Constance December 26th, 2007
This list came about because Vaquero asked the members of our e-mail list to send us the titles of books they most liked reading in 2007. This wasn’t a round-up of 2007’s best published books, but rather, whatever the members had read and thought worth recommending to others. Here’s my list, broken into fiction and non-fiction. That all the titles are linked to amazon isn’t because I’m enrolled in their kickback program (I’m not.) Don’t care if you buy from amazon or anyone or at all. But their database is there, and it is convenient for all of us to use.
Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra is a huge novel — nearly 900 pp., packed with characters, and flashbacks. It never drags, is always interesting; you are always wanting to know what comes next. It’s a policier-detective-mystery-gangster novel, written by an Indian author, all characters Indian, all locations foregrounded in India. It is also, appropriately, considering India’s cultural and political history as the jewel in the British Empire’s crown, a conscious inheritor of the grand English Victorian 3-decker novel, notably, George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
There’s a glossary of names and vocabulary that is as long as a slim modernist novel itself, both necessary and worthwhile for the reader, as well as interesting in itself. As another signal of how good this book is, you wish the author had made the glossary longer, because, as with a Tolstoy novel, after some chapters when you’ve become familiar enough with the characters and the milieu, and you no longer need the glossary, whole new sets of questions are set off in the reader’s mind that call for yet more glossary entries.
This novel is the one of all those I’ve read in the last 5 years perhaps, that I’ve enjoyed the most thoroughly, on the most number of levels, particularly because it throws open windows and doors into unfamiliar worlds, which is what fiction can do better than anything else, particularly if taken in tandem with the food and what makes the people, for whom those worlds are common reality, laugh. There is a lot about food in Sacred Games, and a lot of laughing.
- The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
- Kushielâ€™s Scion by Jacquelyn Carey
- Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
- Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
- Spirit Gate by Kate Elliott
- Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
- Inda and The Fox by Sherwood Smith
- The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
With the exception of the Díaz and Chandra titles, these novels all are what the publishing industry categorizes as genre — sf/f, mysteries, historical. These are shelved by bookstores, and libraries too, in sections separate from each other, as well as safely segregated from the shelves labeled “literature and fiction.” These novels may not appeal, then, to those without a taste for the genres; on the other hand, since 9/11 there are fewer novels published outside of genre that this reader can be bothered with; notably, there’s no stomaching any in the cascade of novels that is currently being published about 9/11, in the competition among our ‘literary novelists’ to own the catastrophe that signaled the end of the world as we knew it.
So, it’s worth noting that the Junot Díaz novel informs us of the Dominican Republic’s cruel history via constant referencing sf/f genre and pop culture, and that Sacred Games was lauded by those who review ‘serious’ fiction and literature, because Chandra, like Díaz, has a prior reputation as a ‘literary’ author with ‘critical acclaim.’
Another point of interest is that hardly anyone sent in fiction titles. However, two others did include The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, as well as Vaquero and myself, and another list member recommended Octavia Butler’s Fledgling. Perhaps genre fiction is more highly regarded, and of greater interest to the general reading public than some might believe.
Now here’s my non-fiction list of recommended titles.
- Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it Changed America by John M. Barry
- Memory and the Mediterranean by Fernand Braudel
- Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life by Steven Deyle
- The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk
- Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal
- Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski
- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
- The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West by Patricia Nelson Limerick
- Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake & Lowcountry by Philip D. Morgan
- It by Joseph Roach
- Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army by Jeremy Scahill
- The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square by Ned Sublette (pubs January; the copies amazon had are sold out)
Which titles, fiction and non-fiction, would you recommend out of your own reading in 2007?