With 2007 on the way out it’s time to post my annual list of the five best and five worst books of 2007. This year I read 31 books. That number doesn’t hold a candle to the 45 I read last year, but then again I wasn’t on medical leave at any point this year.
I learned a couple of things about myself as a reader and a reviewer while compiling this year’s list. First off, I learned that I am more likely to review books I like rather then those I don’t. That’s because I find it far more important that people get their hands on good books rather then seeing that they avoid bad ones. Lousy books are a dime a dozen. Good books are a rare find. I also realized that I can’t stand characters who refuse to help themselves. You will find many examples of this in my list of the five worst books.
As usual, the list consists of books I read this year, not necessarily ones that were published this year.
1) How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore– Gore adopts the role of cheerleader rather than mentor in this smart, sassy, and highly readable guide to literary stardom. Encouraging writers to utilize self-publishing options such as blogs, zines, and print-on-demand services Gore reminds us that there are times when it is more important to get our work out and read by an audience rather than tooled to absolute perfection. I found this book so inspirational I began writing and submitting work to literary magazines again after a three year hiatus. It really changed the way I view my own work and that is why it had to be number one.
2) Brendan Wolf by Brian Malloy – It isn’t often that I find a book I can’t put down and Brendan Wolf was the only book on this year’s list that I was glued to. With a main character of great depth and a well paced story with a gratifying pay off, Brendan Wolf shows off Malloy’s impressive style and technique. It captures the complexities and ambiguities of friendship, kinship, and personal responsibility with a clarity found only in the work of the most accomplished writers.
3) The Unbinding by Walter Kirn– This novel set a lofty goal for itself by attempting to look at the ways national security, celebrity, consumerism, and information technology intersect, and Kirn managed to pull it off with flare. A master storyteller, Kirn not only weaves an intriguing tale, but physically engages the reader through format. Told through the characters’ personal letters, memos, and blog entries the reader is forced to recognize his own voyeuristic tendencies and reflect on the role he plays in the story simply by reading it.
4) Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey– In this Pulitzer Prise winning collection of poetry Trethewey takes dictation from those history has rendered mute. With cinematic clarity she describes the experience of growing up bi-racial in the Jim Crow south and the systematic racism so prevalent in America that not even the Civil War could stamp it out. A powerful collection that stands as an example of what poetry should be.
5) Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay – Ansay is the rare author who truly paints with words. In this novel about a couple coming to terms with the untimely death of their son, she lays out the story in language that borders on cinematic. The entire work is so crisp and fresh it is all but impossible not to get sucked in.
1) Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland – Normally I like Coupland, but this slow story about a bunch of wayward friends rubbed me the wrong way. None of the protagonists were the least bit likable and none of them ever attempted to better themselves. When, through no effort of their own, they are all delivered from lives of mediocrity in the book’s climax, I wanted nothing more then to drop it right then and there. Happy endings are nice, but not when they aren’t earned.
2) Please, Stop Laughing at Me… by Jodee Blanco– In this poorly written memoir Blanco describes the brutal bullying she endured as a child. She paints a picture of herself as the perfect child – gifted, intelligent, kind, and morally upstanding. It is this description that makes it plain to the reader why Blanco was teased by her peers. She comes off as a whiny tattle-tail who is completely full of herself. So, while Blanco is never able to figure out why everyone hated her so much, the reader is all too aware. She is not a very sympathetic protagonist and her ordeal pales next to her own lack of self-awareness.
3) The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hallowell– This novel had the potential for greatness. Set against a backdrop of religious fanaticism Hallowell has every opportunity to address issues of celebrity, consumerism, escapism, desire, and faith. Instead she sticks to the most obvious and formulaic of plot twists.
4) The Dialectic of Sex by Shulamith Firestone – This radical feminist “classic” was forgotten for a reason. Not only does it reek of racism and classism but it is wholly irrelevant in today’s society.
5) Like Son by Felicia Luna Lemus – Lemus is a capable writer, unfortunately this tale of love, desire, family, and transgenderism never quite comes together. The psychological hang ups of the primary characters get really old really fast as they engage in the same destructive behavior time and again never once attempting to do anything to remedy the situations.