September 17, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

BIRDS OF AMERICA
Lorrie Moore
Literate protagonists enliven this sleek, sharply humorous short-story collection.

THE ESSENCE OF THE THING
Madeleine St John
Alternately comic and heartbreaking tale about the breakup of a yuppie British couple.

EVERYTHING AND A KITE
Ray Romano
TV star’s shtick — friendly observations about family life — translates smoothly to the printed page.

THE MUSEUM GUARD
Howard Norman
Set in late-1930s Halifax, this cerebral novel centers on a straitlaced guard and his beautiful but unbalanced girlfriend.

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