06 January 2009


A tradition I began last year, here's a rundown of what I read in 2008, followed by a few observations:

1. Watching TV, Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik
2. The Water-Method Man, John Irving
3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson
4. George Mills, Stanley Elkin
5. Bangkok 8, John Burdett
6. Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O'Nan
7. My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
8. The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
9. Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism, Kent Jones
10. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami
11. You Are Here, Daniel MacIvor
12. Derek Jarman: A Biography, Tony Peake*
13. Pieces of Soap, Elkin
14. Fear of Music: The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk and Disco, Garry Mulholland
15. Rock On: An Office Power Ballad, Dan Kennedy
16. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
17. We Disappear, Scott Heim
18. The Pythons Autobiography, Monty Python
19. Polaroids From the Dead, Douglas Coupland
20. The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Gary Shteyngart
21. Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins*
22. When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris
23. Norwegian Wood, Murakami
24. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8 Lee
25. A Wolf At the Table, Augusten Burroughs
26. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson
27. The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, Susan Orlean
28. In the City of Shy Hunters, Tom Spanbauer
29. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
30. Sign 'O' The Times (33 1/3), Michaelangelo Matos
31. A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
32. But Enough About Me, Jancee Dunn
33. If You're Feeling Sinister (33 1/3), Scott Plagenhoef
34. Now It's Time to Say Goodbye, Dale Peck*
35. A Cinema of Loneliness, Robert Phillip Kolker
36. Selected Stories, Alice Munro
37. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami
38. Downtown Owl, Chuck Klosterman
39. Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (33 1/3), Carl Wilson
40. Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo
41. The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks
42. Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, Shopsin with Carolynn Carreno
43. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen*
44. The Yacoubian Building, Alaa Al Aswany


To break it down by genre, I read eighteen novels, two biographies, eight memoirs (including one that is also a graphic novel and another that is also a cookbook), four collections of essays, two collections of short stories, one play and nine other nonfiction books (three of which are part of this series).

I also re-read four books that I first picked up five-to-ten years ago. Tony Peake's superlative Jarman biography was specifically revisited for this project; the other three were fat, sprawling novels that meant a lot to me the first time around. I enjoyed revisiting all three, but the Jonathan Franzen book held up best, perhaps because I first read the other two months after finishing grad school - a particularly impressionable time for me.

This year, I made a conscious effort to read a diverse selection of authors and not get bogged down in devouring one writer's oeuvre (as I did with Bill Bryson in 2006-07). While a part of me wanted to check one Haruki Murakami book after another out of the library, I showed some restraint and read only three.

The longest book I read was a wonderful 600+ page compilation of Alice Munro short stories; the most difficult read by far was Stanley Elkin's dense but occasionally genius George Mills (with the "Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After" section of Cloud Atlas a close second); the breeziest read was Jancee Dunn's account of writing for Rolling Stone - winning and entertaining but not fluffy; the biggest disappointment was Augusten Burroughs' shark-jumping book-long complaint about how his daddy didn't love him; the best surprise was Carl Wilson's gleeful, fascinating deconstruction of Celine Dion.

My five favorites from this list: #7 (rarely has such an infectious, engaging real-life personality ever translated so well on the page), #16 (like six novels for the price of one, only it really is one novel, and the echoes and connections within are astonishing), #20 (a wickedly funny debut that reads like a Gen-X Woody Allen crossed with Nabokov), #28 (an original, dazzling achievement that's even better than my favorite book from last year), and #40 (similar in theme and approach to the author's past work, but far more accomplished and affecting than his somewhat overrated Pulitzer winner.)

1 comment:

3goodrats said...

I just posted my 2008 booklist as well! I think we only had one title in common, which is kind of hilarious since we are both supposed to be in the same book group! (The title in common was Last Night at the Lobster, not even a book group pick :)

I really want to read Bridge of Sighs - glad to hear that you liked it!