This is the list of books I finished reading in 2007. The magic number is 70. That means I’ve read 1.3 books a week. Not bad, although I wanted the number to be higher. I excluded the rereads and the magazines and the journals (The NYer, Believer, Granta, etc.), although the time I spend reading NYer, for instance, is equivalent to one Agatha Christie book. If I include them, the list would be well over 100.
Fueled by my love for the deadpan existentialist Scandinavian police procedural writers, the mystery/detective fiction dominated 2007. New discoveries include Vernor Vinge, an SF novelist and Torgny Lindgren, a Swedish writer who writes bleak novels (in Sweetness, the characters are trapped in a remote village covered in snow and two of the three of them are waiting two die. What is bleaker than that?).
This year, I’m thinking of reading more SF and fantasy. Other 2008 resolutions: I resolve to read more contemporary fiction. I resolve to read the Lit theory books gathering dust under my bed. And lastly, I resolve to maintain clean bookshelves and stop the ugly habit of leaving my empty coffee cups on my desk, near the books. Wish me luck.
I’ll refrain from giving reviews of the books or rating them, for that matter for the simple reason that there's 70 of them. (Hey, I got to work!) However, I’ll list the top 5 books/authors worth noting about:
1. Wilkie Collins
19th. Century writer of “sensationals” and a best friend of Dickens. The Law and the Lady (#2) is the first novel where the sleuth is a woman. The plot and the writing are not at par with The Moonstone, Collin’s earlier effort and considered his masterpiece. It’s rambling, confusing, heavy handed and the characters, except for the reluctant sleuth Valeria Brinton-Woodville, are not well formed. But for fans of the mystery/detective fiction, The Law and the Lady’s an instructing and interesting read. Hey, you have to know your roots!
2. The Stars, My Destination by Alfred Bester
This SF novel was written in 1953, but never feels dated (well, except for the rape scene.) (The original name of TSMY was Tiger, Tiger!, culled from a poem by William Blake. Blake’s one of my favorites, so props to Bester for that. ) The story’s about Gulliver Foyle, an ordinary, ambition-less man who extracts revenge against the people who left him for dead in deep space. Foyle’s the granddaddy of all those one-man machines on a quest that litter the SF landscape, like Case of Neuromancer, considered the first novel of the cyberpunk tradition. The novel has a great opening scene – the origin of the word “Jaunt” - and has one of the most satisfying and logical endings I’ve ever read.
3. Dashiell Hammett
An alcoholic, TB-ridden, unrepentant communist considered to be one of the pillars of the American hardboiled tradition. A Hammett book is a master class on how ordinary, street language could be so crisp and visceral. In one of his stories, he described one character as somebody who was “howled out” of his job. Wished I thought of that.
4. Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge
Vinge was a computer scientist and a university professor who now writes SF full-time. In Rainbow’s End, Robert Gu, a notoriously mean former poet laureate found himself free from Alzheimer’s after a high tech operation in a technologically-mediated world. The novel’s a great meditation on aging, technology, the future of libraries, the Internet, and family.
5. Philip Pullman
Pullman writes fantastical children’s books that are read and loved by adults. Like me. His Dark Materials is anti-organized religion, but it’s never mean. I read the three Pullman books in one weekend and the effect after I was finished the series was physical. My eyes were red-rimmed from the sad future of Lyra and Will that left me heartsick for days.