Grab a drink, sit down, and get comfortable... this is a post that has been a year in the making!
Time for one more look back at the books of 2007... all part of my uber-successful Reading Challenge Goal to read 10,000 pages last year (Mission Truly Accomplished: 12,204 pages!).
Though, this year, I must read more divisible number of than 37. There seemed to be no good way to do the below graphic without one or more of the book covers sticking out like the proverbially sore thumb... so I just relented with the 6 x 6 grid + 1!
If you want to see a bigger version of this graphic, I uploaded one over on Flickr.
By The Numbers:
37 - Number of Books Read
12,101 - Total Pages of Above Books (+103 pgs counted for '07/1st completed book of '08)
78% / 22% - Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
73% / 27% - Male vs. Female Authors
84% / 16% - Paperback vs. Hardcover
4 (11%) - Books Read Due To Oprah (The Road, Middlesex, Love In The Time of Cholera, Eat Pray Love)
4 - Authors Read More than One Book: Alexander McCall Smith (4), Nick Hornby (2), Cormac McCarthy (2), Khaled Hosseini (2)
As I always seem to say, it was a very good year for books. But given time constraints, my selection process is pretty tough, so I would hope there would not be too many clunkers in the bunch!
(FYI, any of the book links below will go to my "review" of it)
Given that there were so many good books... this year, I've added a "notables" category for all those books that aren't my runner-ups (one for non-fiction, two for fiction) or "book of the year." If a book isn't listed below or "after the jump" it's still probably a pretty good book (due to the length of this entry, I am putting my "Not Best" books there... or at the end of the post for those reading this via RSS).
Non-Fiction Notables - Granted there were only 8 of them, but a tough call. Any avid book reader (and more importantly... buyer!), will simply devour Nick Hornby's book reading/purchasing essay collections, The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. The Dirt. Similar in age and where we grew up, J.R. Moehringer's The Tender Bar certainly was an entertaining and enjoyable read.
Non-Fiction Runner-Up - Named, deservedly so, to many "best of" year-ends lists is Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone... a truly harrowing tale of surviving civil war in Sierra Leone... and comes out of it with optimism and faith in mankind. (And, although fiction, for these very same reasons... I should also mention What Is The What, Dave Eggers' "truthy" memoir of Valentino Achek Deng's survival of the Darfur genocide and rocky new life in America).
Non-Fiction Book of the Year - While not an official book club selection, I had avoided the physical and spiritual travel memoir Eat, Pray, Love until the immensely likable Elizabeth Gilbert appeared on Oprah. Even though it got a tad too new-agey for me at times, Gilbert never presents it in a judgmental manner -- in fact, quite the opposite with a lot of humor and charm. After the James Frey fiasco, this wonderful story of restored my faith in the memoir genre.
Fiction Notables - I thought I may have already had my book of the year with the very first one I read this year, Nicole Krauss' The History of Love... and now is likely only getting the "also ran" shaft due to my faulty memory. I finally learned why Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner has been a best seller for years (and years!), though I found his follow-up A Thousand Splendid Suns to be a smidgen smoother - but both books I would recommend to anyone, even the non-everyday reader. While not "literature," I was thrilled to read where my "friends" from Barbary Lane are doing now in Armistead Maupin's Michael Tolliver Lives (spoiler alert: Mouse is still alive!), I read this one way too fast. If Little Children is any kind of barometer, I will certainly be reading more of Tom Perrotta's social/suburban satires... and the same for Gabriel Garcia Marquez who I finally read thanks to the Oprah pick of Love In The Time Of Cholera. Lastly, even I am a bit surprised that Jeffery Eugenides' gender-bending epic Middlesex and Carlos Ruis Zafon's thrilling The Shadow of the Wind are finishing outside my top 3... but, for sure, two of my favorites of the year.
Fiction Second Runner-Up - If I haven't hedged enough with all those fiction books listed above, I give you a Cormac McCarthy deadlock here... The Road and No Country For Old Men. If you must force my hand, I'd give the edge to post-apocalyptic The Road which was my first exposure to McCarthy's stark, poetic, lyrical prose. I will admit to not always "getting" McCarthy (and thus this second runner-up placing), but I am not sure my mind has the capacity to take the greatness in. Challenging reads, but in the very best way.
Fiction First Runner-Up - Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake was the best of both worlds... allowing me to play the book snob with some very fine writing and being entertaining/accessible enough to be able to recommend it with hardly a reservation. With the country's emerging presence on the world scene, I've been try to learn more about the Indian (that's India, not Native American) culture... but hadn't had much luck finding something (a novel, Bollywood film) that I could embrace... until The Namesake. I am going to do my best to find time for Lahiri's much acclaimed (and recommended!) short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, some time this year.
Fiction Book of the Year - Given all the books just listed, it seems like I am setting incredibly high expectations... so, keeping in mind, that if you'd ask me next week or month... the order of all these books probably would change... but after a week or so of brewing... my book of the year for 2007 is J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Like McCarthy, Coetzee is a master of stark/simple prose (though, in my opinion, considerably more readable)... this tale of a middle-aged South African professor who heads off to visit his daughter after a voluntary dismissal from his teaching position packs a whallop with few words... or should I say precisely enough words. This is not a happy or hopeful novel (and I recommend not reading the back cover or researching too much of what the book/plot is about beforehand) -- so tonally not for everyone -- but one that has swirled in around in the back of my mind since reading it in May.
Whew! What a year! I know I have mentioned
way too many a lot of books... but I'd rather that be the case than the opposite... here's to more good books and all the time to read them!
(If you'd like to check out what made the cut last year, here's a link -- 2006: The Year In Books)
"After The Jump"... The Non-Best Of List:
I feel like I tend to gush about many of the books I read... so before I start needing whatever Paula Abdul is on (that is, more sleep, of course!) and saying everything is wonderful and a touchdown. In order read, here are some of the books I wasn't crazy enthusiastic about:
While I certainly have no arguments against a grocery list of things the current administration has FUBAR'd, was a tad disappointed that former President Jimmy Carter didn't really add much insight in Our Endangered Values. Or perhaps I am still holding a grudge that we had to view our book being signed from 10 feet away and being yelled at by security (Secret Service?).
While a fine (and quick) read, Kim Edwards' wildly popular The Memory Keeper's Daughter smacked too much as a Lifetime movie... and guess what, in March it will be a Lifetime movie... but since it stars Todd's other boyfriend, Dermot Mulroney, we might have to watch it.
I don't mind books playing a bit of trick on you... but ultimately Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind left me feeling more "whatever" than "cool!"... and taking on characters from the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, only added to the hubris. Speaking of Gatsby, having previously read it in high school... I re-read it and wasn't bowled over by it either.
The novel I really, really, really, really wanted to like and ended up being one that I did but with less "reallys" was Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. While the novel certainly has considerable gravitas as it was written by the Russian immigrant living in German-occupied France during WWII before she was arrested and murdered in a concentration camp... it was planned to be part of a larger work and unfinished... and I think it shows, well at least to me.