Best Books I Read in 2007

My favorite end-of-the-year activity is compiling my annual list of the best books I read during the year. Making this list is both pleasurable and painful: pleasurable because it allows me to revisit and remember each book; painful because I have to cut some books I really enjoyed to get the list down to the 10 I liked best.

Before 2005—the year when I returned to school full time—compiling the list was often a formidable task. Some years I even cheated and added five more titles categorized as “honorable mention” because I just couldn’t whittle the list of all the books I had read down to a mere 10 titles. But in the years since 2005, coming up with the list has been a lot easier because I no longer have the time for pleasure reading that I used to have.

Note that the year’s date refers to the year I read the books, not the year they were published.

Of the 43 books I read during 2007 (exclusive of textbooks), here’s the 10 best, listed alphabetically by author:

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred
Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking
Follett, Ken. The Pillars of the Earth
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love
Hood, Ann. The Knitting Circle
Kallos, Stephanie. Broken for You
Lippman, Laura. What the Dead Know
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

(The links are to reviews on my other Web site.)

What’s on your list? If you haven’t made a list, give it a try. It’s not as easy as you think. Sometimes deleting a title feels like giving away one of your children. But this task makes you think more consciously about exactly what makes a book a “good book” to you.

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for reading.

Deaths of Mailer, Vonnegut close book on influential Vietnam era :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Books

Deaths of Mailer, Vonnegut close book on influential Vietnam era :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Books
“Here, a roll call of some of the notables in the arts and popular culture who died in 2007.”

Sadly, it’s quite a long list.

Mailer, Paley, Vonnegut: same era, different voices – Los Angeles Times

Mailer, Paley, Vonnegut: same era, different voices – Los Angeles Times

In a piece in the Los Angeles Times Morris Dickstein discusses three literary icons who died in 2007:

American fiction lost three of its most warmly admired figures this year, all dead at the age of 84 after long careers. Critics love the idea of literary generations, but it would be a challenge to find themes or ideas to link the disparate work of Norman Mailer, Grace Paley and Kurt Vonnegut. At a Paris Review gala last spring, Mailer spoke about Hemingway’s enormous influence despite his inability to portray a convincing woman character (a charge sometimes leveled at Mailer himself). Hemingway made up for it, he said, by creating a style. In more modest ways, this could be said about Mailer, Paley and Vonnegut as well. No one would mistake a paragraph of theirs for the prose of another writer.

Dickstein focus on “something these contemporaries . . . had in common: a sense of the breakdown of the novel, blurring the lines between literary fiction and autobiography, but also poetry in Paley’s case, science fiction for Vonnegut, journalism and social criticism for Mailer.”

Of Mailer, Dickstein says, “For all his public antics, Mailer’s most memorable exploits took place in the arena of the sentence: arresting metaphors, paradoxical speculations, physical details that made a personality tangible.”

He says “Paley created a distinctive female voice” and also “was dead serious about leftist politics, to which she devoted as much energy as to writing and teaching.”

And Vonnegut “saw himself as an ordinary Joe with a small, peculiar gift.”

“With their accumulated wisdom, these three writers’ living presence mattered, but we might miss them more if they had not left so much behind.”

Good News for Libraries

Pew Internet: Information Searches That Solve Problems

There’s good news for libraries in a report issued yesterday of a joint project by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. The topic of the study was how Americans approach problems that might be linked to government:

The problems covered in the survey: 1) dealing with a serious illness or health concern; 2) making a decision about school enrollment, financing school, or upgrading work skills; 3) dealing with a tax matter; 4) changing a job or starting a business; 5) getting information about Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps; 6) getting information about Social Security or military benefits; 7) getting information about voter registration or a government policy; 8 ) seeking helping on a local government matter such as a traffic problem or schools; 9) becoming involved in a legal matter; and 10) becoming a citizen or helping another person with an immigration matter.

The Internet topped respondents’ list of resources they used to find answers to problems such as these, with 58% of people polled saying that they had consulted the Internet either at home, at work, or at a library.

The study also yielded some surprising facts about library use:

The survey results challenge the assumption that libraries are losing relevance in the internet age. Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes, not just the problems mentioned in this survey. And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose.

Most surprising was the heavy library use by Gen Ys, who have grown up with technology. The survey also found out that Internet users are more likely than non-users to patronize libraries (68% to 21%).

“These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down. Librarians have been asked whether the internet makes libraries less relevant. It has not. Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are the most likely to visit libraries,” noted Leigh Estabrook, Dean and Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, co-author of a report on the results.

Critics’ Picks: Favorite Books of 2007 – New York Times

Critics’ Picks: Favorite Books of 2007 – New York Times

New York Times’s reviewers Janet Maslin, Michiko Kakutani, and William Grimes each offer their list of the 10 favorite books they reviewed during 2007. These are not 10-best lists, the article points out. Rather, each reviewer “picked the 10 books we covered most avidly.”

The lists contain both fiction and nonfiction, from mystery to history.

One Critic’s List of Best Books Read in 2007

An instant classic about a little-known NW place tops book list

John Marshall, book critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, lists the 10 best books he read in 2007.

Some folks love these lists, some folks loathe them. This critic believes that compiling such lists requires valuable side-by-side assessment and brings added attention to fine books deserving a second look.

His list has a definite Pacific Northwest bent.

What’s a nice girl like Ann Rule doing in a genre like true crime?

What’s a nice girl like Ann Rule doing in a genre like true crime?

In this piece in one of her hometown newspapers, true-crime queen Ann Rule, a former Seattle police officer, tells how she found her true calling. Her first book contract was for the story of a serial killer then stalking the Pacific Northwest. When a suspect was finally arrested, she was stunned to discover he was someone she had volunteered with at a local crisis hotline–Ted Bundy. Bundy was convicted and eventually executed, and The Stranger Beside Me was Ann Rule’s first published book.

According to the article, Rule has had 28 books on the New York Times bestseller list.  I can attest that her writing is detailed, thorough, and very readable.

The Most Literate Cities in the U.S.

Minneapolis Ousts Seattle as Most Literate City

The folks at The Seattle Times are lamenting their city’s fall from the top spot of the annual list of most literate cities in the U.S.

The rankings, originated and authored by CCSU’s [Central Connecticut State University] president John W. Miller, compare the country’s 69 biggest cities in terms of libraries, bookstores, educational levels, newspaper readership, locally published magazines and Internet resources.

The article lists the top 10 most literate cities. Notables that didn’t make the top 10 include Baltimore, New York, and Los Angeles.

Books of 2007: Science

THIRD CULTURE HOLIDAY READING 2007

This is the season for year-end lists of books in which the mainstream review media steer literate culture away from deep questions about how our world works and who we are and toward celebrations of narcissism, celebrity gossip, and literary cliques.

John Brockman, editor and publisher at Edge, laments “that there are no science books (and hardly any books on ideas) on the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year list; no science category in the Economist Books of the Year 2007; only Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker’s list of Books From Our Pages .” He presents a list of books published in 2007 by science writers who help us understand how science contributes to dealing with some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Dorothy Sayers and British Detective Fiction

NPR : A Brutal, British Mystery Novel for Boxing Day

Jonathan Hayes, a New York City forensic pathologist, describes how a BBC broadcast of Dorothy Sayers’s novel The Nine Tailors made him appreciate Sayers’s influence on the mystery genre:

In Nine Tailors, the violence is not bloodless, but brutal, and the characters are made of flesh and blood — even Whimsey, the hero, is struggling with the emotional aftermath of the Great War. Sayers helped nudge the English mystery novel out of the drawing room and into the real world, particularly in her later novels. Of course, in the 1930s, the real world in crime fiction was increasingly a modern American world, with hard-boiled writers like Chandler and Hammet rising to prominence, but I think Sayers does deserve real credit for toughening up and broadening the reach of the British detective story.

Hayes says that Sayers transformed the traditional “cozy” mystery, sometimes referred to as an English drawing-room mystery, in which the murder happens quickly and off stage; the rest of the mystery covers the detective’s investigation and thought processes in determining who the murderer is. As Hayes puts it, in a British cozy “The crime is reduced to a trite riddle, self-contained and without broader implication.” His experience as a forensic pathologist has taught him that murder is anything but cozy; it is brutal, not bloodless. This is a reality that Sayers was willing to face, and her work has had a lasting influence on the mystery genre.