Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor
Why seven books to encapsulate a year? Well, it’s been a year of sevens: 2007, the seventh Harry Potter book, the seventh year of the Bush administration…In a year that for me may well not have had ten top movies for my list, it’s the books I read that left an impression. These are books I feel did something new with their genre; books that will be remembered; books that require a pause to think and contemplate the consequences of life. Some are potent for addressing the current political landscape, and others are the stories that help make daily life a bit easier to face. A great book can open up the world or at the very least create a peephole beyond one’s living room, and these books accomplish at least that small step. In no particular order, then, my top seven books of 2007:
Cartoon History of the Modern World by Larry Gonick
Gonick’s latest installment in his Cartoon History of the Universe continues his tradition of providing an alternative to the dreaded history textbook. Though occasionally quite comic and filled with commentary, the cartoon history series does more for creating a sense of history than any history class I can remember taking, and perhaps most importantly it gives a sense of global context: each installment focuses on placing developments around the globe in a relative positioning that can be hard for us to create for ourselves when trying to wrap our minds around the complexities of the past.
Chinese Born American by Gene Luen Yang
Graphic novels dealing with cultural conflict and the fear and lure of assimilation are rarely so powerful in evoking loss as Gene Luen Yang’s Chinese Born American. When I read this story all the efforts to fit in during childhood, and the difficulty of casting aside the pull to do so, came back to me forcibly: here those pains of youth are retold through both the efforts of the Monkey King to gain respect among gods and the efforts of the young Chinese narrator to gain acceptance from white classmates. The juxtaposition of the narratives and the at times Kafkaesque transformations make for a beautiful story.
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens may not win many fans with his blunt and powerful writing not merely in defense of atheism, as is the more traditional battle, but in outright avocation of atheism. With battles over religion being fought, and waiting in the wings, in the US election, Supreme Court, and classrooms, a powerful atheistic voice is appreciated to stand out in a chorus of increasingly fundamentalist cries. Hitchens takes at times too extreme a stance, and like Michael Moore strays into territory where subtlety and honesty might have made more impact than the loud approach, but wide outcry over the directions religion might still dictate within our world is hard to raise. Even when Hitchens is saying things one might personally find disagreeable, he's raising points that still must not go unnoticed.
Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
In the young adult fantasy novel section this year, many smaller voices went overlooked as the loud outcry over Potter rang out. Perhaps the greatest such story I stumbled across is a novel by Jeanette Winterson, the postmodern novelist behind fabulously strange works such as Sexing the Cherry and others that explore desire and art in works most definitely intended for adults. Tanglewreck, on the other hand, is a story for children filled with time travel and menacing clock collectors and even the immortal evil or two. In a section of the bookstore now filled with Rowling imitators, it’s impressive to see what a great writer can do to the familiar genre.
As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay in Denial by Derrick Jensen & Stephanie McMillan
Including another graphic novel reveals perhaps strongly my own biases; however, this is more political cartoon turned narrative than anything else. Jensen and McMillan make no secret of their politics, and this is a strongly liberal environmentalist tale anchored by two young girls trying to figure out how to save the world around them as they come to terms with the understanding that using energy-saving light bulbs and recycling every week might not be enough to turn the tide. It’s not going to convert nonbelievers, but the attack on the idea of saving the planet through consumerism is a powerful message delivered here with strange humor.
Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir by Gore Vidal
I have long adored the work of Gore Vidal both as an essayist and as a novelist. His first memoir, Palimpsest, told the story of his life as a young man surrounded by fame and politics. His latest memoir is a deeper read: these are the reflections of a man who has lived to see most of the people he knew die. The chapters are often framed by recollections of friends driven by the discovery of obituaries and his own feeling of inevitable mortality and the poignant recollections of his partner. I hope this is not the last great work we get to treasure from this man, as I cannot imagine where we will find another like him.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
We can argue back and forth on whether J.K Rowling’s conclusion to the Harry Potter saga satisfies: no one can argue that Rowling has failed to change the world of literature. Go into a bookstore now and you’ll see the section of children’s and young adult’s novels continuing to expand, filled with longer and more complex offerings by more and more authors who would likely never been given shelf space in a pre-Rowling world. I cannot help but forgive her the imperfections out of awe for what she has achieved and appreciation for the books she brought to the world, both her own and through the doorway she opened: perhaps this is not the greatest book anyone read this year, but it is a book nearly everyone talked about. A world where children clamor to attend midnight release parties for novels is a world I want to live in.