Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007 (in a sense)

As 2007 lurches towards its end, I've decided to post a list of some of the books and DVDs that sustained me in the penultimate year of the Bush-Cheney terror. But first the obligatory consumer advisory: if you are expecting something along the lines of a 'greatest hits of the year' list you will be disappointed. Some of these titles were published in 2007, others not. The list below is subjective, eclectic and compiled with a complete indifference to bestseller's lists, current releases and the whole damn zeitgeist.


Bookless in Baghdad by Shashi Tharoor.

This slim collection of essays by the senior UN official and author of Nehru: The Invention of India includes discussions of John le Carré and Pablo Neruda, musings on why Americans can't make a proper cup of tea and an exploration of the eternal question, Why are Indians such P. G. Wodehouse fanatics?

The Boys from Dolores by Patrick Symmes.

An un-putdownable account of the lives of a class of students at a prestigious Latin American prep school and how their whole world was up-ended by their most famous classmate: Fidel Castro.

The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin.

One of the most searing critics of twentieth-century America goes to the movies. His take on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is delightfully scathing.

Easter Everywhere by Darcy Steinke.

A painfully beautiful memoir of growing up and a raw, honest account of struggles with religious belief.

The Healing Wound: Experiences and Reflections, Germany 1938-2001. by Getta Sereny.

A must-read for anyone who grew up in the twentieth century. This collection by the Austrian-born journalist represents a life-long effort to understand how Nazism could have happened and provides an account of its repercussions up to the present. The Healing Wound includes recollections of the author's work shortly after the war tracking down Aryan-looking children who had been taken from their Jewish or Slavic parents and placed with Nazi families, a look into the mind of former SS guard Fritz Stangl, an account of the 'Hitler Diaries' affair, and portraits of the children of ex-Nazis trying to come to terms with their parents' crimes.

The Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler.

The New Yorker's Beijing correspondent, Hessler has written both a fascinating account of an American's struggles to live in China and a compelling portrait of a vast, varied, endlessly surprising country and some of the people who live there.

Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond by Pankaj Mishra.

I am still amazed at the author's achievement. He chose for his subject a region of the world bigger than Canada and with more people than both North and South America and leaves you feeling as if he didn't leave out anything. Bollywood, the Indian Army, the Dalai Lama, the Nepalese civil war, political corruption, unfathomable poverty--any topic you can think of, Mishra covers it.

Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints by Joan Ross Acocella.

A collection of profiles that originally appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. My favorites are the essays on M.F.K. Fisher, Penelope Fitzgerald and H. L. Mencken.

Writing Home by Alan Bennett.

This collection of Bennett's diary entries, speeches, articles, and play prefaces is one of the best bedtimes books ever. His precise writing, unassuming sensibility and keen intelligence are an unfailing joy. If you were to read only one piece in this collection, choose "The Woman in the Van."


Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote.

If you've only seen the movie you've been had. I read the novella one night in November. The next night I read it again.

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland.

My review of this novel for the Globe says it better than anything I could write here.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.

I re-read it again last spring. Hornby's technical accomplishment of successfully creating and sustaining four different narrative voices (a working-class female Londoner, a twenty-something American rock musician, a washed-up talk-show host, and a teenage girl f**ked up in too many ways to count) is nothing less than stunning, but A Long Way Down is far more than the sum of its wonderful parts: this novel about deciding not to kill yourself is a clear-eyed, unsentimental look at how to go on living.

Sick Puppy by Carl Hiassen.

How do I start to describe this book? Should I tell you about the main character (an eco-terrorist with a trust fund)? The hooker who accepts only Republicans as customers? The geriatric rhinoceros? Or the real estate developer who sums up his career path this way: "What Robert Clapley missed most about being a drug dealer was the respect."


Seasons 2 and 3 of House.

Wonderful writing and use of music. And I don't want to press this comparison too far, but in some ways House reminds me of my father.

Seasons 1-3 of Slings and Arrows.

Dark Canadian comedy about a dysfunctional Shakespearean theatrical troop. As Celia says in As You Like It: "O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful."

The Man Who Copied.

Excellent Brazilian thriller about a bright young man (and sometime stalker) who works for a photocopying service. (seriously).

Untergang (Downfall).

A film about the last week of Hitler's life based on his secretary's memoirs. Not exactly the feel-good movie of the year, but if you hate what Bush has done to this country as much as I do, it's nice to have a reminder that things can be worse.

Other diversions:

Cooking out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World (as you may infer from those titles, self-doubt about his culinary prowess is not one of Bittman's issues).

The bits of Fry and Laurie that have been put on YouTube.

Reading the Bible as it would be if it had been written by cats with a tenuous grasp of English grammar.

Fun facts I learned in 2007:

If I had lived at my current address in 1898, my next-door neighbors would have been a "metaphysician" and a "tree protector."

In Spanish, Much Ado About Nothing is Mucho ruido y pocas nueces ('much noise and few walnuts').

In France, Scrooge McDuck is called Dagobert.

It turns out my ancestors weren't just wasting their time writing poetry about stealing livestock and arranging rocks in circles for no apparent reason. They were also brewing beer.

When your can of
surströmming is bulging at the sides, it's ready to eat.

Blog Archive