As chosen by Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Vintage, $15).
This slender miracle of a book was blinked out by its author, the former editor of Elle magazine in France, after a stroke at age 43 left him paralyzed except for his left eye. The book will change your perception of the space between life and death, and the human capacity for imagination.
Wild Swans by Jung Chang (Touchstone, $18).
Chang, a biographer, here focuses on three generations of her family: her grandmother, concubine to a Manchurian warlord; her mother, a Communist official; and herself, a one-time Red Guard who abandoned Communism. Through the horror and tragedy of their experiences, Jung captures the history of 20th-century China.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (Vintage, $15).
In one sudden, vast sweep of water, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami claimed the lives of Deraniyagala's parents, husband, and two young sons, leaving her alone to deal with the shock, grief, guilt, and anger. Deraniyagala, an economist, is fierce, brave, and unsparing; what emerges is an unsentimental yet deeply affecting portrait of unimaginable loss.
Remembering Denny by Calvin Trillin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17).
Trillin, commonly thought of as a humorist, writes here about one of his Yale classmates, a golden boy who graduated in 1957 seemingly destined for a life of accomplishment and contentment. Instead, Denny Hansen grew isolated and depressed, and committed suicide at 55. Trillin examines Denny's life to understand why.
A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard (Simon & Schuster, $16).
I don't follow tabloid stories and didn't follow Dugard's. But I picked up her memoir about being held for years by a kidnapper after Times critic Janet Maslin wrote a rave review calling the book "brave, dignified, and painstakingly honest." It is worth reading for anyone who read Emma Donoghue's Room and still wondered, "What was that really like?"
Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn (Picador, $17.50).
This is not a memoir, but highly autobiographical fiction. The novel takes place on a single afternoon in which a young boy is neglected, misunderstood, and then, in a heart-stopping scene, brutally abused by his father. You will weep.
Editor's note: The original headline on this article mischaracterized Pamela Paul's selections. It has since been revised. We regret the error.