Friday, December 21, 2007

My Inspiring Reads of 2007

Geez, has it been a whole month since I last posted? Well, at least that's proof I'm not addicted to blogging. Any more, that is.

It's been a momentous reading year for me, thanks to the 2 hours I spend daily on the subway. And since my focus here is on what resonated for me, I'll talk about these books from memory.

I'm not a journalist, I'm not factchecking, and I'm not writing your bleeping term paper for you either. (So HA! all you dot-edu-ers in my web stats, all searching for book reviews you can turn into plagiarized schoolwork. Do other bloggers have this problem?)

So here's what I read and loved and remembered in 2007, not counting books by people I know, where my reading pleasure was tainted by bias.

LET THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ERASE YOUR NAME. Vendela Vida is almost a miniaturist. This slim novel, the story of a mourning American woman's journey to Lapland, has some of the cleanest, freshest, most compact language I have ever seen. Don't rush through it, though it moves quickly. Savor the cool, tiny chapters and mirrored metaphors. Her precision is rare. This author deserves more attention than she gets.

PAINT IT BLACK. Janet Fitch's fat Los Angeles novel is almost the anti-Vida. Another mourning character with a need for mothering. Only this time a hot, dry landscape, and hot language to go with it. Lush, big narrative chapters, deep character study. The troubled, druggie protag stayed with me long after I put the book down. And I adore Fitch's LA--it resembles the LA I've known and visited more than anything else I've read.

NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU. Miranda July has nailed the square peg thing. The characters in her acclaimed short stories are hopelessly needy and lacking in social skills. Readers are left with a melancholy longing to connect with other human beings, and a dark conviction that this connection will never live up to expectations. Oh yeah, and it's funny. July's ear for dialogue is one of a kind.

SAFEKEEPING and A THREE DOG LIFE. I am in love with these books. Abigail Thomas has changed the way I think about memoir. She's dispensed with the notion of the singular narrative arc, and tells her life the way real people tell stories on themselves--in fragments, with tangents, and echoes, and repetition, and reframed events, and strategic omissions. SAFEKEEPING tells of her second marriage, and A THREE DOG LIFE tells of her third. Tragedy and bad luck all over the place, but they teach gratitude. I want to write like her when I grow up.

MILK. Darcey Steinke's take on religious phenomena is striking and refreshing, in a world where most literature with spiritual subject matter is either party-line-religious or angry-atheist. In the world of this novel, seeing God is a mystical gift, but we're never quite sure if mental illness doesn't play a role too. Members of the clergy are troubled human beings, with sexual urges, vocational doubts, and conscience.

FUN HOME. Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir made me weep on the subway. And also made me cover the page, riding the train with the Flatbush God Squad, suddenly aware I was looking at pictures of girls in flagrante. Told episodically, it's a bittersweet gay coming-out story. Sweet, the way Bechdel's inner lesbian light goes off from reading French women's literature. Sad, the way her father lived a life in the closet, which turned him into a ball of angst, a difficult person to live with. Brilliant drawings of her childhood homestead, a fixer-upper Victorian, with markers of the 1970's tossed in.