Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

3 of 4
Pretty Birds
368 pages; Random House
"The author gave me a copy, signed, so it really means something to me," Ben Kingsley says. Journalist Simon's stark depiction of everyday life in wartime focuses on Irena, a Bosnian teenager who becomes one of an army of lithe young snipers during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the '90s. "I enjoyed how the novel speculates about what happens to people during a war. It doesn't explain anything, but it elucidates the chaotic carnage of it. Our European genes are still playing out the same conflicts over and over," Kingsley says ruefully. "It never ends."
— As told to Lesley Gaspar