For reasons known to all of you, 2007 was a year in which I read very few books (though I shouldn’t feel too bad as I’m sure I read about 1000% more the national average.) Anyway here’s my rundown.
The View From the Center of the Universe by Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams may be the most influential book I’ve read since The Moral Animal. This book takes the popular understanding of the “scientific worldview” and turns it on its head by rescuing our cosmology from the meaningless void. As with most science and philosophy texts it takes a lot of work to get through but I highly recommend it. You should expect several bog entries in 2008 referring to View from the Center.
Martin Amis’s, Time’s Arrow tells the story of a man’s life backwards. It’s an old device but very effective. If found that after I had been reading it for a while and had to put it down and perform some task I had to “set” my brain back to “forwards.”
I as I think I’ve mentioned before, I highly recommend Susanna Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell — a novel about English magic during and after the Napoleonic Wars. It’s a fantasy novel that reads like Jane Austen.
Oh yeah, I think I read something about Harry Potter and some stolen horses or something or other.
Considering the national average is reading no literary works for pleasure, I’d say you are reading a great deal, J.E. (See NEA report titled “Reading at Risk.”) These are all very interesting. I’d be intrigued to read a good work of “accessible” science, which I really haven’t done for some time–probably since Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Sounds like The View from the Center of the Universe is the ticket.
I’ve only read Martin Amis’s criticism–he has a good book of critical works titled The War Against Cliche. I need to read his fiction sometime.
And you’re right–probably enough said on Harry Potter and Out Stealing Horses. Funny to see those two in the same sentence. Time magazine put out their 10 Best Books of the Year a few weeks back, and Out Stealing Horses was number four. Harry Potter was a measly seventh, as I recall. If only the sales figures were comparable. Well, at least the critical establishment can still bring forward deserving works: people like Martin Amis are still fighting that war against cliche…
Martin Amis is one of those authors I feel like I need to read, but know almost nothing about him, other than his name passed around in conversation. Norman Mailer falls in the same category…I know nothing about the guy but see his name a lot.
I have Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell on my bookshelf but need to get into it. My brother-in-law read it and raves about it too. I thought about getting it through Audible (I had a free introduction) but didn’t want to miss out on all of the footnotes. How would they fit all of those into an audio version, I wonder?
The books I read this year were largely fluff, but there were a few that stuck with me. The book on the sidebar, which I finished a long time ago and need to update, is Samedi the Deafness. It’s sort of an accessible Kafka. Just when it starts to descend into too much weirdness, it grounds itself and doesn’t fly off into anything too abstract. It has an ending that I’d love to talk to anybody who picks this up. It’s a fairly quick read, and despite the lack of typical structual elements like chapter breaks and quotes around dialog, it’s surprisingly easy to read.
Another book — this one has kept me thinking about it since I read it — is The Stolen Child which is a great take on the changeling myth. It’s a surprisingly relevant look at what it means to be human, identity, and about knowing yourself.
The last pair of books are somewhat similar in tone, written by British authors who handle their subject matter with dignity but still with a lot humor and personality. They don’t take sides too readily, but seem to be pretty balanced in things. Their book also have similar endings, letdowns that somehow end up being fairly profound. Good thing they take their subjects seriously, because there are a lot of people serious about them out there. Jon Ronson’s book Them deals with extremists, and finds a lot of similar threads throughout beliefs of incompatible groups. He also finds a lot of truth behind the conspiracy theories they hold fast to. Very funny, quick read.
Will Storr’s Will Storr vs. the Supernatural tackles the subject of the spiritual realm. There’s some genuinely scary stuff in here, but it’s also fairly profound as he exposes certain myths and discovers things he can’t explain away as an agnostic. Still very funny and very sad in some places. I loved ghost stories as a child, so this took me back (I don’t think I’ve really read anything since middle school). Both of these guys started their books as articles for London publications and found enough material out there for a book.
It’d be fun to discuss these with anyone so inclined to read them!
I want to read Samedi the Deafness. I hope I can find the time. I’m getting close to finishing Baron and the Trees, by Italo Calvino.