Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best books of 2008

This year was kind of interesting as far as a "book plan" goes. My original plan back in January was to read 100 short stories, and not worry so much about the novels. Last year I read 52 novels and felt pretty damn good about it. This year, I read just over twenty. Of course I also read about ten textbooks, so I think my word count balanced out well...

Anyway, here are my favorite books I read this year, in no particular order:

Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden McEwan slid under my radar for a very, very long time. I can’t even really remember where I first heard of him—though it was a few years ago. He is who I go to when I don’t want to mess around…when I need a book that I know I will love. The Cement Garden is a short novel—probably novella territory—but what it lacks in length it makes up for in psychological suspense. The novel shows what can happen to kids when there is a total lack of adult supervision, how they live their lives, and it does so in breathtaking prose. No word is unnecessary, yet the novel is rich and full. It is, at its core, a survival story of a family who must continue to endure when its foundation is shaken.

Ethan Canin's America America It’s still a book I want to reread since I’m almost positive I didn’t catch everything in it the first time. Canin’s plots, prose, and style keep me returning to him as often as I can. While this novel was a tough read for me, it’s not one I’ll ever forget.

Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why Teen suicide is really hard to write about. Really hard. It can come off as trite, as lecture, as completely false. Rarely does an author come along who can present it as it really is. Thirteen Reasons Why is a young adult novel, but it really should be read by everyone who knows a teenager. I loved it because it didn’t shy away from the icky, dirty issues that teens have to face every day, nor did it over-dramatize or cheapen them.

Stephen King's Just After Sunset: Stories This is sort of a cheat because I’m technically reading it now, and won’t finish it in 2008 unless I seriously apply myself in the next 2.5 hours. But, so far, I’m hugely loving it. I think King is in something of a writerly crisis at the present time, something I’ll comment on more in my review, but a Stephen King story is a Stephen King story, period. And this collection is long overdue.

Carolyn Parkhurst's The Dogs of Babel: A Novel The premise of this book is simply brilliant: a man’s wife commits suicide and their dog is the only “witness”. Man—a linguistics professor-- doesn’t quite believe the suicide, so he tries to teach the dog to speak English so that he can find out what really happened to his wife. There are a few subplots that add a lot of layers to what could have potentially been a dangerously simple story. But, the full effect of all aspects of the story combined with the pacing and timing make it a memorable novel.

Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson I may be the last person on the planet to read this book. I finally bit the bullet and read it this summer following the death of a friend due to ALS. I vowed that I would read it quickly and not cry. I think what this book taught me the most and what I’ll remember about it is that a memoir doesn’t have to cover someone’s entire life. Sometimes it’s okay to just tell the story that matters. It’s okay to tell the what and contemplate the why without needing to teach or give any answers. Sometimes, there aren’t any answers.

Stephanie Meyer's Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) I love this book. I loved the first two in the series, and I loved the final fourth book. I love them so much I’ll reread them in 2009. And, though everyone who thinks they “really know books” turns up their nose at this series, I think it’s brilliant. Not well written, mind you; I will never say that Stephanie Meyers’ writing is anywhere close to good. But, this novel (and the others in the series) scratched me right where I itched, in a place that hasn’t been touched since my V.C. Andrews and Beauty and the Beast days.

E.R. Frank's Wrecked Another young adult novel, Wrecked is the most interesting for its perspective. It takes the side of a teen driver who kills another teenager in an accident. The girlfriend of her brother, no less. The novel works between past and present, as most good young adult novels do, to give readers not just a solid plot, but rich characters who are not soon forgotten.

Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian This book had me both laughing and crying within the first ten pages. Alexie has an amazing way of teaching readers about Native American tribes and traditions without being preachy, martyr-like, or acting like he’s on the History Channel. The novel centers around a narrator who transfers from the Reservation school to a “white school” in a nearby town. His angst and confusion about his identity are staples of adolescence, but because he is also Native American, the angst and confusion are spun in an entirely different direction. And it’s an entertaining read.

Stephen King's Duma Key: A Novel This was my most highly-anticipated read of the year. It ended up being completely different from what I expected, and more of an acquired taste than I thought it would be. Stephen King needs to decide if he wants to be a literary writer or a genre writer; he’s good enough to do either, but when he tries to combine them it doesn’t work. Duma Key is a mix of literary and genre fiction, and my initial feelings after I finished the book were as mixed as the writing; now I’m thinking that, like several other novels, I may need to go back and reread it.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

"Not well written, mind you; I will never say that Stephanie Meyers’ writing is anywhere close to good. But, this novel (and the others in the series) scratched me right where I itched, in a place that hasn’t been touched since my V.C. Andrews and Beauty and the Beast days."

I've been saying this *for months.* Thank you for writing it!