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!