Sunday, December 30, 2007

Books of 2007 -- For What Its Worth

Not that anyone really cares what a gay lawyer and writer in his 50’s in a middling town in the Midwest thinks were some of the best books published in 2007, but since everyone else is coming out with “best of” lists here at the end of 2007, I thought I would throw my list out there as well. These may not be the best books published in 2007, because with a couple of exceptions, all books I read this year were either written in English or translated to English. Therefore, I begin with the huge caveat that there were no doubt many great books published in other languages in the past year. I also acknowledge that this list is not representative of the demographic face of America, particularly when it comes to gender. However, in putting my list of ten (ok, really eleven) books together, I did not say to myself I need 50% men and 50% women (5 male/5 female authors), 78% white (7.8 white authors), 9% black (.9 black author), 5-7% gay and lesbian (an author who was about half gay or lesbian, I suppose), 13 % latin / Hispanic (1.3 latin / Hispanic authors --- well you get the picture. I also did not include Harry Potter or any of the great children and young adult novels that were written this year, most notably Hero by Perry Moore. Instead, I simply put together a list of the books that were published in the last year that I enjoyed a lot. I had to make some very difficult exclusions, in that there were a lot of great books published last year.

So here goes in alphabetical order:

Andre Acimen
Call Me By Your Name

A beautiful and passionate gay coming-of-age tale set in Italy – a fine follow up to the Egyptian born Acimen’s Out of Egypt.

Junot Diaz
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

Another fine younger writer trying to make sense of the cultural stew that 21st century American has become despite the rantings of Lou Dobbs.

"You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto," Díaz writes. "Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest."

Like his previous book Drown, Diaz understands that geeks rule. Perhaps the best novel of 2007.

Susan Faludi
The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post 9-11 America

One of our finest social observers and commentators writing about how all the hooey about how 9/11 changed us all forever is just that --- hooey. Yet Faludi observes how this event rekindled some ancient myths about the role of men as protector and what happens when the myth is shattered – when men don’t protect.

Joshua Ferris
Then We Came To The End

Simply a funny novel about the arrogance and insecurity in work that is at the heart of contemporary corporate America --- in this case at an ad agency where people are being shitcanned.

Christopher Hitchens
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (or published in the UK as God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion)

Agree or disagree with Hitch about religion or the divine, this is a challenging and brilliantly argued manifesto about the poisonous history of religion and things done in the name of the divine. In an election year where a central question seems to be who is religious enough to lead this secular nation (please, don't tell me this is a christian nation -- we have no state religion ---- yet), this book is timely.

Denis Johnson
Tree Of Smoke

My pick for novel of the year --- a magnificent Vietnam story about war and faith and love and loss and lost faith.

"Once upon a time there was a war . . . and a young American who thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American. That’s me."

“She had nothing in this world but her two hands and her crazy love for Jesus, who seemed, for his part, never to have heard of her.”

Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits On An Iowa Farm During The Great Depression

Mrs. Kalish is in her 80’s and has a story to tell --- settle in for a joyous ride.

Alex Ross
The Rest Is Noise

I have been a fan of Alex Ross for years through his New Yorker reviews and his blog, but Ross has done us all a favor in presenting the history of 20th century classical music in a manner that is enlightening and fascinating. This book seems to be on everyone’s top ten list.

Colm Toibin
Mothers and Sons

There are very few writers working today with Toibin’s interior and introspective voice. It was awesomely displayed in his Jamesian turn in The Master and it is put to great use in this magnificent collection of stories.

Jeffrey Toobin
The Nine

Want to understand the importance of the conservative shift in the Supreme Court and how nine unelected judges decided the 2000 election and put W in power, then read this book by one of the most astute court observers in the country.

Tim Wiener
Legacy Of Ashes

What Toobin does for the Supreme Court, Wiener does for the history of the CIA. A marvelous read that leaves you with an understanding of what it means to say that the more things change the more they stay the same.

I look forward to reading additions and corrections in the Comments. Everyone party safely and let's hope (and pray, if you do) for a good 2008.

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