There are a few others on the NYT list I'd like to read sometime, like the new Toni Morrison novel, but as with most "best of" lists, I don't feel especially culturally illiterate for failing to even recognize many of the titles that appear on it.
It did get me thinking, though, about which of the books I've read this year I've most enjoyed, regardless of whether they were published in 2008 or not.
Thanks to my librarian pal Don, I started keeping a log of my reading on Library Thing this year, so I have a handy reference to turn to. I used to keep this kind of a list in a notebook, but frankly, would go for months without putting stuff into it, and then would have to reconstruct what I'd read, and it was just a pain in the ass. With Library Thing, you just type in the title, click, and the book goes on your list.
So, here are a few of my favorites from this year:
Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Alexie's first young-adult novel is stylistically very much in the vein of his adult works, treading the fine line between humor and pathos, which makes his characters all the more affecting. The the protagonist here, Arnold Spirit, is a gifted geek who wants to be a cartoonist, and his drawings complicate and enrich the story in really interesting ways. A YA novel that transcends the tired formula of many YA novels.
Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader
Bennett's novella is a delightful piece of speculative fiction about what might happen if Queen Elizabeth stumbled into a bookmobile by accident, checked out a book just to be polite, and surprised everyone--most especially herself--by becoming a voracious reader.
This could easily have been a total farce, but Bennett really makes the Queen a complex character (Prince Phillip is left to bear the brunt of the "vacuous royalty" jokes). The more she reads, the more isolated she feels from the rest of the world and from human experience, generally. While it feels like a light read, this text raises some provocative questions about the profound ways in which books, and the very experience of reading, alter us.
Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
I'm a longtime detective-fiction fan, and found this book to be a fascinating analysis of the complementary Victorian obsessions with both the newly minted occupation of the real-life detective and the newly minted genre of detective fiction. (Since I blogged about this before I won't go into more detail here.)
Markus Zusak's The Book Thief
This is one of those books that you approach with dread: "A 500-page young-adult novel about the Holocaust, with Death itself as the narrator? No thanks!"
But truly, it is one of the most beautifully written and moving books I've read in a long time, and while it's terribly sad (including "the weeping hour, a.k.a. the last 50 pages," as a student who read it for my YA lit class this semester described it), it's also compulsively readable. Very different from most Holocaust novels, this one focuses on the plight of working-class neighbors in Munich, most of whom don't support the Reich but have no choice but to comply--at least publicly.
--So far, I've read 48 books this year (!--lots of young-adult novels in there; you can rack those up fast), and there are lots of others that I could mention here, but I want to leave it at the very few of those that I felt passionate about.
How about you? What did you read this year that made you want to pass the book on immediately to someone else, and then nag them to finish so you could talk to them about it?
Christmas books that I'm looking forward to reading next (lots of nonfiction, surprisingly):
|The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British|
|The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism|
|Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink|