A Christmas Memory/One Christmas/The Thanksgiving Visitor, Truman Capote - The book in this list that was read the earliest (January 2007) has stuck with me ever since. Each of these exquisitely written memoir pieces is embued with enough innocence, poignancy and sheer beauty to break your heart.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy - So much has already been said about this one that it seems absurd to try and capture it in a smattering of cheap words... an absolutely riveting and deeply haunting tale of good and evil, the end of the world, and the love between a father and son. It's strange that a book so cold and seemingly devoid of hope can feel, by the time you get to end, so uplifting.
In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, Tobias Wolff - This debut collection of stories set mostly in the American Northwest examine the foibles, pitfalls and consequences of human infidelities, both marital and otherwise. But they are written with enough originality, attention to detail, human insight and razor-sharp wit to remind of writers as good as O'Connor and Carver.
Middlemarch, George Eliot - As argued in an earlier post on this blog (see Archives -> November 2007), Eliot's masterpiece of English provincial life is really a book about vocation, and the profound significance and impact seemingly inconsequential lives can have on other lives around them, and on the world as a whole.
The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis - The only re-read on this year's list, Lewis' brilliant attempt to answer one of the world's oldest questions -- "Why do we have to suffer?" -- is one of the most lucid, insightful, and ultimately helpful theodicies I've ever read. More than just a philosophical treatise, this book is a manual to help us to live in a profoundly fallen world, even while hoping and and preparing for a greater one. Somehow, it manages to challenge the intellect and rejuvenate the spirit at the same time.
Gould's Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan - By far the most original of all books I read this year (and quite possibly, ever), Flanagan's book-within-a-book conveys the horrors and wonders of a 19th-century Tasmanian penal colony through the strangest of devices: a catalogue of local fish, painted by a lonely prisoner with a colorful and violent past. In the end, this surreal and haunting tale is a powerful treatise about the nature, and the limits, of art -- and the evils men are capable of inflicting upon one another.
A Long Day's Journey Into Night, Eugene O'Neill - There's always one I'm fairly confident I read late in the previous year, but nevertheless want to single out for this year's list because I am unable to forget it. Long Day's Journey is definitely that one this year for me. This soul-shaking drama from the American Nobel Laureate has got to be one of the most devastating portraits of family failure ever written, in any age. Even the stage direction notes gave me goosebumps! Heartbreaking, but brilliant.
The Art of Living, John Gardner - A fascinating, eclectic collection of stories from one of America's most underappreciated writers who profoundly understood the human condition and used his art to wisely plumb its mysterious depths.
The Voice at 3:00 AM, Charles Simic - Has to be at least one poetry collection on the list. This extraordinary collection from 2007's U.S. Poet Laureate not only contains some of the most vivid and interesting poetry I've read in a long time, it also bears my favorite book title of the year. That voice is relaying some pretty strange, but fascinating, things to Simic when he can't sleep, apparently!
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ron Hansen - Well, I missed the movie version (of course) this year, but I was very glad to have read the book! Hansen's meticulously crafted historical novel is a fascinating character study and morality tale that strips away all sentimentality and explores the reasons for, and the consequences of, the titular murder. Very few novels explore the aftermath of violence as effectively as this one.
BONUS ROUND: Titles that deserve mention and would have made the list if it were longer:
The Greatest American Short Stories (anthology)
Deus Caritas Est, the encyclical on Love by Pope Benedict XVI
A New Selected Poems, Galway Kinnell
The Short Stories of Jack London, Jack London
Billy Budd, Herman Melville