Thursday, December 20, 2007

Best Books of 2007

So, all tolled I think I've probably read about 85 books this year -- the ones I haven't counted here have been Harlequins, and mainly manuscripts, so I don't want to review them here before they're finished and published. So, of the 80-odd books that I've read this year, here are the 10 that have stood out in my mind, books that I've thought of again and again, and books that I've recommended to maybe dozens of people, maybe even gone so far as to push a copy into someone's hands:

1. Consumption by Kevin Patterson
The very first book I finished in 2007 has resonated with me throughout the entire year. An impossibly sad yet utterly redemptive book, Patterson's novel might be one of the great overlooked Canadian books of last year.

2. Mothers and Sons by Colm Tóibín
Of the two Colm Tóibín books I read this year, this collection of short stories took me, as I said, "completely by surprise." They are magnificent, and I fell in love with them even more after hearing the author himself read at Harbourfront a few weeks after finishing the book.

3. Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
The Australian entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, Carey's latest novel might just be his best. What I wrote about the novel way back in March when I read it still stands as an apt description for how I felt about it: "Like a bucket of cold water dropped on your head on a hot day, Theft shocks you into submission with its bold, slashing strokes of brilliant prose that belt out the story." And I'm only a little embarrassed to admit that Butcher Bones remains the one literary character that, should he have existed in real life, I would gladly sacrifice a little marital, ahem, angst for...if you catch my drift.

4 & 4.5. The Road & No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
What more needs to be said about Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road? It transcends Oprah, won the Pulitzer, turned the words "post-apocalyptic" into watercooler conversation, and firmly established McCarthy as one of the greatest living American writers working today. None of this is surprising to a girl who includes All the Pretty Horses in the her top 10 Best Books of My Life list.

I also read McCarthy's No Country for Old Men this year, and am calling it number 4.5, and remember that I said this at the time: "Now, as you know, I was completely captivated by The Road. But No Country For Old Men blew me away. No one writes violence like McCarthy, and turns something that's often mocked in the popular media, or blown out in ways that ensure any impact of it gets lost between big guns and lots of useless fake punches, into literature."

5. Run by Ann Patchett
Critics were on the fence about Patchett's novel: EW hated it; the Globe didn't, and so on. Many people commented on the utterly contrived nature of the story. And yet, many people fell in love with Patchett's "snow globe"-like world within its covers. But I just adored this book from start to finish, couldn't put it down, and cried like a baby when it ended.

6. October by Richard Wright
While not on any of the other big Canadian lists this year, Wright's novel is probably my favourite work of Canadian fiction in 2007. Taut, blissfully traditional, canonic, and with touches of The Watch That Ends the Night, one of my all-time favs, I read this book in manuscript format on a streetcar ride home weeks after starting my new job.

7. The Accidental by Ali Smith
Another book that had tonnes of online buzz that before I finished it thought it might be slightly overrated. Boy was I wrong. It took me a couple of tries to get into it, but I am certainly glad that I did.

8. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Utterly heartbreaking and stirringly original, it's a post-colonial novel that I would have loved to have studied at university.

9. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
Vendela Vida's book entirely surprised me. From the opening pages, you think you're reading a certain kind of novel, one that you've read many times before, and yet, by the end, you're utterly convinced that it's one of the most intriguing stories you've read in a long time.

10. The Gathering by Anne Enright
This novel hit me like a punch in the stomach, and I loved every word. As I said, "The narrative that spills out over the next few hundreds pages fights with itself at every turn, angry, raw, overwhelmed, Veronica [the protagonist] takes hold of what's left of her life and shakes it, pulls all the pieces down around her and then can't really tell how to put them back together again. In the end, I'm not clear if she has or not, but it doesn't really matter because this book is so painfully honest about life, about family, about tragedy, that becoming 'normal' again isn't much the point."

But I'd have to say that my all-time favourite book I read all year might just have to be Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses. I'm pulling it out of the top 10 and saying that it's the book that I would least recommend, but it's the novel that I think in terms of skill, in terms of story, in terms of pure power of its prose that I adored the most out of all the books that flew past my hungry eyes this year.

And if the top 10 could include more books, I'd have to say these are my honorable mentions: Kate Sutherland's All in Together Girls, Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer, and Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay.


metro mama said...

What a great list! I loved October too. And Late Nights.

Mister Pip is going to be my next read, starting Boxing Day.

I read Blood Meridian this term and Cormac McCarthy is my new favourite writer. That book just blew me away. I am on the library list for a copy of The Road. Have you seen the movie version of No Country? It's absolutely fantastic.

Happy holidays!

metro mama said...

Finally read The Road. Wow. Just posted something about it:

Must read more McCarthy.