17 January 2008

2007: a year in books

You may have noticed that I didn't do any sort of New Year's post. That's because I don't do resolutions, and I have a pretty terrible memory, so my year is best summed up by telling you to look through my blog archives. There's little I could add to that.

The one thing I actually do on a yearly basis, for the last few years anyway though only once so far on the blog), is to keep a running list of the books I've read. This helps me, first of all, remember what I've read and what I haven't, because some books are so utterly forgettable, or easily confused with other books, that I have a hard time keeping track. It also helps me when it comes to recommending books to people. If you ask me to recommend a book off the top of my head, I'd be hard pressed to come up with more than one or two. But with a list at hand I'm full of recommendations. Also, it's fun to remember when I read certain things, like to recall that the summer of 2003 was my summer of Vonnegut, or that the main reason I've read so many trashy suspnse novels is because I needed something diverting after I had Evan in 2005. Thus, my lists.

I'm a little late posting this, but it's still January, so I think that's good enough. Below the fold you'll find the complete 2007 list, with awards and comments following.

1. Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
2. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Adam Hochschild
3. Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
4. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right – Al Franken
5. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why – Bart Ehrman
6. Between Mothers and Sons: Women Writers Talk About Having Sons and Raising Men – edited by Patricia Stevens
7. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen – Julie Powell
8. A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
9. The Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby
10. The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
11. Beloved – Toni Morrison
12. Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
13. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
14. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
15. Thirteen Moons – Charles Frazier
16. The Human Comedy – William Saroyan
17. Dune – Frank Herbert
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling
19. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – JK Rowling
20. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling
21. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
22. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
25. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
26. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
27. Into The Forest – Jean Hegland
28. The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
29. Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere With Migratory Birds – Scott Weidensaul
30. What is the What – Dave Eggers
31. Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds – Susan Gregory Thomas

It was an eclectic year. I developed a taste for Haruki Murakami (and hope to read more of his work this year), read a few classics I'd missed over the years, learned a little about nature and war and history, and said goodbye to the world of Harry Potter in one final engrossing trip through the boy wizard's entire journey. Oof, that sounded cheesy, but I was sad to see the series end, though pleased with the way it was done.

It's hard to choose a favorite this year. I loved a lot of these. So I'm going to get creative with my awards categories to try and encompass the books I loved best.

Favorite Classic Fiction: Okay, it may be a stretch to call a novel from the '50s "classic", but it is one of those important books that's constantly referenced and that everyone's supposed to know: Lolita. It was disturbing, to be sure, but it was so well-written that I had trouble putting it down. It's something I'll have to re-read someday to really be able to solidify my thoughts on it, but there's a reason this novel is so well-known, and I'd like to believe it's not the subject matter.

Favorite Contemporary Fiction: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, also a worthy read. I read this so long ago (almost a whole year!) that I'm having trouble recalling the specifics, but it left such a good impression on me that I'm willing to recommend it regarless of not being able to remember the details. Just trust me; Haddon is good.

Favorite Historical Fiction: Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier. The Washington Post says: "Reading Frazier is like sitting by the cracker barrel for hour after hour and listening to an amiable but impossibly gassy guy who talks real slow, says "I reckon" a whole lot and never shuts up." I happen to like that in a book, or, at least, in this book, which I suppose is the only one I've ever read that fits that description. It's a sprawling novel that covers much of the 19th century, telling one (white) man's story of life among the Cherokee, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and of course, a love story too.

Favorite Foreign Fiction: Since I already mentioned above that I've become a Murakami fan, I'll give this award to The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, which is kind of a fantastical historical tale of several generations of a South American family. It's kind of a saga, more than just a mere story. Beautiful, engaging, wonderful book.

Favorite Science Fiction: Dune, by Frank Herbert. I can't believe I took so long to get around to reading this book. It's one of the best sci-fi novels I've read, I think: power struggles and prophecy and deceit and fantasy, all kinds of interesting things going on here. Now I just have to get around to seeing the movie.

Most Fun Fiction: Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl. This is not the sort of book I would have chosen on my own, but one of my friends selected it for our book club and I was surprised by how clever and smart it was. It reads kind of like a young adult murder-mystery sort of thing, but it's a more interesting story than those usually turn out to be, it's populated by interesting characters (especially the young heroine, who is the sort of character a girl like me wishes she could have been at that age), and it's chock-full of literary references, some obvious and some more obscure, which were like little Easter eggs hidden throughout the book -- always a treat to come across one.

Most Important Fiction: What is the What, by Dave Eggers. I'd even go so far as to call this the overall best book I read this year, because of how moving and affecting it is. It's based on the real-life story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, thousands of boys displaced and orphaned by seemingly never-ending war in Africa. Read more about both the book and the Lost Boys here.

(What can I say; it was a good year for fiction.)

Favorite non-fiction: King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild. Though a quick read, it's not exactly an easy read: it's an account of the destruction and abuses inflicted on the Congo and the Africans who lived there when King Leopold of Belgium decided to colonize. As someone who knew very little of African history prior to reading this book, it was kind of a horrific introduction, but at the same time fascinating.

Runner up: Living on the Wind by Scott Weidensaul. There's not much to say about this book -- it's about bird migration, essentially, with some talk of conservation as well. I found it really, really interesting, but I'm aware that most people wouldn't, not for 400 pages anyway. But I've read a few others of Weidensaul's books, and though obviously very knowledgeable and experienced in bird study, he has a talent for writing about it in a very accessible way.

So that's my year in books. I've already got a lot on my plate for 2008: the Jane Austen books, of course, and I'm slowly working on a book about Lincoln's presidency as well.

What good books have you read lately? Any recommendations? Or any interesting books on your to-read list?


Austin Eisele said...

Oh, it's so good to see another Murakami fan!!!! I've loved every book he's written (except his absolute latest and Norwegian Wood, which I have not read). Kafka and especially Wind-Up Bird Chronicles are great, but you should read The Elephant Vanishes, which is one collection of his short stories, and then Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - which is whacked and wonderful. You know what my favorite parts of Murakami's writing? His descriptions of cooking, which are so precise you could actually have a Murakami feast every night if you wanted to -

mojca said...

umberto eco had a lecture in ljubljana the other month, but I got the dates wrong AND I MISSED IT!!! argh!
on a different note, i really do need to read more, it seems like all the uni work has driven me away from books. your list is great (and much much longer than mine might i add)! one of the books that i did read last year is jazz by toni morrison, i loved it, the poetic language, the emotion, the story... i definitely recommend it.
much love,