Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (Knopf, $26).
World entered: an overpopulated New York City apartment. This book has a veneer of ordinariness but harbors a wickedly funny set of characters — an oversharing wife and a reticent husband united in devotion to their son, an autistic origami prodigy. A meditation on marital loyalty, the persistence of bad guests, and so much more.
The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis (Vintage, $16).
World entered: chess — specifically the suspenseful, treacherous world of high-stakes tournament chess as experienced by a prodigiously talented orphan. Will she conquer the Russians, or will her demons conquer her? The ending always moves me, so I try to forget the ending. That way, I can experience it again.
The Door by Magda Szabo (NYRB Classics, $17).
World entered: the household of a Hungarian writer who must audition for the housekeeper she hires. The two women love and punish each other, though ultimately the writer fails Emerence, the housekeeper. Emerence is an immensely powerful presence whose vulnerability is so devastating that sometimes I read just the scenes where she triumphs.
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (Vintage, $16).
World entered: a crowded ocean liner whose cargo includes three rambunctious boys, an enigmatic prisoner, and a toxic garden. Every time I begin this book I feel like I'm embarking on an eventful but oddly comforting sea voyage.
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada (Melville House, $17).
World entered: the kitchen of a humble couple in Nazi Germany. When their son dies, they do something small but extremely brave. At the bookstore I own, we keep this novel stocked because people who read it come back and need to talk about moral courage. What better subject these days?
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (Vintage, $17).
Worlds entered: the hayloft of a flood-surrounded barn. Or a convent where the prioress is both renowned for her wisdom and might occasionally transform into a sardonic monkey. Hemingway said in his Nobel speech that the prize should have gone to Dinesen. Was he right? You'll have to read to judge.