Monday, January 07, 2008

Best books of 2007

Seven days into January, and I hope I’m allowed another look back at last year.

I didn’t get to read as many books as I wanted last year. No. Let me rephrase that. I started to read plenty of books, but I didn’t get to finish enough of them last year. The pile on my bedside table increased in height, as did the overspill on the floor – neatly blocking access to the bottom drawer. (Thank goodness I don’t need to get in to find a tie too often these days!)

But of the books I did get all the way through last year, a few stood out. (The links will take you to fuller reviews.)

Sara Miles Take This Bread definitely deserves top billing, with its “challenge [to] the religiosity of many Christian denominations, and the formula that congregations follow” along with her experience as a chef that intertwines “food and bodies” as she looks at the ideas of the sacrament of communion alongside running a food pantry (all on the same altar table). Well worth a read, even if it is uncomfortable in places and you don’t agree with all her theology - there’s no harm in being forced to defend or revise your beliefs!

Jim and Casper Go To Church

Jim & Casper Go To Church comes a close second, recounting the experiences of Jim Henderson and his volunteer atheist Matt Casper as they visited twelve US churches and then discussed how it felt to come to these congregations as an outsider. The dialogue is fascinating, and Casper’s exasperation with all the talking about having faith but little evidence of actually doing anything with it is a challenge to Northern Ireland churches too. We’re on our second copy of this little red book – the first one stayed on in Switzerland after our holiday! – and no doubt it’ll be leant to more people in coming months. (Even made into the MediaWatch column in the back of the Presbyterian Herald – and no letters of complaint yet!)

Hallam Foe by Peter Jinks

Non-fiction aside, a trio of novels finish my 2007 recommendations. (Not that all these books were published in 2007 ... it’s just the year I read them!)

Hallam Foe was perhaps even better than the film, just missing the clock tower. A young mixed up (and voyeuristic) lad who grows up a lot when he runs away to Edinburgh, abandoning his wicked (?) step mum, but still tumbles headlong into scrapes and scraps. Hallam has complicated personality and it makes for a very satisfying read.

Anthony Blair, Captain of School by an Old Boy by John Morrison takes Tony Anthony Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Murdoch, Archer, Hoon and a cast of other oddly familiar characters who live in and around a boarding school run by headmaster Dr Bush. As I summarised in the full post “It’s a fun satire, with a real story and well-developed characters, along with a sense of darkness and futility that clouds over Blair and his actions as the story progresses”.

Cover of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Lastly, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger counts as the best science fiction read last year, despite it being kept well out of the sci-fi section of all major bookstores. A story of a Clare who grows up knowing a man called Henry who has trouble staying in the same time and keeps disappearing ... backwards or forwards in time where she often meets him again. It was an unexpectedly fascinating (love) story with lots of waiting and a smattering of mortality, as well as a cracking good read.

Update - And I should have mentioned Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday which was a delightful read as the car twisted and turned on the mountain roads surrounding Valence this summer.


Anonymous said...

Your Matt & Casper link actually goes to Hallam Foe (I found the right one myself down the sidebar. Very interesting it sounds).

I haven't read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen but Torday's publishers kindly offered me a review copy of his new novel The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce (out next month), which I'm looking forward to.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Ta - fixed the link.

Hopefully Torday will keep the same kind of pace in his next book that makes you want to find what happens to the characters. (Yemen was the kind of book that you wanted to sneak off and read another few pages rather than admire the scenery!)

You'll be a Booker judge before you know it! Then you'll really get box loads of books to read!

herschelian said...

Alan - I never expected to see a review of 'Anthony Blair, Captain of School' on any reading blog - my DH was given a copy as a 60th birthday present last summer, and I suspected he had the only copy! As you say, it is very funny satire and will almost certainly become highly collectable as the years go by. (The reason the DH was given it was that he, for his sins, went to the same school as TB, but years before him).

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

herschelian - I'd heard a mention of the book - might have been Mayo's book slot on FiveLive. It went on my list of books to check out - mine's a memo file on the infernal Blackberry, rather than a Moleskin notebook!

Got a nice email from John Morrison after the post ...

Anonymous said...

Am enjoying the new Paul Torday - it is highly readable, though the backwards time frame (first section is 2006, then 2004, 2003, 2002) a la Sarah Waters' Night Watch means you already know the final fate of the characters by a quarter way through the book. But there are further revelations to come... Review will probably appear sometime next week.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

> the backwards time frame (first section is 2006, then 2004, 2003, 2002)

I wondered what gimmick, I mean device he'd use next time round. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen varied each chapter between interviews, testimony reports, a TV script as well as more traditional form of diary entries.

Matt Casper said...

Thanks for your continuing support of our little book, Alan. There's nothing I'd like more than to visit Ireland and get a chance to meet you...

Thanks again,
Matt Casper