All three of these books, from the past year, are similar only in that each wrestles with daily existence in ways that have startled me, made me rethink everything I had done up to that moment, and made me reevaluate how I want to move forward. Reading each of these books is an active, rather than a passive, experience. In each I have found moments—several moments—where something I’ve never seen conjured in language before somehow rises up, before my eyes. How each writer—a poet turned essayist (Biss), a poet channeling Ginsberg with long, rangy meditations (Zucker), and a novelist arriving at his first memoir (Elliott)—arrived at these moments is both mysterious and seemingly simple—each picked up a thread of thought (racism, motherhood, murder), an image (telephone poles, zapruder films, adderall), and followed them, or, rather, allowed themselves to be led, into an unknown place. Each of these books is thrilling, in their plainspokeness and in their brilliance.
Lauren Groff’s fiction has appeared in journals including The Atlantic Monthly and Ploughshares and the most recent editions of the Best American Short Stories, Best New American Voices, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies. Her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, will be out in February.This year I fell in love with the New York Review of Books Classics series, which reissues books that are either out-of-print or wildly underappreciated. Among the best were Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, John Williams’s Stoner, and Tatyana Tolstaya’s White Walls and The Slynx – a Gogol-esque dystopian tale. But the absolute sockdolager was Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories, which I read slowly and breathlessly – and when I finished I was furious that nobody had ever told me about Gallant and all her staggering talent before now.From other sources, I loved Henry Roth’s Call it Sleep – electrifying, human – as well as Junot Diaz’s The The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The Triumph of Love by Geoffrey Hill, and Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus. On a long car trip, I listened to an audiobook of Huckleberry Finn – the reader’s voice was the opposite of my internal reading voice, and it became a whole new book to me, layered atop the old book I knew so well.Also, because I moved full-time to Florida, my father-in-law lent me a copy of this strange old essay collection called Southern Ladies and Gentlemen by Florence King, which is supposed to explain/lampoon the south to northerners (the cover: a tiny blonde in a Confederate flag with a mint julep in hand). Yikes. It’s cringe-inducing, but makes me laugh, and I often find myself reading it when I should probably be reading other things.More from A Year in Reading 2007
Sarah Weinman is the proprietor of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. A freelance writer based in New York, she is the Baltimore Sun’s crime fiction columnist and writes “Dark Passages,” a monthly online mystery & suspense column for the Los Angeles Times Book Review. In a parallel life, she has a master’s degree in forensic science and still harbours faint hopes of actually making use of it.Here are a few books that particularly struck my fancy in 2007:1. Bloodbrothers, by Richard Price – I’m on a bit of a Price kick this year so I can get his entire backlist read by the time his new book comes out, and this, his second novel, is really something special. I totally empathized with Stony’s attempts to make something of himself and get out of his Bronx life, yet still very much tied to the neighborhood and to his family.2. 12:23 by Eoin McNamee – sure, it’s about the death of Princess Diana, but it’s more about the burnt-out spooks and mystery makers descending upon Paris leading up to the crash. If Graham Greene had lived to write about the death of Di, this would have been the result.3. Farthing by Jo Walton – I loved the sequel, Ha’ Penny, but I suggest everyone pick this up first – how does a traditional mystery mask an astounding alternate history that could be true if not for a couple of history’s fate twists? I still don’t know, but Walton clearly does.4. The Late George Apley, by John P. Marquand – Several friends have been after me to read his work, and I tracked this down and loved it. The satire is gentle yet devastating, as is the portrait of family mistakes repeating themselves with often emotionally tragic consequences.5. The White Bone, by Barbara Gowdy – she creates great characters out of a herd of elephants. Enough said.More from A Year in Reading 2007