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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Not a bad year, right?