Typical exchange at the reference desk:
Me: Hi, how can I help you?
Patron: There’s nothing good on the new book shelf.
Me: Well, the new books are popular, so they’re often checked out. How about something older?
Patron: No, I want something new.
Me: Surprisingly, there are many good books to be found in the stacks.
Patron: No there aren’t.
Me: Are you looking for something medical? Something to do with science, maybe, or politics, or current affairs?
Patron: Nope. Just want a good novel. A good NEW novel.
Me: Neglecting, for the moment, such perennial classics as Shakespeare or Voltaire or Jack Kerouac, you can still avail yourself of the current popular literature that happens to be more than six months old. Books published in, say, 2006 might be of interest.
Patron: No, those books suck. [punches librarian]
Okay, I exaggerate. I’m never sardonic with a patron. Well—I am, but only on the outside. And no patron has ever punched me, though I suspect it’s only a matter of time.
But really, folks: It won’t kill you to read something older. Unless the book is nonfiction on a very timely topic, there’s no need to insist on the very latest.
But suit yourself. Sit on the hold list for ages while you wait for 80 gabillion people to read A Thousand Splendid Suns before you get your grubby paws on it.
Now that I have made fun of people who read current books, allow me to tell you about the current books I read last year. (Also let me tell you, briefly, about the music I listened to last year. There was a heavy dose of Tori Amos, Tom Waites, Modest Mouse, and Debussey. One of these artists is not current, at all, but I am not going to tell you which one.)
Some of the 2007 books were chosen because they were penned by a favorite author, to wit:
- Dark of the Moon, by John Sandford—strikingly like the Prey series. I guess Lucas Davenport is getting too old to be sexy anymore, so Sandford went and created a character exactly like Davenport, only younger, to star in this new standalone.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. I loved it, of course, though I am so bedazzled by the whole series that I’ve lost any capacity to critically analyze Rowling’s writing… This really doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but for the record, I dyed my hair pink and dressed up all punk so as to be Tonks for the release party. I’m still upset that I didn’t even get picked as a finalist for the crappy ol’ costume party at Barnes and Noble.
- Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. I’ll agree with Mack, not one of his better ones—but I formed that opinion before I learned that Pterry has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Pterry is far and away one of my favorite writers, so I am taking this as terrible news. Besides feeling really bad for the man, I feel a horrible emptiness in realizing that Discworld is coming to an end. Several of my favorite authors died in 2007 (Lloyd Alexander, Kurt Vonnegut, and Madeleine L’Engle); I’m just praying now that Neil Gaiman is in perfect health, or I’ll be totally screwed.
- Silence, by Thomas Perry: His standalones aren’t as good as his Jane Whitfield series. Sigh.
- Sleeping Doll, by Jeffery Deaver: Deaver is always enjoyable, in his short stories or in his novels. Zippy plot twists, tight writing, fast pacing, and enjoyable characters are consistently to be found in Deaver’s writing. But it’s his Lincoln Rhyme series that I like best, which this book is not, alas, part of. I guess Deaver’s running out of ways to put a his quadriplegic title character in mortal danger. There just aren’t that many ways, realistically, that the guy is going to find himself facing down a gun—and even fewer ways he can rescue himself. I mean, he can’t even more his arms, ferchrissakes. That could be a problem for anybody.
- The Woods, by Harlan Coben. It was okay, I suppose. I can’t remember any specific details about it. I don’t think you’re supposed to. Coben’s thrillers are enjoyable, fluffy, and forgettable. It’s his Myron Bolitar mystery series that’s much more memorable.
So I read those six books because of author loyalty. The only other fiction published in 2007 that I read was Wizards, a collection of fantasy short stories. Come to think of it, that was partly based on author loyalty, because it included a short story by Neil Gaiman, the aforementioned favorite author whose health we should all be praying for daily.
The other 2007 books I read were nonfiction, three of which were timely and relevant, i.e., they might be dated in future years. Or not.
- A Woman in Charge, by Carl Bernstein. Ya know, I just don’t think I like biographies. Memoirs, sure, but not biographies, not so much. I just don’t care about the whole life story of, er… of anybody. But I felt I should know more about Hillary Rodham Clinton, as I may be voting for later this year. I didn’t find the biography compelling, but that’s probably just my bias against biographies.
- The Deserter’s Tale, by Joshua Key. Now THIS was an interesting life story. (And did I have to hear about all the boring details of his boring childhood? No!) It’s about a good ol’ boy from the Midwest, a real meat-n-potatoes red-blooded American patriot, who up and deserted from the Army. Put another way, this is not the type of fella you’d expect to desert—but he felt he could not stay in good conscience. VERY interesting book about what it’s really like in Iraq these days.
- Owen and Mzee: The Language of Friendship, a sequel to the first Owen and Mzee book. It’s about a baby hippo who was orphaned in a tsunami and the ancient tortoise who adopted him. It’s a picture book and it makes me cry like a baby. I can’t read children’s animal books without bawling. And Owen and Mzee is a happy story—you should see the hysterics when I try to read Koko’s Kitten. (Spoiler alert: The kitten doesn’t make it.)
The final four books of 2007 came to me by various means:
- A coworker foisted Deer Hunting with Jesus upon me. It explains the rationale behind conservative values in rural America, from the perspective of a Southern redneck. A Southern socialist redneck. Very interesting book (I love reading about class!), and one that I in turn have foisted upon a coworker.
- Plain Secrets, by Joe MacKall, came to my attention because I liked a review I read. So I read it. It’s about the Amish.
- These things ain’t gonna smoke themselves, by Emily Flake, came to my attention from a review I read over at Nonfiction Readers Anonymous. It’s a nonfiction graphic novel about smoking. Very quick read, and very good.
- And finally, I read Stacked, by Susan Seligson, because it kept catching my eye every time I passed it on the New Book shelf. It’s about boobs. I could speak about it at length (and have done so) but I think it’s sufficient to tell you that it is about boobs.
The best books I read last year were published prior to 2007 (though, as discussed at the s
tart of this post, I realize that this will be impossible for some of you to comprehend). They were World War Z (about zombies), The Historian (about vampires), and A Prayer for Owen Meany, about Christ (who shares some interesting qualities with zombies and vampires both, though it is my understanding that most churches gloss over these fascinating similarities.)
A Prayer for Owen Meany caught me totally by surprise. I was reading it to refresh myself on the writing of John Irving, the subject of my next read-alike article for NoveList. I had no idea that it would turn out to be one of those life-altering books. More about it in the next post, in which I promise to stop boring you with half-assed reviews of books I’ve read.