This is a bit of an indulgence as the world is overflowing with "best books of 2007" lists at the moment. Happily, I have no desire to list the best books, merely MY favorites in 2007.
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
I read The Post-Birthday World in May and it is definitely the most thought-provoking novel I read all year. Shriver writes dense, powerful prose but her premise is simple. A woman faces a clear choice one evening: whether to kiss a man other than her long-term parter. The narrative divides at that point, in one version, Irina resists the overwhelming desire to kiss Ramsey Acton and thus stays in her long-term relationship with Lawrence and in the other version, she kisses Ramsey, and leaves Lawrence.
I like what Michiko Kakatuni says: "As Ms. Shriver tells it, Irina’s choice between Ramsey and Lawrence is less about the two men than about who she wants to be: whether she wants to preserve the safe, staid but unsatisfying life she’s had for many years or trade it in for something more exciting with a man she barely knows; whether she wants to heed the advice of her mother and friends or follow the promptings of her own heart."
Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen
I read these four short stories in Vienna, mostly on a park bench accompanied by street vendor wine and homemade sandwiches. Tillie Olsen came to writing late in life, after she raised her children. Although I loved all four stories, I especially loved the first and last stories – I Stand Here Ironing & Tell Me a Riddle.
The first story features a mother, engaged in ironing, but thinking of her almost-adult daughter. It gives voice to what I imagine motherhood to be like – loving your children but endlessly replaying what you could have done differently.
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
I read many reviews of Out Stealing Horses this year, nearly all of them using the word "spare" to describe this Norwegian novel. Out Stealing Horses reminds me strongly of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: gorgeous writing, quiet and contemplative, features a man late in life with all of the advantages of experience reliving the events of his youth. This is a novel to be read only in the winter, preferably in bed.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett’s novella basically poses the question: what if the Queen of England became a serious reader? One day, walking about Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s corgis run upon a bookmobile on the grounds. Feeling duty-bound to check a book out, the Queen does so and reads it. And then she reads another and then another. Soon, she loses interest in the mundane duties of the monarch of England. The Uncommon Reader, at its heart, celebrates the pleasure and power of reading.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is everything a reader could desire for Harry except that it ends. Harry lives, Voldemort is vanquished, all is right in the world. I suspect that many adults that read and love Harry Potter feel as I do. We have watched an eleven year old boy suffer more than we can dream of suffering, and in spite, and because of his suffering, turn into a good, brave man that chooses the good and the brave and in the end, triumphs over evil.
At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman
These essays are a collection from pieces Fadiman wrote while editor of The American Scholar. Each is a perfect gem of an essay. Obviously, I loved the essays on coffee and ice cream (even getting out of bed to enjoy a little Ben & Jerry’s while reading the latter). Fadiman also made me want to read a bit o’ Charles Lamb as well, apparently no one reads him anymore.
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
What a delightful epistolary memoir! Helene Hanff, a NYC television writer, requests good copies of books from a bookseller at 84, Charing Cross Road called Marks & Co. starting in 1944. The book is basically a collection of letters back and forth between bibliophile and bookseller. The relationship becomes increasingly touching and personal as the years go on. Portrait in miniature of books, reading and life after WWII.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver chronicles her family’s experiment to eat home-grown or locally obtained foods for one year. After reading the book, I was inspired to shop more at local farmer’s markets, support our local citrus groves, and along with a friend, join a CSA (community supported agriculture) that provides us with a weekly box of local vegetables, greens, and some fruit.