The Best Books of 2007, as Chosen by a Lazy Bibliomaniac

When I look back on this year, I can’t help but think of all the nothing I’ve accomplished. I haven’t found a job yet, I haven’t quite finished the damn novel, I haven’t rearranged the house into some form of order… What exactly did I do?

Well, I had a great beach vacation, I took care of my mom while she was very sick, I helped out my dad after his bypass surgery, and I read and read and read. That’s one thing to be said about reading: you can do it anywhere. At the beach, in a waiting room, in the car during traffic jams, late at night just before bed. And I managed to read some really terrific books of all sorts, in between doing the dishes and feeding the cat.

So these are my top ten books of the past year. They’re not in any order, because I had enough trouble just picking out ten, let alone rating them. The only rule I stuck to here was the books had to be 2007 releases — otherwise this would be ten pages. Anyway, here are my favorites.

Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin — hands down, one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Steve Martin writes as beautifully as he acts, and he plays the banjo and the guitar, too: is there nothing this man can’t do? The book is about his life in comedy and how he got there, from childhood magic shows through the end of his stand-up career. It’s funny, poignant without being a tell-all — the description of his difficult relationship with his father is heartbreaking, but never maudlin — and even instructive to those of us who try to be funny in any medium.  I actually wished this book had been longer, I enjoyed it so much.

The Abortionist’s Daughter, by Elisabeth Hyde — This was the year’s first knockout book for me, which is always like finding the Golden Ticket to the Wonka factory inside your first candy bar. It’s a literary murder mystery, with so many possibilities among the troubled cast of characters that I never suspected the killer was… well, you’ll see. It’s also beautifully written, while at the same time chillingly familiar, easy to imagine as a story on “Inside Edition,” complete with parental angst and failing marriages and… well, find out for yourself.

Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman — this first novel was as much fun as an armful of comic books. In alternating chapters, it’s the tale of a supervillain’s plot to take over the world and a fledgling superheroine’s efforts with a team of heroes to stop him. Everything you learned from comic books as a kid is done here with a light, funny touch and a sense of the sometimes silly “truths” of having superpowers. If you’ve ever enjoyed a comic book, you’ll love this novel. I’m already hoping there will be a sequel.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle — this first novel is the story of a young girl growing up on a family ranch, tending to the horses against the backdrop of her ill mother, runaway-bride sister, and flawed father. The horses, her troubled family, and the riders who train on the ranch are seen through the eyes of a lonely adolescent in a way that you may remember from your own early teens, with moments of clarity that make you hurt for the narrator the way you might for your own remembered self.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling — I wish this series had no end. If I can’t have that, this book will do.

Grace (Eventually), by Anne Lamott — I admit that I’ll read anything Anne Lamott writes. I love her novels, her book on writing, her memoir of her son’s birth — and all three of her books on faith. She writes about the difficulty of being Christian in the face of everyday problems, with an eye to the real-life limitations we all have when we try to practice faith. She never makes me feel lectured or proselytized; reading her essays is like finding a friend who understands how the good in your heart can get irremediably tangled with the neurosis and the anger and the stubbornness, and helps you start to untangle the whole mess.

It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, by John Ed Bradley — OK, this entry sounds like the old Sesame Street song that says “one of these things is not like the others,” but I assure you I’m not kidding. Bradley has been around as an unevenly good novelist for nearly twenty years, but this memoir of his college days playing football for LSU, and his coming to terms with the loss of this singular experience for, practically, the rest of his life, is one of the most moving memoirs I’ve ever read. I’ve never played football, but if you’ve ever given up something that you felt defined you, this book will ring as true and as heartbreaking to you as it did to me. His teammates, his father, his coach — all these relationships are recounted with wrenching honesty that reminds me of Pat Conroy’s best work. The writing is beautiful and the emotion is as real as blood on the page. I’m glad I read this book.

The Rest of Her Life, by Laura Moriarty — my biggest problem with Moriarty is that this is only her second novel. She’s a terrific writer, and I wish she had a bigger body of work (she has one other novel, The Center of Everything, that’s also excellent). This is the story of a family coping after their teenage daughter causes a tragic accident, and the skewed family history that makes them prone to — although I hate the word — dysfunction. These are very real characters whose pain is palpable in every chapter. You’ll read this in two days, max, because you can’t put it down.

A Dangerous Man, by Charlie Huston — Where have you been all my life, Charlie Huston? Eventually Elmore Leonard will have to retire, and finally there’s someone who can take up his mantle when it happens. Huston is one of the best crime writers I’ve ever found, funny and spare and hard to stop reading. A Dangerous Man is the final volume in his Henry Thompson trilogy (Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things), the tale of a guy who blundered into serious trouble when he told a neighbor he’d watch his cat for him and then never managed to get his life back, rocketing from one disaster to another over the course of the three books. Huston is also the author of two crime/noir/vampire novels, Already Dead and No Dominion, which I promise are completely unlike any vampire fiction you ever thought you’d see, and one stand-alone novel, The Shotgun Rule, also good but a little less so than his trilogy or series. More fun than a posse of drug-addled hit men in a Tarantino movie, if you like that sort of thing.

Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff — I was in college when I read Matt Ruff’s first novel, Fool on the Hill, and when I finished it I wanted to drive straight to New York to marry him. He’s had a couple of uneven novels since then, but Bad Monkeys is a return to his knock-it-out-of-the-park days. It’s about a young woman indoctrinated into a secret society to kill off the truly evil people in the world — the “bad monkeys.” Or is she? Is she lying or delusional or absolutely right? You be the judge. This was a twisting, turning, double-back-on-itself mindfuck of a novel that I read in one long sitting. Don’t read it under the influence of anything stronger than caffeine. I had just taken some Advil Cold & Sinus when I started it, and I fell right down the rabbit hole. It was a truly trippy bit of fun, though.

A Few Honorable Mentions

The Used World, by Haven Kimmel

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell

Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South, by Roy Blount, Jr.

In the Woods, by Tana French

The Air We Breathe, by Andrea Barrett

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14 Responses to “The Best Books of 2007, as Chosen by a Lazy Bibliomaniac”

  1. Yippee! I love this. I do have a question for you and well I’d email it but I think that it might be appropriate here. I’m considering joining Robin in a 50 books in a year challenge. She’s done it before and I haven’t. Given the fact that I have small kids I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it. What I’m taking forever to ask is how long does it take you to read a book?

  2. Darn it, I went to the library yesterday. I’ve got to print out a couple of your posts next time I go — yesterday I was desperately trying to remember one of the author’s you’ve recommended and I couldn’t come up with a name.

  3. CRAP — I can’t believe I put that apostrophe in there.

  4. Hi y’all! Kathleen, I’m flattered. I hope none of them disappoint you. I passed most of these on to John and I don’t think there are any he didn’t like…
    B-Mom, it depends on the book. The last Harry Potter took me thirteen hours, but “…Tiger Stadium” took me a little over a week. Also, I usually read three to five books at a time. I’ll go in on the 50-books challenge if you will! I think I’m usually around 100 in a year, but I haven’t kept track. That might be a NY’s resolution I can actually keep.

  5. pandemonic Says:

    I feel illiterate. I haven’t read any of those books!

  6. Fifty books in a month? Wow! That’s a lot, especially with little kids and being a single mom. I’d be happy to get half that many read, which is two books a month.

    Maybe I’ll try for that in 2008. This year I haven’t read more than maybe 10 books. I did listen to some on audio, though. But maybe I will try 25 in the year. Maybe.

    I’m curious about the Steve Martin book. I love reading memoir. I don’t like Steve Martin. So I’m torn. Pick it up? Don’t pick it up? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll look for it and read a few pages before I buy it.

  7. Corina: No it’s 50 books a year. That’s way ambitious in and of itself for me.

  8. So…you do read crime novels? That’s good to know. I’ll definitely pick up a couple on the list.

  9. TheOtherIvy Says:

    My book list seems to just keep growing…
    Great reviews. I read that Lamott this year, too, and liked it for similar reasons. I haven’t read any Steven Martin since Cruel Shoes, I might have to go check that one out. Fforde, one of your previous recommendations, is now one of those authors I can’t keep on my shelf, I want everyone to read his work.

  10. Wanda, I am crime-novel heavy! I didn’t know you liked ’em too.

    Corina, Born Standing Up might make you like Steve Martin!

    Ivy, I have to reread the whole Thursday Next series, or I’d probably have included Fforde in my list. I’m glad you like him! He’s got a terrific website, btw.

  11. You make me wish for more time to read.

    I’m working on “Sand Castles” now. It’s very good.

  12. antimother Says:

    The link to your blog was buried in my email and I just now managed to find it. I have a lot of catching up to do.

    I now have an RSS feed to your blog on my home page so I won’t be missing any more posts.

    I guess I better find some time to do something with the blog I signed up for over here.

    Andrea R.

  13. Andrea, we’ll come visit you. You’re too funny to leave alone!

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