I was thinking of doing a post on my favorite books to come out in 2008, but the truth is I’ve only read maybe three or four books newly published this year, so I thought I’d steal a page from the clever Matthew Cheney and just post about some of my more satisfying book experiences in 2008, regardless of publication date.
Best American Science Writing 2007 . Last year for Christmas my parents gave me this book, and at first I was annoyed because what I’d actually wanted was Best American Short Stories 2007. But as per usual, my parents’ wisdom–whether intentional or haphazard–led to good things. I read every article in the book in just a few days. The one that sticks out most in my mind was a piece by Atul Gawande about why Cesarian operations have become so common. Before surgery and anesthesia came along, forceps were the usual way to handle an obstructed birth – and some double-blind studies still show that forceps may be safer for the mother. The trouble is, these studies only showed how forceps performed in the hands of a highly-skilled doctor who’s very experienced in using them. So Cesarians have become the norm, basically because it’s easier to maintain quality control on a mass-scale – and many lives have been saved as a result. The book is chock-full of articles like this, which appeal to my science-fiction-ey nerd brain and my public-policy nerd brain at the same time.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. At some point in the past year or so I saw Karen Russell read at KGB, and she totally blew me away. This is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read, period. The stories include a minotaur traveling west on the wagon trail with a group of pioneers, an “Out-to-Sea” retirement community, and the eponymous school for girls raised by wolves. My favorite was “Haunting Olivia,” a touching and understated story about two brothers using a special pair of goggles to search for their sister’s ghost. Russell’s stuff is usually marketed as literary – probably because she’s so damn good with the words – but her surrealist motifs, strong characters, and quirky humor will appeal to anyone who loves slipstream-ish writers like Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler.
More satisfying experiences from Ann Patchett and Etgar Keret below the fold.