). A thriller featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, in which she takes on the mobsters of Las Vegas.

"The Probable Future" by Alice Hoffman (Doubleday). The author of "Blue Diary" tells a story of a family with paranormal powers whose members confront the haunting past and a current murder in a small New England town.

"The Pursuit of Alice Thrift" by Elinor Lipman (Random House). A "book-smart but people-hopeless" hospital-intern heroine is at the center of this new novel by the author of "The Ladies' Man" and "The Inn at Lake Devine."

July

"Changing Planes" by Ursula K. le Guin (Harcourt). Portland's speculative fiction master tells stories through the mouth of a tourist narrator who opens the door to worlds both familiar and alien.

"Fear Itself" by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown). A new Fearless Jones novel, set in the world of the black bourgeoisie in the 1950s, by the popular mystery writer.

August

"Medusa: A Pacific Northwest Mystery" by Skye Kathleen Moody (Minotaur). The Seattle author's novel of environmental intrigue, featuring U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Venus Diamond, about a possible "monster" wreaking havoc in Elliott Bay.

NONFICTION

March

"Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging" by Gary Atkins (University of Washington Press). A history of gays in the region through 100 turbulent years, from the age of repression through the activist era to the present day. Atkins is a professor of communications at Seattle University.

"From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry" by Martin Campbell-Kelly (MIT Press). The software industry gets its own authoritative history — this one purports to tell a complete story as well as correct misperceptions, such as the one that posits that Microsoft dominates the industry (the author says it controls 10 percent of the industry).

"W.C. Fields: A Biography" by James Curtis (Knopf). A new biography of the legendary film comedian.

"Natural Grace: The Charm, Wonder and Lessons of Pacific Northwest Animals and Plants" by William Dietrich (University of Washington Press). Essays on the natural splendors of the Northwest, from geoducks to cedar trees to killer whales. "A primer for people who are curious about the environment they live in and the pressures upon it." Dietrich is a staff writer for this magazine — these essays are adapted from work that originally appeared here.

"Southern Exposure: A Solo Sea Kayaking Journey Around New Zealand's South Island" by Chris Duff (Globe Pequot). Duff, a Port Angeles resident and author of "On Celtic Tides," writes about sea-kayaking around New Zealand's South Island.

"Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert" by Brian Herbert (Tor). A biography of the author of "Dune," by his Bainbridge Islander son, coauthor of various "Dune" novels in his own right.

"Iraq: Myth and Reality" by Dilip Hiro (Thunder's Mouth Press). A primer on the country and its politics, by a respected London-based journalist and political analyst.

"Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas" by Bruce Allen Murphy (Random House). The life and times of Yakima's most famous son, the brilliant attorney who became a legendarily liberal Supreme Court Justice. Also: "The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice" by Sandra Day O'Connor (Random House). The Supreme Court Justice writes on the court and how it's evolved and changed as an American institution.

"Sicilian Odyssey" by Francine Prose (National Geographic Directions). The novelist-critic ("Blue Angels") portrays the history, geography and culture of the Mediterranean island.

"The Story of My Father: A Memoir" by Sue Miller (Knopf). The author of "While I Was Gone" and "The Good Mother" writes about her father, his descent into Alzheimer's, how she cared for him during his illness and what she learned about the nature of love and memory.

"Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town" by Paul Theroux (Houghton Mifflin). The peripatetic American writer revisits the continent that inspired some of his best early fiction ("Fong and the Indians," "Jungle Lovers").

April

"A Life in Music" by Daniel Barenboim (Arcade). The extraordinary pianist-conductor tells the story of his life, including his collaborations with Pablo Casals, Pierre Boulez and his wife, cellist Jacqueline du Pré.

"Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital" by Christopher Buckley (Crown). A pedestrian's guide to Washington, D.C., by the comic novelist ("Thank You for Smoking," "No Way to Treat a First Lady") who certainly has a way with a title.

"I Am Alive and You Are Dead: The Strange Life and Times of Philip K. Dick" by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by Timothy Bent (Metropolitan). The French writer ("Class Trip," "The Mustache") pens a biography of the cult science-fiction writer whose work was the inspiration for the films "Blade Runner," "Total Recall" and "Minority Report."

"The Chinese in America: A Narrative History" by Iris Chang (Viking). The author of "The Rape of Nanking" attempts to document the 150-year history of Chinese Americans.

"Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books" by Paul Collins (Bloomsbury). The Portland author ("Banvard's Folly") and frequent contributor to McSweeney's recounts what it's like to take up residence in Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh town with 1,500 inhabitants — and 40 antiquarian bookstores.

"Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" by Patrick McGilligan (Regan Books). A biography of the film director ("Rear Window," "Notorious," "Psycho") by a writer whose previous credits include well-received biographies of Fritz Lang and George Cukor. Also, due in May: "Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man" by Pat Hitchcock O'Connell (Berkley). The director's daughter remembers her mother, who was Hitchcock's most trusted sounding board in the making of his films.

"Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age" by Bill McKibben (Henry Holt). The author of "The End of Nature" make a plea to control the technologies of genetic change.

"Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s" by Gerald Nachman (Pantheon). The story of the ground-breaking socially aware group of comedians who changed the way America looked at itself, including Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Godfrey Cambridge, Phyllis Diller, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart, Mel Brooks and Joan Rivers.

"In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000-Year History of American Indians" by Jake Page (Viking). Page's work of popular history traces Native Americans from their ancestral origins to the discovery of Kennewick Man, the Red Power movement and the controversial but profitable casino ownership that has revived the fortunes of many tribes.

"To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight" by James Tobin (Free Press). The little-known story of the highly competitive race to fly the first airplane, by the author of "Ernie Pyle's War," which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883" by Simon Winchester (HarperCollins). The author of "The Professor and the Madman" and "The Map That Changed the World" takes on one of the most famous volcanoes of all time.

May

"My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile" by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins). A "highly personal memoir of exile and homeland" by the Chilean-American writer ("Portrait in Sepia," "Eva Luna").

"A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson (Broadway Books). The entertaining copy editor turned travel writer ("A Walk in the Woods") tries to explain the biggest questions of the universe by attaching himself to a variety of experts and wringing answers from them.

"Dry: A Memoir" by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin's). Burroughs follows up his best-selling "Running with Scissors" with more chapters from his hazard-filled life.

"Reporting the Universe" by E.L. Doctorow (Harvard University Press). Essays on "human consciousness, personal history, American literature, religion, and politics." By the author of "Ragtime."

"The Empty Ocean" by Richard Ellis (Shearwater Books). A prominent environmental author ("Aquagenesis") and wildlife artist tells the story of man's plunder of the oceans, and weighs the chances for its recovery.

"Teammates" by David Halberstam (Hyperion). A master of nonfiction reprises the friendship of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky, members of the famed 1940s Boston Red Sox.

"The God Gene" by Dean Hamer (Doubleday). The scientist and author of "Living with Our Genes" tries to explain why human beings are hardwired to believe in a Supreme Being, "ready and eager to embrace a higher power than ourselves." Hamer, chief of gene structure for The National Cancer Institute, claims to have identified one of the genes that are shared by people with a greater propensity for religious belief.

"Turner: A Life" by James Hamilton (Random House). A new biography of the British artist, J.M.W. Turner, whose way with reproducing light and shadow has led some to call him the greatest landscape painter of all time.

"Turning the Wheel: Essays on Writing and Buddhism" by Charles Johnson (Scribner). The Seattle novelist and National Book Award winner ("Middle Passage") explains Buddhism's "Eightfold Path," with an emphasis on its principles as guides for the American civil-rights movement.

"Y: The Descent of Men: Revealing the Mysteries of Maleness" by Steve Jones (Houghton Mifflin). Jones, a genetics professor and author of "Darwin's Ghost," posits that men are actually the second sex, and that in evolutional terms, they are "wilting away" because of their greater susceptibility to disease and interpersonal violence.

"Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth About Exercise and Health" by Gina Kolata (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The New York Times science reporter and author ("Flu") tries to sort out the competing claims of various exercise programs. Good luck!

"The Colonel: The True Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley" by Alanna Nash (Simon & Schuster). Elvis Presley's lifelong manager is revealed as a "certified psychopath," a native of Holland who may have bludgeoned a woman to death, who fled to the U.S., joined the Army, deserted his unit and went on to manage Presley's career.

"The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People" by Jonathan Schell (Henry Holt). The author of "The Fate of the Earth" "explores the limits of violence and charts an unexpectedly hopeful course toward a nonviolent future."

"Reefer Madness: The Rise of the American Underground" by Eric Schlosser (Houghton Mifflin). The "Fast Food Nation" author studies the shadow economies of marijuana, pornography and illegal migrant workers. The common thread: "America's reckless faith in the free market has combined with an irrational Puritanism to create situations both preposterous and tragic."

"In Search of King Solomon's Mines" by Tahir Shah (Arcade). One of the zaniest travel writers to emerge in recent years ("Sorcerer's Apprentice," "Trail of Feathers") tries to track down the gold mines of the legendary biblical monarch.

June

"Seduced by the West: Jefferson's America and the Lure of the Land Beyond the Mississippi" by Laurie Winn Carlson (Ivan R. Dee). The Cheney author offers the idea that the Lewis and Clark expedition was part of a larger scheme to wrest the American West from the claims of established European powers.

"Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State" by Molly Cone, Howard Droker and Jacqueline Williams (University of Washington Press). Billed as the first comprehensive account of Washington state's Jewish residents, from the diverse groups that initially settled the area to the cultural and religious communities of today.

"Captured Honor: POW Survival in the Philippines and Japan" by Bob Wodnik (Washington State University Press). A Seattle winner of the Blethen Award for feature writing tells the grim stories of several Washington prisoners of war during World War II.

July

"A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates" by Blake Bailey (Picador). A life of the troubled cult writer ("Revolutionary Road," "The Easter Parade") whose reputation is back on the upswing.

"Better Than Prozac: Creating the Next Generation of Psychiatric Drugs" by Samuel H. Barondes (Oxford University Press). A leading authority on psychiatric drugs looks at the benefits and limitations of drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin and predicts that the drugs of the future will be superior because they'll be finely tuned to specific patterns of mental systems.

August

"Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer" by Philip Furia (St. Martin's Press). Billed as the first biography of the American songwriter who wrote such hypnotic pop classics as "One for My Baby," "Moon River" and, of course, "Skylark."

"Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball" by Stefan Kanfer (Knopf). The life and times of America's comedy queen, by the author of a highly regarded biography of Groucho Marx.

"Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II" by Tetsuden Kashima (University of Washington Press). The author, a professor of American ethnic studies at the University of Washington, makes the case that the plans to intern the Japanese-American population began in the 1920s, long before Pearl Harbor. Kashima also explores other aspects of the internment experience.

"Literary Occasions" by V.S. Naipaul (Knopf). Eleven essays by the Nobel laureate ("Guerrillas," "A House for Mr. Biswas"), including his Nobel Prize address.

"The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O'Hara" by Geoffrey Wolff (Knopf). The novelist-memoirist ("Providence," "The Duke of Deception") examines the life and career of novelist John O'Hara ("Appointment in Samara," "Butterfield 8"), the 1940s-'50s writer whose star is back on the rise. This biography follows the April publication of a memoir by O'Hara's lover: "Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara" by Joe LeSueur (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

Mary Ann Gwinn is The Seattle Times book editor.

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