Best reading experiences of 2008

Now for my last post of 2008. Thanks to everyone who visited here through the last year — I’ve greatly appreciated your company! I hope each and every one of you has a great 2009.

So, to my favorite books of the year. To be clear, this list will have nothing to do with the best books published in 2008; I read only five books from the past year, and only one of them is good enough to appear here (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle).  Undoubtedly, it was a great year for nonfiction. Nonfiction accounted for less than 30% of all the books I read, but I could easily justify a best-of list with nothing else on it.  I’ve raved so much about the books I’m about to list, that most of you will be thoroughly bored by them and are probably eager for me to move on to something else.  Still, if I’m going to write about my favorite books, these ones must appear (links are to my posts on the book):

  1. Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage.  This is a book about trying to write a book about D.H. Lawrence.  I’ve never been a Lawrence fan, but that doesn’t matter — what matters is Dyer’s brilliant, original voice.  The book rages and rambles, and I happily followed Dyer wherever he wanted to go.
  2. George Saunders, The Braindead Megaphone.  A friend gave me this book as a gift, and I’m so glad she did because otherwise I would have missed out on something wonderful.  I loved this book so much I’ve recommended it to tons of people, and in fact, I praised it so highly to Hobgoblin that he assigned it in one of his classes.  I hope the students liked it.
  3. Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman. Malcolm is a writer I’ll read no matter whom she writes about.  This book is about the reputations of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and the story of her researches into their lives and their biographers.  Malcolm makes fascinating material out of the way reputations are formed and biographies are written.
  4. Jenny Diski, Stranger on a Train and Skating to Antarctica.  I’ve raved about these books plenty already — no need to do it any more.
  5. David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster.  Wallace’s essayistic voice is so utterly charming and friendly, you don’t want ever the book to end, and you forgive him for being way, way smarter than you are.  He can make any subject he takes up seem like the most fascinating subject in the world.

Also really great: A.J.A. Symons’s The Quest for Corvo, Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf’s Nose, and Joan Didion’s The White Album.  It’s a little absurd to list nine books out of eighteen as being especially great, but the truth is, they all deserve to be there.

But I read more than nonfiction.  Here are some of my favorite novels:

  1. James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. This book was incredibly odd, and that’s exactly the kind of book I like.  Even better, it’s oddness has to do with religion, a combination I find irresistable.
  2. Cormac McCarthy, The Road.  I’ll never be a huge McCarthy fan and read everything he’s written, but this one was powerful and haunting and hard to forget.
  3. Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford.  This is a charming book, plain and simple.  Not a whole lot happens in it, but that doesn’t matter in the least.  It’s a book that will make you happy.
  4. David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  If Cranford makes you happy, this one will make you cry.  But it will awe you at the same time — it’s such a haunting story, so beautifully written, and so moving.
  5. Tom McCarthy, Remainder.  This one won’t make you happy and won’t make you cry — instead, it makes you think.  It’s an experimental, philosophical novel, one that makes you think about happiness, and also authenticity, self-awareness, and existence.  It’s odd and clever and fun.

Also really great: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (review to come).

Not a bad year, right?

16 Comments

Filed under Books

16 responses to “Best reading experiences of 2008

  1. Fascinating numbers from your last post and thanks for the lists in this one. Have a rewarding 2009 of more books and bikes!

  2. What a great year! I’ve been putting off reading The road even though I know it is good, but since it is on your best of the year list, I think I might finally get around to reading it! Happy New Year!

  3. I’m going to give The Road a try in 2009, too, I’ve decided. I also am eyeing a couple of your NF reads–you did very well with the nonfiction this year. Thanks for your wonderful blog, Dorothy–it’s one of my favorite places to visit. Happy New Year to you and the Hobgoblin!

  4. Happy New Year!

    The Road was a page turning and haunting read so I’d second the recommendation.

    I have Hogg’s book and Cranford in my TBR pile and look forward to reading them one of these days. I’ll look out for Saunders and Malcolm as they sound wonderful.

  5. Happy New Year! That’s a fantastic line-up, and I intend to read all the non-fiction books you’ve listed (if I haven’t read them already). I’d also like to try Remainder. Those curious books do get me thinking and I appreciate that.

  6. Nice list! I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed Cranford. I read it for the first time this year and have suggested it for one of my book clubs. I hope they like it, as well. Happy 2009!

  7. Wonderful blog – I particularly liked your review of The Silent Woman as I am becoming more interested in Plath myself and just bookmarked it for 2009 on my Amazon list.

    If you visit my blog, you’ll find I am a huge Gaskell fan, and I always enjoy reading others’ reviews. Glad you liked Cranford. I enjoyed it more the second time through when I knew what it was and could just savour the storytelling and not worry about looking for plot.

  8. Happy New Year to you, Hobgoblin and Muttboy!

    My first assignment for ’09, after finishing “Microserfs,” which is taking forever (I have only enough energy at the end of the day to read a few pages), is “The Stepford Wives.”

    This paperback is part of the pile of books that my sister, who is a voracious reader in addition to an illustrator by trade and sometime writer, brings on her annual visit.

  9. Not a bad year indeed! Here’s to an even better one in 2009. Happy New Year.

  10. I’m so glad you liked Cranford — that was one of my Christmas gifts this year. Looking forward to reading it even more now. :)

  11. I do remember your posts about a number of these books, but having them all listed together here reinforces the recommendations nicely. I had already added “Cranford” and “The Braindead Megaphone” to my TBR list on the strength of your earlier recommendations, but now I’ll be adding several more of your bests to that list. “Out of Sheer Rage” in particular sounds like my sort of book.

  12. What a great list. Am loving The Braindead Megaphone and the others look as good or even better. Here’s wishing you lots of enjoyable, thoughtful and moving reading experiences in 2009. Happy New Year!

  13. Lokesh

    A very handy list of, it goes without saying, very interesting books. Thanks.

    Wishing you a very happy New Year!

  14. Thank you Arti! I do enjoy looking at other people’s lists and I hope people enjoy mine!

    Stefanie — The Road really is pretty remarkable. It’s kind of annoying to love a book everyone else loves, but what can I do? :)

    Thank you Danielle, and thank you especially for being such a regular, reliable reader. I look forward to your comments! I’d be thrilled if you picked up one of my nonfiction reads — I’d love to know what you think of them.

    Sarah — yes, I read The Road very fast; it was hard to put down although it was nightmarish to read at the same time. Unforgettable, really. I hope you enjoy the Cranford and the Hogg!

    Litlove — same thing to you as to Danielle, I’d be thrilled if you read some of my nonfiction books because I’d really love to hear your thoughts on them! And yes, Remainder will really make you think. I’m not sure everyone will love the book, but it certainly inspires thought.

    Lisa — I hope your book club enjoys Cranford! It should be a fun one to discuss. Have a wonderful ’09!

    JaneGS — thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I can see that Cranford would reward re-reading and I might do that one day. And I hope you enjoy The Silent Woman — it’s really fascinating and if you like Plath, you’re sure to find it interesting.

    Happy New Year Fendergal! How nice to have a sister who brings a pile of books regularly!

    Bikkuri — thanks, and happy New Year! I hope you have a great 2009.

    Debby — your edition of Cranford looked fascinating, with the extra material is has in it. I’ll have to track down a copy of that material myself.

    Kate — I’m so glad the list is useful! :) I’m guessing you’ll enjoy Out of Sheer Rage; there’s some funny gender stuff in it now and then, but that aside, I found the voice appealing.

    Pete — I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying The Braindead Megaphone! I hope you’ll share your thoughts on it. And best wishes for the new year!

    Lokesh — best wishes to you too! I’m glad people have enjoyed the list — I also enjoy the lists everyone else has posted. It’s a fun time of year!

  15. Phew! Thanks to spending so much time at your blog this year, all of these are already in the TBR tome (except for the Hogg, which I’ve already read, although it’s probably about time I re-read it), so no need to add yet another page.

  16. Emily — very glad not to have made things worse! :)

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