Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2007: Reflecting on a Year Well Read

So, I concluded my 2007 resolution to read 100 books in a single year, and overshot by 12. Reaching that goal was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and in fact there were times I almost gave up thinking it would be impossible.

The last couple of days I've spent entering my reviews onto GOODREADS.COM and reflecting back on the year as it was. I was also speaking with my boss about it today and he was recommending some books to me, which is so funny--you find out what people are reading and you'd never think that would be the type of book they'd read. My boss, when he's not working, is a beef farmer and a kind of macho dude, but apparently he loves Amy Tan. Go figure.

So we were talking and I was doing the reviews and I was reading over books that I thought I had enjoyed, but according to my reviews, I didn't, and then looking at books I didn't think I'd liked and according to my reviews, I had loved them. So go figure. I can't even remember what I read! A couple of books I actually pulled off the shelf to re-read the blurbs to find out what the heck they were even about and try to jog my memory. But there were some books that really stood out for me, books that I really loved and a few I really hated, and I want to make sure to mention those.

So without further ado, I present my top and bottom picks of 2007.

Let's start with the bad.

Least Favorite Fiction Book: Dumping Billy by Olivia Goldsmith. I had such a visceral reaction to this book--I beyond hated it. The story was promising, but I hated the main character with a passion, and from there it was downhill.

Runners Up: Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Frederiksson, The Note by Angela Hunt

Least Favorite Non-Fiction: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Not only did it not live up to my expectations, but it was BORING. I desperately wanted it to be a triumph of the female spirit and it was just blah. I was SO disappointed by this book.

Runners Up: Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case by Catherine Crier, A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

Least Favorite Childrens/Young Adult Book: Motorboat Boys on the Saint Lawrence by Lewis Arundel. The book, written in the 20's, wasn't bad per se, just my least favorite of the genre I'd read this year. Since it took place near my hometown, I had hoped to read more into the geography of NNY and also I didn't like the fat kid getting picked on. Sue me.

The Year's Disappointments: There were threebooks that really let me down this year. Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and Anna Quindlen's Blessings. I had high hopes for all three and all three really let me down.

Those are really all the un-favorites I can think of. On to the good stuff...

Favorite Series: I only read one series of books this year, that being the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini. I read books from other series, including the final Harry Potter book and the latest Miss Julia book. I loved all of them. Harry Potter stands out for obvious reasons, but the new Miss Julia stands up to the previous books in the series and much as I have been loathe to admit it, I have loved, loved, loved reading the quilt books. They have made me laugh, cry, and everything in between. So I guess I'll point to them.

Runners Up: The Little House books, Harry Potter, Miss Julia

Favorite Young Adult/Children's Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Not even a fair fight, but hands down, no doubt, my favorite YA book of this year. It ended fair and square, left open new possibilities, was exciting, moving, and emotional. I get the chills just thinking about it.

Runners Up: Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess, Homefront by Doris Gwaltney, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Favorite Fiction: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. Not only is this my favorite fiction this year, it's one of my top five favorite books ever. The story of a wisecrackin' Brooklyn kid and his hero, a third baseman for the Giants, I read it twice this year, I let my dad borrow a copy and he didn't return it, I sent a copy to Jacalyn who promptly demanded her friends read it, and the book is really moving. For the record, the guy is a baseball player, but the book is NOT ABOUT BASEBALL. I just finished reading it to Michael and went through 16 tissues bawling my way through the end. Read it. What are you waiting for? I said NOW! :-D

Runners Up: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Dive from Claussen's Pier by Ann Packer, The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard.

Favorite Non-Fiction: It's a tie. The first is Father Knows Less (Or: Can I Cook My Sister?)by Wendell Jamieson. I learned so much while reading this book and it didn't feel like learning. It just felt fun and interesting. The writing was great--easy to read, easy to understand, and covered a broad range of topics. This is a rare book I will probably read again.

Second is the book that really changed my life: How to Be Happy Dammit! A Cynic's Guide to Spiritual Happiness by Karen Salmansohn. I don't know if this was the right book or just the right time or a combination of the two, but since reading this book, I've never been in better headspace than I am now. The quick and easy lessons coupled with fun and interesting graphic elements, the humor and the simple truth all joined together to make a book I needed to read without knowing it. Meant as a gift for my sister, it's become a book I give out freely and without reservation to people I know are having a difficult time.

Runners Up: Eating Royally by Darren McGrady. It wasn't just a cookbook or a memoire, it was an experience, especially when we cooked. The Innocent Man by John Grisham, a book which changed my mind about the death penalty. The Martian Child by David Gerrold.

Favorite Biography: It was a squeaker, I had a couple of very good candidates, but I must award it to Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham. The story of a young girl in New York whose mother dies and who is taken in by her eccentric uncles was moving, funny, and sweet. I particularly enjoyed the trip to Cuba.

Runners Up: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Favorite Graphic Novel: Not a category I thought I'd include this year, but amazingly, I read several, and I'm happy to choose Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. It's rare a graphic novel makes me weepy, heck I didn't even cry reading Maus (which was amazing, by the way and if you haven't read it you should!), but I really loved this story of an average guy becoming a superhero and the life choices he's forced to make.

Happy Surprises: These are books I either stumbled into, books that were recommended to me, books I didn't expect much from but books that turned into a great read. My favorite happy surprise was reading two books by Geraldine Brooks, both of which I expected to hate, and both of which I wound up loving. The two books were Year of Wonders and March and I thought they'd both be too dark for me, but instead, I really enjoyed them both.

Runners Up: The Next Big Thing by Johanna Edwards, Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen, Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick, Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston.

When all is said and done, the book that mattered most to me this year, the book for which I would throw away all 111 other books I read this year was Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger.

I know. I have an unnatural, and probably unhealthy, love for this book. But it had all the elements of great literature: Amazing characters, humor, romance, heartache, great setting, great historical time period, the writing was incredible. Heck, I sent the author an email and he got back to me in under three hours! It was incredibly difficult to say that of all the books I read, there could be one that affected me so deeply, but as I pored over the list, and I thought of the experience of the people I've shared it with, and the feedback I've gotten from those who have taken my suggestion and read it, it is the obvious choice. If I were to choose a runner up, it would be How to be Happy Dammit! which had a tremendous impact on me personally, as it did on at least one family member I know of, but because Last Days has such broad appeal and is just such an amazing piece of writing, I am officially presenting with the 2007 Suasn/Kate Kosior Book of the Year Award. May it reign with pride.

So that's it. I'll go back to reviewing a book here and there as I feel they'll be of interest to people, but probably not each and every book I read this year. I'm already starting the year off with kind of a dud, so you won't be hearing from me about Smashed by Koren Zailckas, a true story of her bout with alcoholism from age 14. I'm to her college years and I'm like "Yeah, I get it, you're a drunk."

Happy Reading!

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Anonymous said...

I meant to write you a note saying thanks for passing along "Last Days of Summer," but then, you know, I didn't. So I'll say here that I enjoyed meeting you and really loved the book. I stayed up till 3 on a worknight to finish. That ending. Wow.
I'll recommend the book to my friends, too.

Melissa said...

ok....I'm working on getting my hands on The Last Days of Summer...I know it's your book club pick so I was going to wait and read it closer to book club but now I think I'd better read it sooner rather than later!