Monday, January 14, 2008

2007 Wrap-Up

Blech, 2007. I’ve been putting off writing this wrap-up because I can’t think of anything interesting to say about any of the books I read this year. There were a few highlights: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, and The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett come to mind. I also really liked Anne de Courcy’s biography of Diana Mosley. Otherwise it was a dull dull year.

Well I think I know why: I’m choosing dull books! My overwhelming reaction to nearly everything I read this year was “ho hum, more of the same.” But when you keep reading books by the same authors, in the same genre, why should you expect anything different? Interestingly, I bestowed "A" grades on most of these dull books. What should we make of that? I think it means I liked the books at the time, but they had no staying power.

While I’d love to think I’m one of those people who can set themselves up with a challenge and stick with it, I know that I’m not. So setting some lofty goal like “In 2008 I will only read books by authors I’ve never read before” (or a similar challenge) just won’t work. I know myself too well. I have a narrow comfort zone and an aversion to change.

All is not lost, though. Lots of bloggers have offered up lists of their best reads of 2007, and many of these lists contain books that I would try. I thought the list at Reading Matters was pretty interesting, and also the list at Nonfiction Readers Anonymous, since I am always trying to get myself to read more nonfiction.

So here is a simple goal: I will read more books by new authors, and more non-fiction. I will also try a bit harder to read books that don’t immediately fit inside my comfort zone. How am I doing so far, you might ask? Half and half, I would say. Right now I am listening to an audiobook version of End in Tears by Ruth Rendell, an author I have been reading since 1981. While it doesn’t fit my new plan, nevertheless I am loving it, and can’t seem to stop listening. On the other hand, I am also sticking with Cleopatra’s Nose, by Judith Thurman, even though there is much to dislike here.

I am almost finished creating the complete list of books read in 2007. It's a tedious process to put in all the links, so I'm doing it in bits. I should post it in the next few days.


Katie said...

Hello there,

I don't know how you feel about memoirs, but I can recommend a few that really had me engrossed. The Liars Club by Mary Karr, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, Name All the Animals by Alison Smith.. Also, have you read Anna Quindlen's One True Thing? It's a great work of fiction.

Christopher said...

I recommend to you and your readers a thought-provoking novel by Sebastian Faulks, called "Human Traces", set in the 19th and early 20th century.

It is long, and the very opposite of minimalist, written much in the way novels were written in the 19th century - linearly, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This novel's theme is mental illness. It tries to show that psychosis - which afflicts humans only - is the price we pay for being human.

It is a novel to be savoured.

Jen A. Miller said...

I'm also doing a book a week project, and my job's kept things intersting -- I write about books and authors for magazines and newspapers, so sometimes the assignments guide me. I never would have read some of the books in the project otherwise, and even though some of them seem silly (I'm working on a piece about dating books for guys right now), I've learned quite a bit by having to read them!

I also did a 'best of' list for 2007. My top choice was Susan Waren's Backyard Giants, which is about pumpkin growers. Who knew?


Becky Holmes said...

Katie, Christopher, Jen, this is great! I am getting some good ideas about what people liked this year. Thanks for all these recommendations. Does anyone else have any? I think I will write a quick post about this later this week.

Esther said...

I'm glad you liked The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I have it in my to-read pile, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

I'm looking forward to Adam Langer's new book, Ellington Boulevard, which comes out on Tuesday. I loved his first novel, about teenagers in Chicago, Crossing California. The new book is about New York City and the fate of one apartment in the midst of the city's real estate boom.

Another novel I read recently and loved is Andrea Levy's Small Island, about the first group of Jamaicans to settle in England after World War II. The story is partially based on Levy's own family history.

In terms of nonfiction, I really enjoyed Ghost Light, the memoir by former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, A Tale of Love and Darkness, the memoir of Israeli writer Amos Oz, and anything by outdoor writer Jon Krakauer, including Into the Wild, and his book about climbing Mount Everest, Into Thin Air.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Becky -- I know how you feel. A lot of literary fiction feels similar these last years -- no doubt because, written in the same era, authors are dealing with the same themes. A rash of last year's books referenced 9/11 in one way or another, and loads of books in the last few years are about Alzheimer's and dying parents.

I'm starting to think the way to deal with it is to go back and read books from earlier eras. I've pretty well plowed the Victorian period, but I've discovered I quite like books written early in the 20th century, especially English ones.

And the novel Christopher is recommending sounds great. One of my favorite Faulks' books is a non-fiction book of three biographies: "The Fatal Englishman." It's about three brilliant Brits who died young -- one a painter, one a WW I fighter pilot, the third a spy in Cold War Russia.

Lastly, did you ever read that wonderful best-seller about Nantucket whalers and the shipwreck on which Melville based "Moby Dick"? It won the Nat'l Book Award some years ago, but I only got around to reading it last summer. It is magnificent -- history written like fiction. "In the Heart of the Sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick is the name of it.

Thanks for your great reviews, Becky. I have really enjoyed visiting this blog and seeing what you have to say.

Becky Holmes said...

Susan, your comments make me feel better. Maybe it isn't just that I am making lazy choices. Maybe these books have become more similar, more formulaic.

As I make different reading choices this year I will definitely look for books written in earlier eras. I think that's a great suggestion.

The Persephone books have been filling that role for me a bit, though those can be similar to one another. (Or again, maybe I'm just picking similar ones....)

I'm working on a blog post where I put everyone's suggestions together. This is fun! Thanks for your support!

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