Thursday, January 01, 2009

Crannies And Nooks - Books Read In 2008

Here's the list of books I read in 2008, a total of 65, up from 51 last year. The increase has come at the expense of writing, I'm sorry to say; but getting a novel right is hard, or at least getting this novel right has been hard for me. This year's list is in alphabetical order, separated into fiction and non-fiction. Only one of the books has a link with it - there was a really good review of American Wife, posted on the New York Times website, by Joyce Carol Oates.

2007 Best American Short Stories - Stephen King, ed.
The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta
All The Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
Appaloosa - Robert B. Parker
The Amber Spyglass - Phillip Pullman
Brokeback Mountain: Story To Screenplay - Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
The Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger
Christ The Lord: The Road To Cana - Anne Rice
Choke - Chuck Palahniuk
The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy
The Dark Tower: Song Of Susannah - Stephen King
The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower - Stephen King
Downtown Owl - Chuck Klosterman
Duma Key - Stephen King
The Dying Animal - Philip Roth
The Easter Parade - Richard Yates
The Garden Of Last Days - André Dubus III
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets - Jo Rowling
Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince - Jo Rowling
Hearts In Atlantis - Stephen King
Insomnia - Stephen King
Just After Sunset - Stephen King
Little Children - Tom Perrotta
Lost Girls - Alan Moore
No Country For Old Men - Cormac McCarthy (2)
Oil! - Upton Sinclair
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
Red Harvest - Dashiell Hammett
The Rules Of Attraction - Bret Easton Ellis
Story Of My Life - Jay McInerney
The Subtle Knife - Phillip Pullman
The Tales Of Beedle The Bard - Jo Rowling
Twilight - William Gay - (No, not that Twilight.)

The Age Of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 - Sean Wilentz
The Bishop’s Daughter - Honor Moore
Bound By Honor: A Mafioso’s Story - Bill Bonanno
Catch Me If You Can - Frank Abagnale
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide To Global Warming - Bjorn Lomborg
Covert: My Years Infiltrating The Mob - Bob Delaney
Fair Game: My Life As A Spy, My Betrayal By The White House - Valerie Plame
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson
Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History - Helene Stapinski
Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - And The Journey Of A Generation - Sheila Weller
God Without God: Western Spirituality Without The Wrathful King - Michael Hampson
Hep Remembered: Memories Of Terry Hoeppner From Those Who Knew Him Best - Terry Hutchens
Hey Rube - Hunter S. Thompson
Hit & Run: How Jon Peters And Peter Guber Took Sony For A Ride In Hollywood - Nancy Griffin & Kim Masters
The Ice Man: Confessions Of A Mafia Contract Killer - Philip Carlo
Keys To Parenting Your One-Year-Old - Meg Zweiback
The Iron Road: A Stand For Truth And Democracy In Burma - James Mawdsley
The Last Amateurs - John Feinstein
Made Men: The True Rise-And-Fall Story Of A New Jersey Mob Family - Greg B. Smith
The Majors - John Feinstein
A Man Without A Country - Kurt Vonnegut
My Father’s Houses: Memoir Of A Family - Steven V. Roberts
The Post-American World - Fareed Zakaria
Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built A Company One Cup At A Time - Howard Schultz
Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, And Priorities Of A Winning Life - Tony Dungy
The Rape Of Europa: The Fate Of Europe’s Treasures In The Third Reich And The Second World War - Lynn H. Nicholas
Savage Grace: The True Story Of Fatal Relations In A Rich And Famous American Family - Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson
A Season On The Brink - John Feinstein
So Wrong For So Long: How The Press, The Pundits-And The President-Failed On Iraq - Greg Mitchell
The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through The Hidden Villages Of Sicily - Theresa Maggio
What Happened: Inside The Bush White House And Washington’s Culture Of Deception - Scott McClellan

The best of the bunch in the fiction books that I read this year is The Garden Of Last Days, about a woman who brings her daughter with her to work one day and misplaces her while she is working. Set in late 2001, the novel is informed by events leading up to 9/11 - a cautionary study of human nature in the twenty-first century. Extremely well written and difficult to put down, even though it clocks in at well over five hundred pages.

Speaking of clocking in at over five hundred pages, the best of the bunch in non-fiction is Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - And The Journey Of A Generation. I'm a sucker for music books, and this one was excellent, exploring the roles played by three prominent women through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as folk music laid the groundwork for the emergence of American rock and roll. (Okay, technically Joni Mitchell is not American.) The Rape Of Europa deserves mention here, too, because it might be the best of all of the books I read this year - it just wasn't the one I liked the most. If I were an art historian, however, I might well be singing a different tune. Might be a top five desert island book for people who live and breathe art.

Others Receiving Votes:

2. Christ The Lord: The Road To Cana - Yes, seriously. Finding Jesus (again) didn't diminish Anne Rice's ability to write. It might even have helped. I stopped reading her after Servant Of The Bones practically bored me to tears, but picked up the first Christ The Lord novel (Out Of Egypt) out of sheer morbid curiosity and was pleasantly surprised. The Road To Cana is even better. This is purportedly a planned trilogy, and I'm actually sort of looking forward to the third book.
3. The Reader - Had this not been made into a movie, I surely would never have discovered the novel; and that would be unfortunate. Another excellent study of human nature, the novel is full of rich, expository first person meditation - which is very difficult to translate into film. You'll appreciate the movie quite a lot more if you come to it having first read the novel.
4. The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass - Shame on the Catholic Church for the fearmongering that helped depress the grosses for the film version of The Golden Compass. There is now virtually no chance that parts two and three of this remarkable trilogy will ever be filmed. Maybe the ignorant Catholic fearmongering brought down bad karma on their heads - Disney has decided not to distribute the next movie in the Chronicles Of Narnia series, though Walden Media is reportedly going ahead with filming. Serves you right, you frogs.
5. Appaloosa - Hard-boiled, morally ambiguous cowboy western. The movie had closed by the time I finished the novel. Hello, Netflix.

2. The Age Of Reagan - This one was written by a liberal Democrat, oddly enough. It's brilliantly written, remarkably detailed, and (believe it or not) a page-turner. Begins with Nixon and goes right up to the present day, deftly illustrating the successes and failures of the socio-political ideology of Ronald Reagan and how that ideology became the black costume fused to the Peter Parker of the American electorate. A generation later, that ideology is still poisoning this country, having enabled the massive failures of King George II and Darth Cheney.
3. God Without God - An excellent study of perspective with respect to religion. Should be required reading but, alas, it's probably time for American Idol to start up again, right?
4. The Last Amateurs - Though golf is his true passion, John Feinstein is best known for writing about basketball, thanks to A Season On The Brink. This is the story of a season in the life of the Patriot League, a relatively new conference of smaller, more academically- and service-oriented schools in the northeast. These guys don't play for money or with any hope of winning the NCAAs. For them, winning the NCAAs is winning their conference championship and earning a 16-seed, so they can be destroyed on the first or second day of the tournament. But those two days are not only the best days of the tournament, they're also the best two days in all of sports. There is also mention in this book of Rick Greenspan and the good job he did as AD at West Point. Greenspan was most recently AD at Indiana, where he was thrown under the bus as a result of the Sampson purge.
5. The Post-American World - Tom Friedman's book The World Is Flat remains the seminal work on globalization, but this (briefer) book by Newsweek writer Fareed Zakaria is an important addition to the conversation. A lot of people in this country seem to think that the rest of the world doesn't have the right to grow up and get bigger and stronger, like the United States did after the Civil War. That opinion is wrong, of course, and it defines the modern day Ugly American. You'll find a lot of those people clutching their UAW cards and praying to their god for more bailout money for the Detroit automakers. Unfortunnately, the people who most need to read this book (and the longer work by Friedman) are the ones who are least likely to know it's there to be read in the first place.

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