Tuesday, January 22, 2008

He Said, She Said...Best Books of 2007

Welcome to the third annual Best Books for the blog, where Kern and I list out our favorite reads of the year. Actually, because Kern is more organized he writes his list first and I respond.For clarification, these are books we read in this year and don't necessarily respond to pub dates.

Here goes...

Kern says:
10. Psycho, Robert Bloch – The original from which Hitchcock adapted his screenplay. It was a short read, but very tense. The movie is better in this case, but I enjoyed the book almost as much.
Britta says:
This is on my to-be-read stack. For a classic intense read you might try the psychological ghost story Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I read this on my own after picking up some James in class, and it's my favorite so far. The terrorized nanny and the is-it-or-isn't-it haunted house with creepily adult children set the mark for today's current supernatural thrillers, complete with undercurrents of sexuality and repression. Not bad for a serialized story first published in 1898.

Kern says:
9. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon – Grady Tripp is a pot smoking English professor/ writer in a small Pennsylvania town. The writing stands out, and is hysterical at times.
Britta says:

It's hysterical throughout. Chabon's writing shimmers, his characters are exciting and weird, and the way he weaves what seems like inconsequential clues (the pet snake!) into climactic turning points is sheer genius.

Kern says:
8. The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz – A memoir about an escape from a Siberian prison camp, and the ensuing walk to the Indian Ocean after WW2. A fascinating story that holds up to scrutiny. Toward the end of the story, there is a short reference to a Bigfoot creature they spotted in the Himalayas. Yeti or not, the story is an incredible tale of endurance.
Britta says:
I don't know why Kern loves the survivor tales so much, but he does. Maybe the chance at spotting Bigfoot? I'd suggest Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love which is a story about a freelance writer from Manhattan learning to navigate life after divorce by spending a year submerged in foreign cultures.

Kern says:
7. The 64$ Tomato, William Alexander. This is the story of an organic gardener in New York, and his battles with gardening. Having tried unsuccessfully many years to raise a tomato myself, I was drawn to the title. Of course in the end, the author calculates what it has cost to go organic. Very funny read, especially for the gardener.
Britta says:
I don't garden, but Kern's laughter as he devoured this book makes me want to read it. If reading about food is your thing, try Jhumpa Lahiri's gorgeous books: Interpreter of Maladies (short stories) and The Namesake. She uses food symbology in her stories of the Indian immigrant experience, as filtered through generational families struggling with identity and place in American society. If the opening page of Namesake doesn't make you want to snack on Indian food, you have no tastebuds.

Kern says:
6. The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster. Nathan Glass, retired and estranged from his family returns to his childhood neighborhood in Brooklyn. A great cast of characters.
Britta says:
I read this one and while it was enjoyable, for a top-ten cast of characters I'd recommend E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-Winner The Shipping News. Love Quoyle, love the aunt, love the villagers. Made me want to learn to fish and live in Newfoundland.

Kern says:
5. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson. A memoir of his childhood in 1950’s Des Moines.
Britta says:Hysterical. I enjoyed this book so much I bought it for my parents who grew up in the 50s. Whether you're of that generation or not, you'll appreciate Bryson's wry humor and a classic coming-of-age tale from times past. Bryson's childhood desperation to get into the carnival to see the scantily-clad freakshows captures longing, adolescent hormones, and small-town dynamics all in one colorful and gut-funny scene.

Kern says:
4. Bitter Blood, Jerry Bledsoe. True crime narrative covering two southern families. Vitamin C anyone?
Britta says:
Isn't he cute? If it's not survival stories of people eating people, it's crime narratives. After last year's nightmare inducing foray into Kern's serial killer bedside reading, I took a sabbatical from true crime in 2007. For an excellent fictional crime tale, I'd recommend Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn. A killer twist at the end from unlikely characters, plus her lead detective is Case History's shlumpy and likable Jackson Brodie.

Kern says:
3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. His post apocalyptic story about a father and son making their way to the coast. Chilled me to the bone. Don’t throw away your canned goods!
Britta says:
I shouldn't count this, because I technically read it in 2008, but I'm gonna. Unforgettable, worthy of the hype, and as a student of writing, I'm in awe of his spare and powerful style. If you start this book, you won't stop, and you won't ever forget it.

Kern says:
2. The World According to Garp, John Irving. Irving is without doubt the Great American Novelist. The story of TS Garp is unforgettable.
Britta says:
I Heart John Irving. He shames me with his writing, and I love him for it. I haven't read Garp, but it's on my list. For another twisty tale of dysfunctional families, try Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I was assigned to read this for class, or else I'd never have picked it up--it's a graphic novel, which I used to think was a euphemism for Really Long Comic Book. A disclaimer: Fun Home IS graphic, in tone and subject matter (who knew cartoons could be so...explicit?), but its setup of a young girl grappling with identity as she grows up in a funeral home setting is poignant, at times laugh-out-loud funny, and utterly real. I wept at the last image.

Kern says:
1. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen. Alfred and Enid Lambert, and their dysfunctional descendants. What a story. The chapter on the cruise ship stands alone. What’s that on the couch?
Britta says:
Evermore labeled as the man who shunned Oprah, Franzen lives up to his own hype with this book. I laughed, I cried, I feel like Alfred and Enid are family members and I miss them. Like Chabon and Irving, Franzen knows what he's doing when it comes to crafting fiction. While his character's exploits are at times larger than life, their frailties in the smallest moments...a father in a nursing home, a prodigal son arriving home, a marriage strained into silence...are heartbreakingly real.

Other books from 2007 I'd recommend (see earlier posts on the blog for more descriptions):

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
Yiddish Policeman's Detective Union by Michael Chabon
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Thereafter Johnnie by Carolivia Herron

Disagree with our choices or have books you want to add? Comments welcome! Let us know...what did we miss???


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You missed one on the list for 2007. Certainly Catherine Johnson's Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace should be on this list!? This book is perfectly dualistic in nature and an excellent family drama dealing with an excellent story; good versus evil and how morally responsible people can be driven to immoral actions. You won't believe the twists in this novel.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Travis Erwin said...

I tried to read The Corrections several times and never coudl get into the novel.

Not a fan of The Shipping News either, but Irving is rock solid as you say. The Road left me with mixed feelings.

Britta you should read somethign from Holly Kennedy, HEr third novel is sue soon, but the first two are excellent as well The Penny Tree and I forget the first right now.

How is you latest novel going?

I've shifted way from women's fictions for my current WIP. Instead I am trying my hand at humor.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Ethan.

Travis, one of these days I'll remember to check out Holly Kennedy. But what's this about leaving women's fiction?! Readers, to get why Travis' penchant for women's fiction is so terrific, go to my photo album and take a look at him. Not what you might expect. On the other hand, you're a funny guy, and talented, so I imagine the humor will come quite naturally.

My WIP is back in progress after a lull for the holidays...with hopes of getting through this draft by May. We'll see.

What left you with mixed feelings re: The Road?

11:05 AM  
Blogger dee said...

one of the better books this year was a sleeper called The Last Town on Earth. It is historical fiction and if you liked Water for Elephants then its right up your alley. I saw a write up on it in writers digest and got a copy...then got a copy for everyone for xmas so I'm sure hastings has some since they sold so many at xmas....lol...

1:11 PM  
Blogger Travis Erwin said...

The writing in The Road was terrific. Stellar, but I never quite connected to the story. It was one of those novel I read as I had time instead of making the time at the expense of everything else.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Mathilda said...

Just read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It's a children's book, but well worth the hour it would take to kick back and take it all in--compelling honesty, pain, truth, forgiveness, and little hope.

Karen is a beautiful writer and inspires me to continue to hone my craft. Though she writes for an audience slightly younger than the age range I am aiming for (12-18 for me), I still learned a little bit about myself as both a reader and a writer.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

I loved Out of the Dust! Can't believe I forgot to include it on my list. Yes, Hesse's coming-of-age novel about a young girl in the dustbowl is officially slated as YA, but it's an honest, gritty and beautiful read for any age. It taught me a few things about prose poetry as well. (Not that I write it, but I do admire...)

11:07 AM  

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