Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Literary Year In Review

Several of my favorite bloggers have been ending their year with a synopsis of their reading endeavors over 2007. I have previously rejected any impulses I may have had to review books on this blog. Because, the thing is, nothing makes me feel more ridiculous about my own pitiful efforts at writing than attempting to critique someone who actually does it well. I end up feeling illiterate and silly. I finally decided to break this resolution because I would like to keep a record of the books I read and whether I enjoyed them, and because I really do love knowing what other's thought of books, I am going to be brave enough to do it here.

Unfortunately, it turns out my literary memory is as potholed as the rest of my mind. Once I have completed them, I return my books to the used bookstore for credit, except for the rare few I can't bear to part with. As a result I can now only account for my most recent reads of 2007 along with a handful of books that made a lasting impression.

So here they are already: my opinions on some of my recent and/or remarkable reads from this year...

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I started with this because it affected me more than anything else I read this year. Oprah and I are at last in agreement, because I, too, thought this book was phenomenal. It was dark, and disturbing and sad, but ultimately a story about love and survival and it haunted me for months after I read it. And made me think about my life.

Harry Potter and the Half Blooded Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
I am not going to review these books because it has been done a thousand times over by people much more capable than I. I loved them. Especially the conclusion. I will mention Deathly Hallows was the only book off of the The New York Times 50 Notable Books of 2007 list that I have read. Because I don't buy books new or in hardcover.

Seaglass by Anita Shreve
The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve

This is a new author for me this year, and I enjoyed both of these books. I found her writing thoughtful, easy to read yet engaging. I was immediately drawn into the pages of The Pilot's Wife while Seaglass pulled me in more slowly. I plan to read more Shreve in 2008.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta
I chose this book because it was a critically acclaimed novel which spawned a critically acclaimed movie. I have to admit I didn't enjoy it at all. I found the actions of the characters to be bizarre and self destructive in a way I couldn't identify with. Unhappy suburbanites dealing with their wrong choices by making even more wrong choices. I didn't bother seeing the movie.

Freakonomics by Levitt & Dubner
I almost never read non-fiction unless it's part of a Bible Study I am involved in or research for something in particular, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to explain what it was about or remember how it applied to economics, but it did make me think and I found myself reading passages out loud to my husband. A really entertaining read.

Jarka Ruus by Terry Brooks
Tanequil by Terry Brooks
Straken by Terry Brooks
I am a long time fan of Terry Brooks but hadn't read this particular trilogy. I found it to be what I expected for the author but not exceptional in any way. I came away a little disappointed.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is not a new author to me. The first book I read of hers was The Tenth Circle followed by My Sister's Keeper. I enjoyed both of those novels much more than I did this one, I think because the characters were just typical suburban families, and so it was easier for me to imagine myself in their circumstances. This book kept me interested but was definitely not my favorite by this author.

Plain Truth
by Jodi Picoult
I read this book close to the beginning of this year and I am really having to wrack my brain for my impressions of it. I do remember I was intrigued to unravel the mystery of the story even if I did find the concept of the Lawyer living with her client in the Amish Community to feel forced and not particularly original.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
I hear this author mentioned often as a point of reference in young adult fantasy circles so I had high expectations. I wasn't disappointed. I plan to pick up the rest of his books for our home library if they ever make their way to the shelves of my used bookstore.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This book came highly recommended to me by many people. I resisted it for a long time because, I am sorry to admit, of it's setting in Afghanistan. I didn't want to read a political novel. I am glad I finally did. This was one of my favorite reads of the last several years. While I did come away much more educated about the heartbreaking history of the country it was the story and the characters that really resonated with me. I am very much looking forward to reading his next book.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
This book also came highly recommended, but I just couldn't get behind it. While the premise was interesting I just couldn't connect with the characters or their motives. I became frustrated with them. I just didn't love it.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Another recommendation. It was beautifully and intriguingly written although it had a slow start and I couldn't let go of the heavy fatalistic feeling. While that may have been intentional by the author, I found it was like a weight, keeping the pace down. Yet, I cannot dispute that this author has great talent in painting poignant scenes and characters.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
I always read chic-lit on vacation. It's a rule. And this year for my trip to the beach I picked up this light and fluffy book. While basically it was a trashy love story with a dash of mysticism, I have to admit I liked it more than I expected to. I found the way the author painted the home and garden in the story as a character, in it's own right, enchanting. A quick, enjoyable read.

My Antonia by Willa Cather
I'll end with this book, because I recommend it most of all. I chose to read it because it was on several of my favorite blogger's lists of favorite books. I confess now, I had never even heard of it until then. The story, it's so simple it's hardly worth mentioning. The life of an immigrant girl as she grows up on the plains of our country. But the words, I wanted to savor them slowly, repeatedly, holding the flavor of them on my tongue like hard toffee. It was really, truly beautiful writing. So just in case, I am not the only person left who hasn't read it...well please, go read it. is the list of what is sitting on my nightstand right now waiting to be read in 2008:
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve
Light on Snow by Anita Shreve
Love in the Time of Cholera by Garcia Marquez
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquirel
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
Lost Horizon by James Hilton

So what were your best and worst books of 2007 and what are you looking forward to reading in the new year?


Kyla said...

From this, I think we have similar reading styles. I've been holding off on Kite Runner for the same reason, but I think I'll give it a go. The latest Brooks trilogy is something I can't get into. I've started the first one a handful of times and just can't get drawn in. Same with Memory Keeper's Daughter. It seems that for an emotional novel, you feel awfully closed off to the characters.

I'll definitely look into the ones you enjoyed that I haven't read yet!

Chaotic Joy said...

Hey Kyla! I was just thinking of you because I was adding a couple Jodi Picoult reviews to my list (I keep hopping on and adding things as I think of them). You must have been commenting while I was editing. Wasn't it you that said you had read all her books? I would love to know which of the books of hers you liked the best, and which you would recommend I try to get this year.

Sister K said...

oh my gosh, i just started "Body Surfing" by Anita Shrive yesterday and thought I'd check out her other works...thanks for sharing some of your favs :)
Happy New Year!

Beck said...

Really about Little Children? Because, honestly, I LOVED that book. I'm interested in a lot of your other books, which I haven't read yet.

Lisa writes... said...

I love book lists! I jotted down a couple of titles to look for when I next head to the library. I already have "The Pilot's Wife" checked out and next on my reading list!

Sherry said...

I added a link to your post at my round-up of year end book lists at Semicolon. I think you'll enjoy Odd Thomas. I ust read it, and it's violent but intriguing at the same time.

Chaotic Joy said...

Beck-With that book I felt like I missed something, like I should have liked it but just couldn't. I actually sat there for a while after I finished it and tried to figure out what I had missed. I would be interested to know what you liked about it.

painted maypole said...

you know, I found that Little Children, while I didn't LIKE any of the characters, was immensely interesting and made me think.

The Pilot's Wife was recommended to me, and now after your review i know I have to read it.

I'm reading Digital Fortress right now, which is moving quickly and is quite engaging.

thirtysomething said...

Thanks for sharing the great list of books! I read Freakonomics as well, and actually could see some of what he was saying. Good book, I thought.
Happy new Year to you and your beautiful family!
Miss you around 'my place' by the way. I always look forward to your inspiring and thoughtful comments.

Spice Girl said...

Try Gossamer by Lois Lowry. You know that I'm all over the kid lit scene these days. I'll post soon some of my favorites on my site, but in the meantime: Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt, and The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson. Great books.

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

The Ties that Bind by Chris Bohjalian was my favorite book of 2007 (He also wrote Midwives, which was an Oprah Book Club book).