2007 Books 1 - 5

1. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers - Part medical mystery, part thriller, part (very) contemporary literature, and 100% metaphor for how much 9/11 changed the world means there is a lot going on in this book. A man is in a freak car accident that should have left him dead, instead it leaves him with Capgras Syndrom - the thinks that the people closest to him are imposters and his real loved ones are being kept from him. This includes his only sister, who gives up her attempts to break away from the small town they grew up in to take care of him, and almost loses herself in the process. She convinces a world famous neuroligist to look at her brother's case, and the doctor begins to doubt his own work and the methods he's used to reach his level of fame.

2. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron - Sure, most of the essays are funny. And those that aren't funny nail the meloncholy note. And I know they're not written to change the world - just give one woman's view of it. What prevented me from evey liking this book (beyond acknowledging that Ms. Ephron is a talented writer) is the shallowness and the snobbery that she embraces as a fact of life. The only piece I would recommend is the one about the role books play in an avid readers life.

3. All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, Audiobook read by Brad Pitt - An incredible sense of place and characters that are so well written you feel every bit of their happiness and their pain, I would recommend this story to anyone. Brad Pitt does an amazing job of putting just the right amount of emotion into the characters, without turning it into a one man play. I am about as far from being a fan of stories about horses and cowboys as a reader can get, but this is a truly excellent book.

4. Suite Francaise by Irene Nermirovsky - I have had so many people recommend this book to me, I was sure I'd be disappointed. I wasn't. A first draft of 2/5 of a fictionalized account of living in occupied France during WWII, written as the author was experiencing through the actual events may mean it is unpolished and unfinished, but it's still a deeply moving and interesting book.

5. The Quiet American by Graham Greene- Written in 1955, this is a story of two men, a British journalist and an American government employee crossing paths in the early days of the Vietnam War. What starts out as a simple story about a love triangle with a civil war as background turns out to a much deeper look about at happens when colonialism and capitalism go wrong. Recent world events make this book as relevant as ever.


2006 books 101-104

101. If I Told You Once by Judy Budnitz- The story of four generations of women, starting with a the first daughter's emigration from a tiny eastern European village to America and ending with her great grand daughter's first attempts to do the very same thing that started the story - break away from her mother.

102. Clouds Eclipses, The Collected Short Stories by Gore Vidal - This is definitely a case of very good things coming in small packages. The book is short (nine stories, 166 pages) but it is not short on quality. These are all early works of Vidal's, including the title piece about a young boy who's aspirations towards spiritual purity are cut short just in time, inspired by a skeleton from the Tennessee Williams family closet.

103. Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers - F. Scott Fitzgerald packed a lot of life into his 44 years, most of it unhappy. With his need to be loved, appreciated, or simply liked, coupled with alcoholism, a devotion to a fantasy marriage, and his hero worship of other authors (Hemingway especially), there was no way out of his personal hell. If it weren't for Fitzgerald's hunger for validation, I'd feel guilty about reading his stories.

104. Foggy Mountain Breakdown And Other Stories by Sharyn McCrumb - McCrumb's Ballad series is like a vacation to the Appalachians where you stay in the house of the best story teller in the region. She's a master of sense of place, and can write in the voice of that region like nobody's business. Some of these stories are in that vein, others come from her other side, the one that writes for the basic who-done-it fan. There's nothing in this collection that stands out from her longer works, unfortunately.

2006 Books 96 - 100

96. Saturday by Ian McEwan - Covering one eventful day in the life of a London neurosurgeon, this book allows McEwan to do what he does best: leave no thought nor detail unexposed. In a lesser writer's hands, the microfocus would become tedious, but McEwan seems to know just when to pull back and give the reader a chance to see the bigger picture.

97. Artemis Fowl, The Arctic Indident by Eoin Colfer (read half, half on Audio book read by- I read this first book in this series when it was published and liked it quite a bit. Colfer had come up with a way to make dwarves, fairies, sprites, and all the other usual suspects of fantasy fiction original and earthy. In this second book, he's made them too earthy, in my opinion. They've become warriors and soldiers with little of the original personality showing through. Artemis is reduced to reacting and waiting, something he never did in the first book, unless it was a part of some complicated orchestration of evil. I did enjoy hearing the book read, the Irish accents gave some depth to what otherwise was a flat and repetitive story.

98. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - An excellent read for social customs of the wealthy in early 20th century New York written by someone who knew people just like the characters she created. The plot develops at the same pace those characters lived...slow and self consciously.

99. Reading Like A Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them by Francine Prose - At the heart of this book is the author's belief that the most certain way for a writer to become a better writer is to read the works of better writers. Following that theory, she uses examples of published authors to show that there is no one right way to write a good story, and that by using what she calls "close reading" (paying attention to the framework of a story as much as enjoying it for the art that it is), aspiring writers will improve their craft. You have to concede she has a good point when you consider that many of the great authors never took a formal writing class, but instead were tutored by their own reading choices.

100. Eragon by Christopher Paolini - Yes, the author borrows from the great stories of adventure and fantasy. But there's plenty of original work here too, especially with the young hero's attitude towards his destiny. As young adult fantasy fiction written by a young adult, this is a good read.