January 7, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg
These are my top ten books of 2007 for the very simple reason that I enjoyed reading them. In random order:
Jamie Zeppa, Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan – travel narrative about a young Canadian woman who decides to become a teacher in a farflung land. So many of these books ignore an internal narrative for a ‘look at this country’ approach, but Zeppa embraces her own confusions, and addresses them without flinching.
Martha Beck, Expecting Adam – another biography, and one I really wouldn’t have expected to like, as pregnancy memoirs are not my standard reading fare. I think I selected this for the ‘two Harvard overachievers figure out what’s really important’ theme; in the end, what I most appreciated about Beck’s approach to her story about giving birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome was that, although she genuinely believes she had spiritual encounters of all kinds, she’s pragmatic in her approach to alternate interpretations.
Jo Walton, Farthing – alternate history about a Britain which negotiated a treaty with the Nazis. Fascinating and believable, though the policeman’s personal life sidestory – which was clearly supposed to be some kind of blindsiding revelation – fizzled for me. I eagerly await the sequel, Ha’penny. (In fact, I dreamed about it last night, but I cannot afford the hardcover and the paperback isn’t out for months. If you have an advance reading copy you want to lend me in exchange for my eternal gratitude and possibly some candy, drop me a comment.) (For those who think I should check the local library: normally I would, but as I can’t even get the first book, the sequel will be a long time coming, methinks.)
Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – I’m all about the nostalgia these days, and Bryson does a good job of indulging in his own memories without drowning in them. The Thunderbolt Kid gimmick was one of the weaker parts, but still, this is a man who can make 1950s Iowa sound interesting; he’s got some talent.
Carolyn Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel (published in the UK as Lorelei’s Secret). Wow. Just, wow. A good solidly well-written story with a fantastic opening concept. No, I didn’t get the book title thing and felt duly stupid.
Shannon Hale, Princess Academy. First, Hale wins the Best Title category, since ‘princess’ is a major winner these days. If I had an adolescent daughter (or, more likely, a six-year-old daughter who read several grade levels above her age), I’d make sure she had a copy of this. Then, because she was my daughter, she’d ignore it because Mom gave it to her, but eventually she’d read it. And I think she’d love it.
Noel Streatfeild, Saplings. Reprinted by the fantastic Persephone Books, this is a WWII novel par excellence – the home front, not the front line – and the final line is the most understated yet powerful ending I can think of.
Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. What happens to your body when you die? Find out in entertaining detail! This is the sort of book other people hate you to read, because you keep chasing them, shouting things like “in twelfth-century Arabia they ate honey WITH DEAD PEOPLE IN IT!”
Bruce Holland Rogers, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer. This deserves its own entry and as soon as I get my own copy (rather than gulping down chapters in preparation for returning it to a library on a different continent) I will write one. But I will say that this book manages to do something nearly impossible: give lots and lots of good advice without echoing every other writing book in the universe. And that advice ranges from the “writing is the expression of mine INNERMOST SOUL” category all the way over to “stupid markets.”