I love to read. The list of books on my “recommended” page includes titles I wish everyone would read not only because I think they are useful to whomever reads them but because I enjoy talking about them with fellow readers.
I want to share some very brief thoughts about some of my favorite reads of 2007. (Note: only a couple of these came out this year. Most are older. Some much older.)
Feel free to share about some of your favorites from this past year as well. I’ll start with my favorite FICTION books: (OK, none of my fiction selections were written during this century much less 2007.)
1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. This is my favorite read of this year and I think it is a great candidate for that ever mythical “great American novel”. It’s got religion, tragedy, locale, rebelliousness, and heroism. It also has one of the best first lines I have ever read:
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
2. Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. My friend Nikki recommended this book to me several years ago and I only got around to reading it this summer. The way Paton writes dialogue took some getting used to. He uses dashes rather than quotation marks and it is difficult to see where the quotation ends and the prose begins. After a a chapter or two I got the hang of what he was doing and really enjoyed his style. Out of the ordinary but good.
Cry is a story about redemption, justice and goodness. The protagonist, an African-Anglican priest with a troubled family, while not perfect, seems to take a step in a redemptive direction after every heartbreaking turn. The experience of black South Africans is so far removed that there remains value in simply picturing what life was like. This novel provides an excellent picture of love that is tough, unsentimental and, ultimately redemptive.
3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This one took me months to get through and I was reading an abridged version! It felt like a
minor major accomplishment. Reading this book is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the sleepy. Part of the challenge in reading novels that are 150 years old is coping with all of the details, which are certainly necessary for those of us not from then, and picking out the story from within the the dense descriptions of 19th Century Paris.
Like #2, Les Miserables (I don’t know how to put accent marks into WP text) is a meditation, albeit a long one, on the virtues of forgiveness and redemption. It is a criticism of the kind of pride that keeps us all stuck in self-righteousness.
4. Hey, Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland. This novel about a school shooting in the late eighties describes the interior lives of two people torn by the same tragedy. It is dark and sometimes depressing. However, every once in awhile light shines through and with it a little bit of hope. It begins with a terse phrase scrawled on a girl’s notebook: “God is nowhere. God is now here.” A little dark, a little hopeful and gritty all the way through.
5. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. This is an old favorite of mine. In fact, I think I may read it about once a year. This novel about a bus ride to the afterlife teaches as much about heaven and hell as any other book outside the Bible. The Great Divorce has always seemed to me to be a book about this life more than life after death.
For this coming year I have two big fiction reading goals. Many friends have recommended Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow. I am a big fan of Berry so I think I’ll try to take this one in this go around. My second reading goal is to finish an entire Doestoyevski novel. I have started The Brothers Karamazov a half a dozen times but have never made it all the way through. I have just started reading The Idiot and I am more optimistic.
Coming soon…my favorite non-fiction reads of 2007.