Sunday, January 04, 2009

Best Reads of 2008

I had such grand plans for 2008 - it was going to be the year I read quality books. I was going to delve into the classics and emerge a better, smarter reader. I didn't quite manage to stick to my plan at all really. A disappointment and I still plan to read the nine remaining books on my dangerous list.

Disappointing is a good way to describe my year in reading. I aimed to read good books, but then stumbled and ended up reading even more trash than usual, a bizarre unintended consequence. I'm also disappointed in my numbers - I only read 48 books in 2008, which is probably half of what I read in 2007. Sure, I had a lot going on this year, but still, 48 seems awfully low for me.

The good news is that when I trawled through my reading reports for 2008, I didn't find any books worthy of a Worst Reads list. Patricia Cornwell returned with Scarpetta and the first 50 pages made me fear the book was destined for a worst list, but the book improved enough to squeak by.

The bad news is that I don't really think I have enough books for a Top 10 list. I have 7 solid choices, but then I feel like I would just be padding the rest with Laura Lippman books, just because she's one of my favourite authors.

7. Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer - I debated with myself for ages before adding this book to the list. Meyer's teenage vampire romance novels are both beloved and reviled and I found myself developing a love-hate relationship with them. The dynamic between Bella and her vampire love Edward is undeniably creepy, not because of the whole vampire thing but more because it has shades of a potentially abusive relationship and the sexual politics of the books are both confused and confusing.

But despite all of this (and the sometimes overwrought writing), I could not put these books down. They were compelling page-turners and I absolutely fell in love with some of the characters. Eclipse, for my money, was the best of the lot and was one of the most entertaining books I read all year.

6. By a Spider's Thread by Laura Lippman - Tess Monaghan's client, an Orthodox Jew, hires her to search for his missing wife and children. The story is subtle and layered as the agnostic Tess tries to understand her client, his relationship with his wife, and their religion.

5. The Ghost by Robert Harris - After British Prime Minister Adam Lang is unseated, he retreats to Martha's Vineyard with his former press secretary Mike McAra to write his memoirs. After McAra drowns in an apparent accident, an unnamed freelance writer (the narrator of the novel) is brought in to finish the job. In attempting to assist Lang, the writer discovers all sorts of unsavoury and frightening secrets about the Prime Minister and his wife. The book is a cracking political thriller, well-written and worth reading.

4. Year of the Fog by Michelle Richmond - After six-year old Emma disappears off a foggy beach in San Francisco, Abby struggles to remember what happened, recreate her memories, and unravel the mystery of Emma's disappearance. An atmospheric book about memory and loss that stayed with me long after I read it.

3. Moby Dick by Herman Melville - I read this as part of Reading Dangerously, and it was definitely my biggest success, even though it took me 3 months and I skipped the labourious whaling sections. I'm not going to say a lot here, since I posted a review back in March.

2. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris - This is definitely the book I wish I'd written - an insightful, hilarious look at corporate America in the wake of the dot-com bubble. I also loved that it was written in first-person plural, which seemed a bizarre choice, but served the story well. (Back in June, I posted about the effect this book had on me.)

1. Lush Life by Richard Price - My number 1 book last year, Ian McEwen's On Chesil Beach claimed the mantle because of its perfectly boiled down, precise use of language. Lush Life is also number 1 because of its language, but it's a different use of language than McEwen's. Where the language in On Chesil Beach is spare and stark, the language in Lush Life is poetic and rhythmic. It nearly provides a pulse for the book, a propelling heartbeat that carries you through the dark alleys and sweaty interview rooms as the cops investigate a mugging gone wrong. What both books have in common is how the language is a perfect representation of the place and time: the stark, crisp button-downed pre-Sexual Revolution England of On Chesil Beach versus the pulsing vibe of New York City. I can't say enough good things about Price and am looking forward to reading some of his other books.

My goal for 2009 is to get through my towering To Be Read piles, including as many of those 'dangerous' books as I can stomach. I'm going to make a huge effort not to add to my piles until I clear some of the back log. If I were looking for advice on what to read, I'd check out my friend Amy's Top 10 Book List for 2008. Amy is a much better reader than I am in the quality department (so I'm thrilled that two of my best books are also on her list). Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2009!



At 4 January 2009 at 08:41, Blogger Babaloo said...

I read 49 books last year. It's the first year I've counted, though, so I can't say whether that's good or not so good for me. I'm not going to say "bad" cos reading books is never bad, no matter how few you read.

Don't worry about reading "trashy" books. Everyone does. Well, at least I do. I'll be the first to confess to it.

What is on your reading list for this year? I don't really have one. I've got tons of books at home, some I mooched, even more we got in that Penguin Anniversary pack. So I just go past the shelves and try to figure out what I want to read next.

Have a happy reading year!

At 4 January 2009 at 14:04, Blogger laurie said...

doug loved "lush life," too. i haven't yet read it.

and don't be so hard on yourself! reading isn't spinach. reading should be fun. if you're interested in a particular kind of book, that doesn't make it trash. i don't see a bunch of dime-store thrillers on your list, but well-written books, published by respectable publishers, that happen to be of a type.

except one. that "moby dick." yeah. trash baby.

At 4 January 2009 at 16:15, Blogger the rotten correspondent said...

Between you and Laurie you've given me a lot of ideas. I think the fact that you keep track of what you read and plan it ahead is wonderful. You do seem a little hard on yourself, though. That's a lot of books you've read!

Just last night I went for something to read and realized I didn't have a single thing in the house that I was interested in. I foresee a library trip today.

At 4 January 2009 at 18:02, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - I wish I could get into Lee Childs, but I've not been able to. I tried once, but didn't get very far. Do you have one that you'd recommend for starting with?

A sampling from my TBR pile:

Talk Talk by TC Boyle
One Mississippi by Mark Childress
JPod by Douglas Coupland
Intuition by Allegra Goodman
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti

Laurie - You're exactly right about reading, which was sort of what I figured out this year. I would like to be better read, that's all. The Best Books list were, you know, the best books. I still read a fair amount of trash, even if none of it was written by James Patterson or Sidney Sheldon. :)

RC - I hadn't really meant to come off sounding so harsh. I realised this summer that my main source of entertainment is reading - I don't watch much television and I think we saw only a handful of movies in the theatre. And if I'm honest, I'm more a must-see-TV style of book kid than a Masterpiece Theatre style of book kid, if you get what I'm saying.

At 4 January 2009 at 21:18, Blogger Kaycie said...

I'm going to read "Lush Life" now that I've read your review. I adored "On Chesil Beach".

I've never kept track of what I read. I might start now, though, after reading your list and Laurie's. It seems to me that 48 books is a pretty good amount of reading.

And just so you know, I never finished "Moby Dick"!

At 4 January 2009 at 23:03, Blogger Babaloo said...

As for Lee Child, I prefer the later Reacher books. You don't need to read them in order anyway and I can't remember which was the first one I ever read. It was an airport buy, I remember that clearly. :)
Oh, and TC Boyle is on your TBR? I haven't read anything by him in aaages. Let me know how you like this one.
And Lush Life is definitely on my list now! Everyone seems to be talking about it.

At 4 January 2009 at 23:05, Blogger Babaloo said...

Oh yes, I meant to say, if you want to borrow one or two of my Lee Child books, let me know. Got the lot. Well, there's maybe 1 or 2 missing still. They haven't shown up on bookmooch yet. ;-)

At 5 January 2009 at 11:25, Blogger Dumdad said...

I've enjoyed every Robert Harris book I've read and that's almost all of them. I even re-read Fatherland a year or so ago. The Ghost was fun as well as intriguing.

I started listing my books (and films) about two years ago, not to boast (or otherwise) about how many I'd read but I really do forget which books I've read and when.

It's amazing that so many books on other people's lists (yours included) I have never heard of, let alone read! But the lists are a way of discovering other writers.

And reading is for fun. I'm lucky in that my two kids love reading so some days the house is completely quiet, save the slight rustle of turning pages (and the cat snoring).

At 5 January 2009 at 15:24, Blogger wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

My goal is also to read more. My reading has tailed off in recent years due, I have now discovered, to "middle-aged eyes." A new pair of reading glasses has solved that problem. Just have to flex the reading muscles again.

At 7 January 2009 at 17:46, Blogger -Ann said...

Kaycie - I hope you like it. It's a little tricky to get started, but then language just carried me away.

Babaloo - I might take you up on that offer. Once I've gotten some books out of the way. :)

Dumdad - That's exactly why I love the lists - to find other books to read.

WUASTC - Happy reading!

At 9 January 2009 at 13:42, OpenID conortje said...

I'd be mortified if you found out how many I read last year. I got given The Secret Scripture in May for my birthday and just started reading it a week before it read the Costa prize. I very much liked it so I would certainly recommend :-)

PS. I have read books between May and now hehe I'm bad but not that bad


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