Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Best Books of 2008

I just can't post a list of 92 books, lumped into the category of "I read them," without pausing to linger over the ones that made an impression, and stayed with me long after I'd closed the cover and moved on. In no particular order, the best books I read in 2008...

1. The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye

The pleasure I get from reading this kind of book is so great, I wonder myself why I don't read more of them. In this book, Frye is making a case for stories, and shedding light on why we need them and how they make a difference in our lives. This is the only non-fiction book on my "best of" list, and it deserves higher praise than I can give.

2. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Bradley

Part of the pleasure I took in this story was the excellent reading by Elizabeth Klett at Librivox. I don't know what I was expecting from this book, but it was definitely more than I expected. I even blogged about it at the time.

3. Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe

Everyone else is/has been reading Things Fall Apart by this author, and I am impressed with the urgency that I must read it, too. However, this is the book that was available in my library here in Krakow, and it was amazing. I've taken an interest in the past few years in African literature, especially books that touch on the tensions of colonial Africa. Arrow of God was intense and insightful--I don't think I've ever read a better description of tribal life/community in story form. In the end, human nature is the same, no matter what culture or roots shape it from without.

4. Small Island by Andrea Levy

I picked up this book on a whim while browsing in the library, and it turned out to be one of the best books of the year. I'd never heard of it before. The post-WWII lives of young men and women, some from Britian, some from Jamaica, are so real it doesn't seem like fiction. Fortunately, I wrote a better review at the time I read the book.

5. Howard's End by E.M. Forster

At the time I read (okay, listened to) this book, I wrote that it blew me away. For some reason, this turned out to be my year for reading a lot of 20th-century classics I had never read before, and this was the cream of the crop. There will definitely be an E.M. Forster book in my reading plans for 2009.

6. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry


I hardly know what to say about this one, because so much has already been written on it. I said it would be on my list of best reads in 2008, and I meant it. It may be one of the best books I've read, ever. Review here, inadequate as it is.

7. Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

I have been an unabashed fan of Jan Karon's Mitford books for many years. I don't see how anyone who loves character-based books could not like those books. I received Home to Holly Springs as a Christmas present last year, and put off reading it for half the year because I didn't think I'd like it as much as the Mitford books. Silly, silly me. All I did was delay the pleasure I had reading it. Jan Karon has the ability to show what grace looks like in real life, or what it could look like, if we'd let it. She celebrates small miracles, too, that are so easy to overlook. If you haven't read all the Mitford books, don't read this yet...but do read Jan Karon.

8. Middlemarch by George Eliot

I'm so glad I read this. It was wonderful. I can't imagine why I never read it before. (Books of nearly 700 pages don't put me off, no sir, not at all...). I keep trying to figure out which character was my favorite, and I think in the end, I could not choose. This kind of book is a tapestry that fills a wall, with figures running to and fro and intermingled with small pictures that tell their own stories when examined closely, and yet together make a grand whole which the largest room is almost too small to hold.

9. The Swoop by P.G. Wodehouse

I hesitated to add this to my list. It is not a great book, or a fine book, or a book that I'll remember in great detail forever. But it was funny, and it made me laugh, and sometimes that is no small blessing.

10. I almost left this one blank and let it go with 9 best books, but I finally decided that The Road by Cormac McCarthy deserves this place. I did not love the story and the post-modern bleakness of the book is almost heart-wrenching for someone who prefers stories that include hope. But this book made me think harder than almost anything else I read this year, and for that, it deserves a place amongst the best books I read.

Now I'm ready for 2009...bring on the books.

7 Comments:

At 1:31 AM , Blogger Katie said...

I loved Middlemarch too. I was puzzled by it at first, but then drawn in.

I know I'm going to have to read Jayber Crow at some point, but I'm not ready to add it to the stack yet. Maybe this summer.

 
At 7:11 PM , Blogger magistramater said...

I'm supposed to be cleaning my house (possibility of a guest tonight) and I cannot break away from reading lists of best books.

Yours is spectacular. Absolutely arresting. I'm nodding with agreement at the books I've read (Middlemarch is one of my faves; my favorite quotes EVER come from this book.)

The ones I haven't read, I haven't even heard of, but I'm getting them. (I love to be introduced to new books/authors) One of my best friends grew up in Zimbabwe and loves all things Africa. I must read Arrow of God and give it to her if she hasn't.

I interrupted reading the post until I put Northrup Frye's book on my PaperBackSwap wish list. I interrupted writing this comment to see if our library had it.

The cover of Small Island SHOUTS read me. I can't read any other version of it. I must have that cover.

Wendell Berry, Jan Karon, George Eliot, P.G. Wodehouse...are we wealthy beyond imagining or what?

Thank you, oh thank you. I'm not sure my husband thanks you, but he's put up with my distracted reading for three decades. I am indebted to you for all these great recommendations.

 
At 8:06 PM , Blogger Laura said...

I loved Middlemarch, too, and absolutely agree with your summation. Just recently read Jayber Crow and loved it. Hard to describe Berry's books - I just shove them at friends and urge them to read them.

 
At 11:17 PM , Blogger farmlanebooks said...

I haven't read any of the books on your list, but Small Island, and The Road are on my list for 2009. The others look interesting - I'll have to add a few to my wish list!
Thanks for pointing them out!

 
At 8:09 PM , Blogger Framed said...

I absolutley need to read Jayber Crow this year. I've heard so much about it. I'm always looking for books to make me laugh and Wodehouse does that for me.

 
At 10:15 PM , Blogger Melanie said...

Great list! I appreciated the Frye as well, it was so thought-provoking. And Middlemarch -- I must read it this year! I love your description of it as a tapestry filling a wall... now it is irrestible.

 
At 4:41 PM , Blogger Carol in Oregon said...

I saw your comment on Semicolon and had to come here and say that I am *still* working on this lovely list. Almost two years later. Thank you!

 

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