I read about two books a week. Some weeks I only finish one, but lately I’m finishing three or four a week. Though it will slow down again as I start a new job tomorrow, I’m still shooting to read 100 books this year, which is about how many I read last year. Sometimes I'm asked to name the best book I’ve read lately, but that’s hard to answer because it depends on a variety of questions: Best as in best plot? Best characters? Most entertaining?
But here is an attempt to list the five books I have most enjoyed reading so far in 2007. Note my phrasing there because at least one of those books, King Dork, came out prior to this year. These are in no particular order.
1. King Dork by Frank Portman: This book spoke so loudly to me — and not just because it was written by the singer of the punk band the Mr. T Experience — that I’ve been handing my copy to friends, pleading, “You HAVE got to read this.” If you like sex, dreaded high school, ever spent more than five minutes trying to think of a great band name and love or hate The Catcher In the Rye, than this book will speak to you – and hopefully so will my interview with the author.
2. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz: I love mysteries and thrillers but a lot of my favorite writers — Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, George Pelecanos — are getting quite well known. There’s something special about coming across an author before he or she is well known. Lutz’s debut novel is stunning in its brilliance and hilarity. At turns surprising and funny — and sometimes both — I was gushing with praise for it when I talked with her. She and I agreed on the best description of her style: "Nancy Drew after a bottle of Jack Daniels.”
Imagine a girl growing up in a family of private detectives in which every member follows and scams each other, and such. Now imagine trying to leave that family business. Add a voice that’s even more smart ass than mine. Add new twists on old clichés and play up those detective novel stereotypes. Mix. Hilarity ensues.
3. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction by Patrick Anderson: Anderson makes a solid case for why mysteries and thrillers so fascinate readers, including me, and why writers also love them. He also trashes some writers — I’m looking at you, Tom Clancy and Patricia Cornwell — who are undeserving of their popularity and riches, as he explained to me.
Anderson wonderfully captures not only the history of the thriller but also its acceptance in society as real literature, not just as some niche or genre item. Anderson, who has been a speechwriter for presidents and who has written thrillers, has my dream job: He is paid by The Washington Post to review thrillers. It’s always fun just to compare notes with him.
4. What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman: This book is a perfect example of what Patrick Anderson is talking about. It’s a thriller and mystery, yes, but it is about much more – ranging from the human condition, to relationships, to our wanting to believe the best about people. I’ve been following Lippman’s career for a few years because, like Michael Connelly, she managed to make the transition from journalist to novelist. I interviewed her about one year ago. Her books keep getting better, though I don’t know if it’ll be possible to top the stunning work that is What the Dead Know. I do know I'll keep reading to find out.
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: To not only produce this great book but the whole seven-volume Potter series is an impressive feat. Whatever Rowling tries next — maybe a detective series as Ian Rankin, another favorite mystery writer/interview of mine — famously suggested then sort of retracted, will, I’m sure, be fascinating. Personally, I’d love to see Rowling and Rankin try a joint project. The best review I’d read of Rowling’s book came from Stephen King.
That ends this list. I have another ten books waiting to be read and I can already tell you two candidates for my best of the year list: Beyond Reach, the latest by Karin Slaughter, and The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Both look great, though in completely different ways. Slaughter’s books, appropriate to her name, are violent but she does so to raise awareness of violence, whereas Jacobs takes interesting concepts and runs with them.
I interviewed Jacobs about one of my favorite non-fiction books, the hysterical Know-It-All, for which he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and documented the feat, which pretty much took over his life and drove family and friends crazy. For his new book, which comes out in October, he tries to follow the rules contained in the Bible, from not shaving (he documents with photos) to stoning to death those committing adultery (I think, he decided for legal reasons, to skip that one) and, well, you get the idea. Mayhem ensues.
Look for interview with both authors in the next few months. Take care and happy reading. And remember what Groucho Marx said: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."