I’ve been reading Megan’s blog Bookdwarf for a long time now. I met Megan amidst all the crazy book folk at BEA this year and was surprised to find her not as short as one might have expected. While the name of her blog may be misleading, however, her taste in books can be trusted. As such, here are Megan thoughts on the best books she read this year:I love reading the lists you collect because they give me a chance to reflect on what I’ve read this year. I feel lucky – I read a lot of great books this year, some old and some new. One of my favorites was Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, which I was glad was nominated for the National Book Award in Non-Fiction. Hessler, who has lived in China for over ten years and speaks Mandarin fluently, writes about the changes occurring in China today. Not quite a travelogue nor a memoir, it’s a cultural portrait of a rapidly changing world. What makes it so great is Hessler’s ability to disappear from the narrative and paint a vivid portrait of everyone he meets and everything he sees. He shows us a big picture view with enough complexity and contradiction that we see all nuances.Another favorite this year was Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, part of the NYRB Classics series. First published to great acclaim in Hong Kong in the 40s, Chang’s short stories are being published in English for the first time. She writes about men, women, and the ways even the smallest actions or words can transform relationships. The cultural divide in Chinese society between ancient patriarchy and the tumultuous modernity forms the vivid background. The stories seem to be about how life never works out. They’re bleak and yet you can’t help but be enchanted by the characters.Other books I enjoyed this year were Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie, whose talented writing enchants this novel about the war in Biafra, and Random Family by Adrian Leblanc, who spent 10 years researching this finely written portrait of an extended family.PS I also second Mark’s love for Gregoire Bouillier’s Mystery Guest and Ed’s love for Echo Maker, not to mention Cormac McCarthy’s haunting The Road. I think I’ll try to read more older stuff in 2007. It’s part of my job to read the new stuff, but there’s so much out there already that needs reading.Thanks Megan!
Award season is in full swing now. The Booker was awarded yesterday, and the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature will be announced tomorrow or soon after, but today is all about the finalists for the National Book Award. As Ed remarked, in so many words, for the second year in a row, the judges have managed to deliver a crop of fiction finalists that satisfyingly occupy the sweet spot between obscurity and being, well, too obvious. On to the finalists in all categories, and, where available, excerpts from the books.Fiction:Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski – an excerpt of sortsA Disorder Peculiar to the Country by Ken Kalfus – excerptThe Echo Maker by Richard Powers – (very short) excerptEat the Document by Dana Spiotta – excerptThe Zero by Jess Walter – excerptNon-fiction:At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 by Taylor Branch – excerptImperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – excerpt 1, 2The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan – excerptOracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler – excerptThe Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright – excerptPoetry:Averno by Louise Gluck – poemChromatic by H.L. HixAngle of Yaw by Ben Lerner – poemsSplay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey – poemCapacity by James McMichael – poemYoung People’s Literature:The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson – excerptKeturah and Lord Death by Martine LeavittSold by Patricia McCormick – excerptThe Rules of Survival by Nancy WerlinAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang – pages