Because I love dogs, Merle's Door was my favorite book this year. Merle lives with his owner, Ted, in the Grand Tetons. (He "found" Ted on one of Ted's many hunting explorations.) This book is a beautiful record of the relationship of a true wilderness man with an amazing dog.
The New York Times Book Review already got it exactly right: "It's his best work....The novel demonstrates every kind of strength....It's as if Cameron had taken the tools earned over a whole career and applied them to the materials of a first book." This is his masterpiece. There are parts that made me laugh out loud, and parts that made me ache; I wanted to keep reading and didn't want the book to end. The writing is just perfect.
The Terror is perhaps the perfect blend of exploration and horror writing. An expedition looking for the Northwest Passage becomes icebound for the winter, and then crew members begin to disappear. The book is a genuine page-turner, as the crew members face not only starvation, but something much more menacing living out on the ice.
Emmett Williams died on Valentine's Day 2007, a year that also saw the third and last of his books exploring "the roots and fruits" of Fluxus, the most radical and experimental art movement of the 1960s. Flexible History is a delightfully irreverent book. Williams took as a starting point a comment from his friend Wolf Vostell that history is flexible, especially the history of art. He then contrasted "fables," pseudo-histories, and images of Fluxus with 70 kunstfibel, his humorous collages/cartoons of his friends and colleagues and their art. The result is a very amusing and personal work, and an fitting end to a project that began with My Life in Flux and Vice Versa.
James Sveck doesn't like people his own age. He has just graduated high school, but instead of listening to his parents and going to Brown University, he would rather buy an old house in the middle of Kansas. Like most eighteen-year-olds, James is incredibly self-involved, but somehow his precociousness makes him endearing as well. Although every other book jacket on the planet claims to have found the modern-day successor to Holden Caulfield, James Sveck is the closest I've come across so far. This book has been passed from person to person in the store over the past few months and received glowing recommendations from all.
Let me say first that I read this book because of the title. Much like buying a book for its cover, I was drawn in by the possibility that this poetic directive would yield a satisfying story. I was not disappointed; there's a lot to appreciate here. Vida's style is spare, but graceful and evocative, almost cinematic. The narrator is a wry observer of herself who often does exactly what she ought not do. The sometimes surreal depictions of Lapland lend the story the feel of a fairy tale a grim, dark, snowy fairy tale. It's a beautiful, haunting story.
Parker's characters, each with strengths and weaknesses, possess a very real emotional texture rarely found in fantasy novels. Devices and Desires, the first in the trilogy, is a darkly intricate fantasy of revenge and betrayal: armies will be slaughtered, nobles disgraced, and nations toppled, but the engineer shall have his revenge.
Ita's portrayal of Moby-Dick through a combination of the graphic novel and pop-up formats is phenomenal; it breathes new and exciting life into a classic. A ship so real you feel like you could step right onto it, Captain Ahab and the whale, and a man-swallowing whirlpool all make Melville's story jump from the page. This is one of the rare books that can capture the passion and rapt attention of both children and adults alike.
1. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
One of the best thrillers I've read in years, Heartsick is taut, edgy, and disturbing, and Archie Sheridan is a compelling new character. I eagerly anticipate the next book in this new series.
A scary look at the political Christian right in America. Hedges says, "I do not believe that America will inevitably become a fascist state or that that the Christian Right is the Nazi Party. But I do believe that the radical Christian Right is a sworn and potent enemy of the open society." In American Fascists, this view is ably demonstrated. From broadcasting to home schooling to activism, the Dominionist movement is out to make America a Christian nation, whether it wants to be one or not.
Back in print this year, Larry Brown's Dirty Work is a tale of the horrendous aftermath of war. Over the course of a night and day in a veteran's hospital, Walter and Braiden spend time talking about what they went through; it is impossible for them not to become bound to each other simply because of their shared war experience. The narrative alternates between Braiden and Walter to create an incredibly visceral, potent, and compelling story. Dirty Work is Larry Brown's best and saddest novel.
Chris Ware's choices in this collection are eclectic and inclusive of different generations of art-comics. From the Kramers Ergot selections that push the edge of cartooning to Crumb, Gilbert Hernandez, the ever-popular Ivan Brunetti, Lynda Barry, and more, this is a full plate with some eye-candy for dessert. A couple of the contributors' works don't suit my taste, but who cares? Check this out for its depth and its breadth.
Yes, some of these essays will make you laugh; George Saunders is freakin' hilarious. (If you doubt this, please see his Strange Letter Regarding Uranus.) But he is also a brilliant writer whose characters, even the non-fictional ones, will break your heart.
Then We Came to the End tells the story of an ad agency in decline, circa 2001. "We had a toy client, a car client, a long-distance carrier and a pet store," readers are told. We. Ferris uses the first person plural to present the agency's collective voice in the midst of ongoing layoffs. It's an audacious narrative gimmick that could easily collapse, and yet it never does.
Nick Hornby describes the novel as "The Office meets Kafka. It's Seinfeld rewritten by Donald Barthelme." Me, I was reminded by particular scenes and motifs of Donald Antrim and Don DeLillo, but so many comparisons will only obscure the fact that Ferris has concocted something truly original. Splice it any way you like, Then We Came to the End was my favorite book of the year.
Atop numerous "Best of 2007" booklists, Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives is not only one of the finest novels of the year, but perhaps also of the past few dozen. The Chilean poet and writer passed away in 2003, yet his literary renown endures unprecedented growth as his works continue to be translated posthumously (his masterwork 2666 is slated for a 2008 release). While The Savage Detectives may defy all conventional classification, this epic and poetic tale easily establishes Bolaño's place amongst the world's greatest writers.
Darkly funny and at times heartbreaking, The Brief Wondrous Life is about Díaz's unlikely hero (an obese Dominican Trekkie terrified of dying a virgin) with a rich narrative voice that compels sympathy over pity as the inner workings of both Oscar and his native Dominican Republic are laid bare.
Vlautin is a natural. He's managed to craft a debut novel that is funny, sad, uplifting, and honest, in a voice that seems effortless and yet leaves room for both the imagination of the reader and the growth of the writer. Vlautin is the kind of author you fall in love with, the kind you know you'll be reading for the rest of your life.
A decidedly Mexican novel that spans the entire globe, The Savage Detectives is Homer's Odyssey, Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and Borges's Ficciones all rolled into one and somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts in the process. Beautifully vibrant language leaps off every page, magical realism battles with stark reality, and the constantly rotating cast of hundreds never feels shallow or poorly developed. Intriguing and innovative from the very first page, The Savage Detectives is a must-read for pretty much anybody, and my favorite book of 2007.
My favorite continuing-story comic strip is being reprinted in its entirety, and volume two suggests that the five planned installments will just get better and better. In theory, the ecstatically dizzy plots would try the reader's patience, but in practice they work beautifully, creating maze structures through which Moomin must navigate toward his dreamed-of peace and quiet.
I couldn't imagine a better ending for this extraordinary series. J. K. Rowling, thank you for staying true to your vision.
Once I started this book, I couldn't stop reading. Not only is this young adult book funny and touching it feels so real. Anyone of any age who has struggled to know themselves and has fought for happiness will find resonance in the words and pictures in this impressive work.
Shaun Tan, one of my favorite children's book illustrators, draws upon hundreds of years worth of immigrant stories to tell this single but universal tale: one of alienation, magic, and bravery in the face of the wonderful and frightening strangeness of a new country. A rare and beautiful work.
1. Delirium by Laura Restrepo
Delirium's interwoven voices spun me into its web; from the first pages, I fell into its spell. Seductive and exciting!