My favorite books of 2007



My most memorable reading experience of 2007 was plowing through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in about 25 hours. Obviously, reading is normally a solitary pursuit, but the knowledge that friends, blog acquaintances and millions of complete strangers were eagerly devouring the same book at the same time made Deathly Hallows a global communal experience with few precedents. Plus, the story itself offered a sprawling, at times convoluted, but satisfying crescendo to the Harry Potter saga.

These, however, are my favorite books that were published in 2007 (in alphabetical order):

1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Barbara Kingsolver. The award-winning author and her family resolve to spend a calendar year as “locavores,” i.e., eating only organic, locally grown food either from their own Virginia farm or within a roughly 100 mile radius. It's no hippie screed. The depressingly detailed content about the pernicious effects of agribusiness goes down smoothly, and Kingsolver offers many funny anecdotes and frequently couches the local/regional food movement in terms that are surprisingly patriotic. We should preserve our regional, native cuisines as a matter of national pride.

. Dan Simmons. Two ships on an ill-fated British expedition, HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, were frozen in Arctic ice for nearly three years in the 1840s. In this scrupulously researched novel, Simmons strays from the likely historical record by speculating that a huge, ravenous monster complicated the crew's already nightmarish ordeal. Simmons' epic-length account, featuring smart references to Hobbes' Leviathan and Poe's "The Masque of Red Death," is so persuasive and chilling that the sailors mauled by the supernatural creature seem like the lucky ones.

3. Then We Came to the End. Joshua Ferris. In this remarkable, funny first novel, the "fractious and overpaid" writers and art directors at a Chicago advertising agency

gossip, bicker, cultivate obsessions, nurse neuroses and otherwise freak out when the Internet bust sends a wave of lay-offs through the firm. Ferris uses the first-person plural -- the collective "we" -- throughout the book, and really pulls it off. You share the herd mentality of the group without feeling like he's laboring with a gimmick, while appreciating the moral emptiness of the workaday world (not that leisure life is necessarily any better). It's like Catch-22 for the workplace.

4. Un Lun Dun. China Mieville. Two schoolgirl pals in London discover a weird, whimsical and hazardous alternate version of the city, called "UnLondon" or "Un Lun Dun," where they try to defend the city from a monstrous threat, as foretold by a distressingly unreliable prophesy.

Mieville's endlessly inventive, self-illustrated novel for young adults will appeal to fans of J.K. Rowling, as well as anyone who ever wanted to see some of the conventions of the Harry Potter series turned upside down.

5. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Michael Chabon. Downward- spiraling detective Meyer Landsman investigates the murder of a chess prodigy in Sitka, Alaska – which, in this alternative world history, is a temporary Jewish homeland due to the failure of the state of Israel after World War II. This mashup of alternative history and detective story reads like a dream collaboration between Vladimir Nabokov and Philip K. Dick. Chabon's embrace of "low" forms ironically vaults him to a higher level of literary sophistication, while still spinning a "ripping yarn."

I also want to give a shout-out to Olivia Helps with Christmas by frequent New Yorker illustrator Ian Falconer. It's the latest picture book about a bossy young girl (drawn, like her family, as a puckish pig), and its account of holiday hijinks had my daughter and I laughing out loud many times.


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