Friday, July 27, 2007

Best Reads Jan. 1 - June 30, 2007

Continuing with my “tradition” begun last year of choosing my six favorite titles of the first half of the year, to be followed by the six favorite of the second half when the year’s over, I’ve gone through my book journal and had a very tough time choosing a mere six. I’m restraining myself from including the three Rose Macaulays I’ve read thus far this year, just because that would make this list too boring. She’s represented here by one book (and, man, was it hard deciding which one), but she’s definitely been my “author of 2007.” So, here you go, alphabetically by author (the librarian in me having her way this year).

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart.
Why did it take me so many years to get around to reading this marvelous classic? So much packed into so little. I found the stark, straight-and-narrow storytelling (no wandering off the path to look at things along the way here) to be very similar to Biblical prose. Not since the last time I saw the movie Black Robe (by the way, I will wander off the path here to tell you that both book by Brian Moore and movie are excellent. In fact, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies) have I been so excited by imaginings of the misunderstandings and the problems they create when missionaries arrive in unfamiliar territory. Achebe did such a wonderful job with that as well as with pointing out the similarities in the religious beliefs of both cultures. I must read more by him.

Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus’s Prometheus is so wonderfully sympathetic and human. You just want to go up there and set him free. And talk about a man who knew all about human nature. Aeschylus was he. Too bad in all these years, we still haven’t learned from him (Bush, Cheney, and Rove must have been high on coke and browsing the Cliff Notes, taking in nothing, when Aeschylus was assigned to them as students).

Fisher, M.F. K. The Gastronomical Me
“Oh, oh, oh!” are the first eloquent, articulate, and revealingly informative words that come to mind when I think of this book. I’ll try to be a little more descriptive: talk about perfect food writing. The last time I was this mesmerized when reading about food was when I read Laurie Colwin years ago. To be able to wrap memories, places, and food in such wonderful little packages is a gift I so envy.

Macauly, Rose. They Were Defeated
Really, I mean it. Put this one at the top of your TBR list/pile if it’s not already there, if you find these sorts of things the least bit intriguing: witch hunts; the ins-and-outs-of the history of the Church of English; the English Civil War; Cambridge in its prime, with the likes of John Milton wandering around; strong female characters; and doomed romances you want to be doomed. 445 pages, and it still wasn’t long enough for me. (Also, this one helped distract me and get me through the devastating days right after Lady died.)

Maupin, Armistead. Tales of the City
Made me want to be young and stupid again. Made me wish my youth hadn’t been wasted on me. Made me want to live in San Francisco. Made me remember how much I enjoyed reading William Barnhardt’s Emma Who Saved My Life. Made me wish I could write novels with such precision and could be such a warm, sympathetic, and witty social critic. Made me so happy I still had five more books to read in the original series and that he’s now got a new one. (Yes, Litlove, you definitely need to dig it out.)

Wolff, Tobias. Old School
Wolff’s This Boy’s Life came out to rave reviews when I was working at the library, and it’s one of those books I’ve always wanted to read but never have. When Ian came to visit us a couple of years ago, he raved about this one, so I thought maybe I’d go with it first. Since then, many of you have raved about it as well. What a marvelous book! I never imagined all that was going to be packed into it and how many provocative questions it would raise: how much does class really matter? What, exactly, is “honor?” How readily do others forgive past transgressions in light of someone’s huge success? Are all writers, on some levels, plagiarists? And he managed to raise all those questions while providing such a sympathetic protagonist, one in whom all writers can surely see themselves. I loved his hero worship of authors and his utter contempt when they fell out of his good graces (could it be due to familiarity with such feelings?). Oh yes, and did I mention it’s also funny? Skip Prep, if you’re thinking about reading it, and read this one instead. (I’d better stop here. I could write a thesis longer than the book itself.)

So, there you have it. Here’s hoping the second half of the year is as good as the first. Last week, I was in a tiny bit of a scary slump of not finding anything that appealed, but this week I’m back in the groove, so I have a feeling it might be, especially since I’ve kicked it off with the likes of More Tales of the City, Audrey Niffennegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the big surprise, Theodore Dreiser’s Hoosier Holiday.


IM said...

I'm going to see if we have They Were Defeated in our library. Is it fairly recent? I'm so glad you liked Old School, read his short stories, he really is a master at short fiction.

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to read Things Fall Apart forever...I am moving it to the front! And I immediately put They were defeated on my tbr list...

Heather said...

You read such great books!! I've added the Prometheus one to my list for sure!

Anonymous said...

Old School sounds great. I've just added it to my TBR list. Hope you are enjoying Time Traveler's Wife. Maybe that one will show up as one of your six favorite for the second half of the year :)

Emily Barton said...

Ian, They Were Defeated was reissued in 2002, so you should be able to find a copy.

Court, oh I'm so happy to find I wasn't the last person on earth to have read Things Fall Apart. It's well worth reading. And I think you'll like They Were Defeated (although, keep in mind, I'm the person who loved Anna Karenina, so my tastes can't always be trusted).

Ms. Blossom, well, they're not ALL great, like Tom Brown's School Days and the rather weak and not-as-funny-as-it-wanted-to-be Bubbles in Trouble I just finished, but I continue to be having a particularly good reading year this year.

Emily Barton said...

Oh, Stef, Time Traveler's Wife will most definitely be on my second half of 2007 list. I hold it responsible for that slight slump I mentioned in my post, because I finished it, and everything just seemed to pale in comparison. But then, buoyed by you and others who've read the newest Harry Potter, I decided it was time to catch up and finally read the third in that series, which means I'll probably read the fourth one as well, and then I discovered Kevin Baker's fabulous Dreamland, so I'm back in a groove again.

Rebecca H. said...

I'm glad you liked Old School -- I listened to it on audio and loved it -- what a good story! I'll have to keep my eyes open for some Macauley ...

litlove said...

Armisted Maupin duly dug out! If you loved it, I cannot see how I could possibly go wrong!

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, yes, I remember your post about it, which was one of my incentives.

Litlove, I can't wait to hear your take on Maupin. I'm now reading the third one in the series, and I'm still in love with him.