Sunday, December 23, 2007

there's a white man in my closet

When my kids were little I used to read them a book called There’s a Nightmare in my Closet. My son never quite got it right, and instead asked to be read “There’s a White Man in my Closet.” More on that later.

I enjoy reading end-of-the-year lists – best books, movies, photos, etc. As Rachel Dacus points out, sometimes the book lists seem like advertisments for the publishing industry, but, while I like those, too, there are plenty of others. They don’t have to be books published this past year – they could just be books someone read, like Blake Butler’s interesting list. Of course there’s also Slate, NY Times, Christian Science Monitor, and New York Magazine’s “Best Books Of the Past 10 Years That You’ve Never Read.” Rachel also points out Fringe’s survey of the best American books of the past 25 not written by straight white men.

I only want to read the best books I can find. I don't feel more obliged to read someone's book because they're gay or Ukrainian-American or 0+ blood type. The only thing going to get me through a book is the book itself. Still I do appreciate the fact that straight white guys get plentiful air time, and the best books could be tucked under the sofa cushions and not eye-level at Borders.

Anyway, a long intro to a modest list, as I didn't read that much fiction and non-fiction this year. And prologues aside, the book I enjoyed most, Continental Drift, is by a white man about a white man. Certainly Gulag Archipelago and Kolyma Tales are more important books, and they are also excellent books. But in terms of compulsive reading, Russell Banks’ books beat everything on my list this year.

Of the four books I read by women, I most liked Marianne Wiggins’ John Dollar. I preferred it to Housekeeping, one of the NYTimes best books of the past 25 years. I thought the Wiggins’ writing was more interesting. I must admit I have neglected black authors. Aside from Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, who are the best black authors writing now? I tried Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days this year, but found it overwritten.

Here’s my list - *recommended
*Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Housekeeping – Marilyn Robinson
*John Dollar – Marianne Wiggins
*White Noise – Don DeLillo
Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky
Elizabeth Costello – JM Coetzee
Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
*Kolyma Tales – Varlam Shalamov
Mystery in Spiderville – John Hartley Williams
Into the Wild – John Krakauer
*The Translator – Ward Just
Kate Vaiden – Reynolds Price
*Continental Drift – Russell Banks
*Cloudsplitter – Russell Banks

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