Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Best of 2007

It’s December again, and that means two things; another year is nearly in the books, and it’s time for another installment of the year’s best books. It was a terrific reading year for me, and not because I read any one thing that changed my life, but the overall quality of what I read was very high. There were just a few novels I read that didn’t sit well, and of the rest I found it difficult to narrow the field down to the mandatory five best. The most difficult choice was for fifth place—there were several novels I easily could have chosen, but I settled on Camp Ford by Johnny D. Boggs simply because it was the most original; or that it’s about baseball.

I know you’ve been waiting all year to read my best of 2007 list, and so to satisfy your hunger, here it is. But first, a few remarks: 1) These titles weren't necessarily published in 2007, but rather I read them in 2007; 2) I tend to re-read some of my favorite authors / titles, and to keep the list fair, a book has to be new to me to be included; 3) I completed 61 novels this year, up from 52 last year, and a little below the 77 I read the previous year.

Drum roll, please. And picture your favorite celeb at the podium in their best dress / tuxedo with a modest smile and outrageously expensive haircut. Ready? Here goes. (They are listed in ascending order, and order in this case does matter.)

5. Camp Ford by Johnny D. Boggs. Camp Ford won the Spur Award for best novel in 2005, and it is the best western novel I’ve read in recent memory. Mr. Boggs adroitly weaves together two storylines—an aged former baseball player watching the 1946 World Series in St. Louis, and that same man as a boy surviving a Confederate prisoner of war camp. It is a Civil War novel filled with the folklore and beauty of baseball on a backdrop of war.

4. Time to Hunt by Stephen Hunter. Time to Hunt is one of the best thrillers I have read. The plot is flawless, the characters are strong, and the forward momentum is astonishing. Hunter ratchets the tension with the finesse of an old pro, and with Bob Lee Swagger, he has created one of the most likable, able and well-drawn action characters ever created. He is all man—intelligent, tough, and more than able to take on the bad guys. Simply put, Stephen Hunter is the best writer of thrillers still practicing the trade.

3. Scavenger by David Morrell. Scavenger is an action novel with a complexity that is seldom found in the genre. David Morrell explores issues of identity, love, and self-awareness while entertaining the reader well beyond expectations. It features the hero from Mr. Morrell’s Creepers, and while it isn’t a sequel, it has a similar feel and pace. It is tight and so well executed that it passes almost too quickly.

2. Blaze by Richard Bachman. I can’t say enough good things about Blaze. It is an old style novel. The voice is crystal clear and the theme is very much like an old noir. Blaze, the protagonist, is a good man who has never gotten an even break. He has never been at the right place at the right time, or any other cliché you can think of. He is likable, chummy, and in his own way one hell of a good person. His father beat the intelligence out of him and the unfairness of life took everything else. Blaze is a novel about love, need and just plain bad luck.

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for literature this year, and for good reason. It’s a damn fine novel. It is a post-apocalyptic novel that has something to say about hope, love, and even evolution. I don’t know what to say about The Road that hasn’t already been said, except it is science fiction, sharp, and good beyond comprehension.

Worth the wait? I hope so.


Gonzalo B said...

That’s an interesting list. Although I’m still reading about five books at a time (all of which I expect to finish by December) I also have a little list of my best for 2007. My fiction books, both first-timers and re-read, includes: Fat City by Leonard Gardner (a great find, one of the best books I’ve ever read, period.), The Name of the Game is Death by Dan Marlowe, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, Since the Layoffs by Iain Lewinson and my fellow countryman Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. On the non fiction category, my top three best reads were Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, A Reader’s Manifesto by B.R. Myers and Max Brand, the Big Westerner by Robert Easton. What about the worst book you read this year? Mine was Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box. Even though it was far from terrible, I could never understand all the hype it generated.

Ben Boulden said...

I'll probably finish a few more books in 2007 to, but I get so excited to compile the best-of-the-best list that I always jump the gun. I read THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE several years ago, and I still think of them fondly. I'll have to dig them out of their boxes and take another look.

I haven't even heard of FAT CITY, but how can not like that title? I'll have to find a copy.

I'm embarrassed by my scanty list of nonfiction read this year. It mostly consisted of titles like Individual Income Tax, Advanced Accounting, Accounting Information Systems, Strategic Management and a slew of other just as exciting titles. The sad part is, I actually had a few favorites.

I hate to list worst books, but what the hell. My least favorite, or perhaps most disappointing, novel read this year was GHOUL by Brian Keene. It just didn't work for me. Although Keene's TERMINAL is an excellent example of a noirish horror novel.