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by John Wilson


Favorite Books of 2007

The Russians are coming, again.

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Yes, it's time again for end–of–the year lists. Sunday's Book Review in the Times featured The Ten Best Books of 2007 (the list had been posted earlier on the web), and many others have appeared or will follow soon. My own list, as I've said in years past, is in no way definitive, comprehensive, or systematic. What you get here are simply the books that came most readily to mind as outstanding among the many I read this year.

This was a good year in particular for readers of Russian literature in translation. When Wendy and I were first married, we read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina aloud together, and later War and Peace. Our first two children were named Anna and Andrew. Later Wendy and I read together through all of Chekhov's short stories. He isn't represented below—perhaps I missed a wonderful Chekhov item from 2007?—but Tolstoy figures prominently. In addition, this past year brought several other books by Russian writers that I would have loved to include, but a proper list must stop somewhere. I'm thinking in particular of Andrei Sinyavsky's Ivan the Fool: Russian Folk Belief—A Cultural History (Northwestern Univ. Press), Daniil Kharms' Today I Wrote Nothing (Overlook Press), and a collection of stories by Andrey Platonov, Soul (NYRB). Our Andrew descends both from Tolstoy's prince and from Andrei Sinyavsky.

This year, as you'll see, there are two Books of the Year, both of them exceeding a thousand pages: books to inhabit. Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day had just been published when I was working on this list for 2006, and I was only a little way into it. A year later I am reading it again (and it has recently been issued in paperback). To leave it out because of an accident of the publishing calendar would be a sin. As for War and Peace, it's the latest Russian classic to be newly translated by the team of Richard Pevear (whom I first knew as a poet) and Larissa Volokhonsky.

I'd be delighted to hear from you about any of these books or others from 2007 that particularly absorbed you.

Here are my favorites, in alphabetical order, followed by the Books of the Year:

"Anna Karenina" in Our Time by Gary Saul Morson (Yale Univ. Press) and Energy of Delusion: A Book About Plot by Viktor Shklovsky, trans. by Shushan Avagyan (Dalkey Archive Press).

The Archer Files by Ross Macdonald, edited by Tom Nolan (Crippen & Landru).

The Art of William Steig edited by Claudia J. Nahson (Yale Univ. Press).

Asylum in the Grasslands by Diane Glancy (Univ. of Arizona Press).

A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign by Edward J. Larson (Free Press).

Nerve Damage by Peter Abrahams (Morrow).

On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru by Sabine MacCormack (Princeton Univ. Press).

Souls of the Labadie Tract by Susan Howe (New Directions).

Three Empires on the Nile: The Victorian Jihad, 1869-1899 by Dominic Green (Free Press).

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins).

Books of the Year:

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press/Penguin).

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Knopf).

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

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