Favorite Books of 2008

06:42 Sun 27 Dec 2009
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I read 75 books in 2008, just managing to hit my target. (This year, I won’t make my target of 80, or even get close.) Some excellent books were among those 75.

Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance was absolutely amazing. I would recommend it to everyone, but it was also utterly devastating. The simultaneous senses of realism and despair that it produces make it a masterwork, but one that I found difficult to handle emotionally. You should definitely read it, but don’t expect a light-hearted romp.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, was quite good. Not a particularly deep analysis of American Imperialism, but a fascinating on-the-ground account of the occupiers’ side of Baghdad.

I still don’t think that The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is science fiction, but Michael Chabon’s multiple-award-winner is very good.

Are You Dave Gorman?, Join Me, and Yes Man were good comedy “non-fiction” works. I’m not sure I’d recommend reading all of them, but it would be worth it to try one. I found Join Me most interesting, but Yes Man might be funnier.

I really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. A dark and gritty take on fantasy, but with a light narrative tone.

Another slightly different take on fantasy that I liked was The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. I previously called it “a cross between The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Heat, and Ocean’s Eleven”, and that still seems accurate. The sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, wasn’t as good, but I’m still going to read the next one when it comes out.

M. John Harrison’s Viriconium was good; as I wrote at the time, it’s not entirely clear what genre it belongs to, but I would recommend it mainly to fantasy fans, and/or fans of “literary” science fiction (whatever that means…).

Yet another non-standard fantasy series I read in 2008 was the Engineer trilogy by K. J. Parker: Devices and Desires, Evil for Evil, and The Escapement. It’s a very “rational” form of fantasy, in that it deals with technology and problem-solving as some of its major themes. I also discussed it my Fantasy Novel Roundup from last year.

The Body Has a Mind of its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better, by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee, was a fascinating pop science examination of how the body and the brain are integrated, how we learn how to use tools, our perceptions of our own bodies, and how body and brain differences affect consciousness.

I enjoyed Heather Byer’s Sweet: An Eight-Ball Odyssey the most of the various books on pool I read in 2008. It wasn’t as detailed as some of the others, and dealt with play on a much lower level, but I liked the writing style, and perhaps could relate better to the play level than was the case with the others.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace, was an excellent and disturbing read. Which is more or less what you’d expect from a collection of David Foster Wallace stories. One of those stories, “The Depressed Person”, inspired me to write this.

Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger was really good, a deserving Booker winner, and I recommend it. I discuss it here.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America Erik Lauer’s non-fiction work about the Chicago World’s Fair and one of America’s first serial killers, was very good. 27 million people went to that fair, which I still think is an astonishing number, and its influence was considerable.

Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn was polished and compelling, and I recommend it.

The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators, by Gordon Grice, is non-fiction about several classes of predator, and does an excellent job covering its material.

Jennifer Egan’s The Keep was an enjoyable, and unsettling, read. It’s “straight” fiction (i.e. not ghettoized in one of the science fiction, fantasy, crime, or romance genres), and I’d recommend it to most people. Some of the writing in it was really good, and I was taken off-guard by a number of the twists.

My full 2008 reading list (there’s also a fancier Freebase app version of this list):

  1. Reaper’s Gale; Steven Erikson 06/01/2008
  2. The Conscience of a Liberal; Paul Krugman 17/02/2008
  3. Never Let Me Go; Kazuo Ishiguro 24/02/2008
  4. A Fine Balance; Rohinton Mistry 16/03/2008
  5. The Three Musketeers; Alexandre Dumas 21/03/2008
  6. River of Gods; Ian McDonald 28/03/2008
  7. Matter; Iain M. Banks 29/03/2008
  8. The Hustler & The Champ: Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats, and the Rivalry That Defined Pool; R. A. Dyer 15/04/2008
  9. Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler; L. Jon Wertheim 22/04/2008
  10. Into the Wild; Jon Krakauer 12/05/2008
  11. Shaman’s Crossing; Robin Hobb 14/05/2008
  12. American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America; Chris Hedges 17/05/2008
  13. Imperial Life in the Emerald City; Rajiv Chandrasekaran 19/05/2008
  14. The Possibility of an Island; Michel Houellebecq 26/05/2008
  15. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union; Michael Chabon 30/05/2008
  16. The Night Gardener; George Pelecanos 31/05/2008
  17. After Dark; Haruki Murakami 02/06/2008
  18. Are You Dave Gorman?; Dave Gorman, Danny Wallace 04/06/2008
  19. Join Me; Danny Wallace 05/06/2008
  20. Yes Man; Danny Wallace 07/06/2008
  21. Kiln People; David Brin 17/06/2008
  22. The Janissary Tree; Jason Goodwin 24/06/2008
  23. The Blade Itself; Joe Abercrombie 25/06/2008
  24. Forest Mage; Robin Hobb 27/06/2008
  25. A Question of Blood; Ian Rankin 30/06/2008
  26. Fleshmarket Close; Ian Rankin 02/07/2008
  27. The Snake Stone; Jason Goodwin; 08/07/2008
  28. The Naming of the Dead; Ian Rankin 18/07/2008
  29. Before They Are Hanged; Joe Abercrombie 19/07/2008
  30. Renegade’s Magic; Robin Hobb 21/07/2008
  31. Storm Front; Jim Butcher 24/07/2008
  32. The Forever War; Joe Haldeman 26/07/2008
  33. The Lies of Locke Lamora; Scott Lynch 27/07/2008
  34. Red Seas Under Red Skies; Scott Lynch 02/08/2008
  35. The Name of the Wind; Patrick Rothfuss 03/08/2008
  36. Throne of Jade; Naomi Novik 04/08/2008
  37. The Pastel City; M. John Harrison 04/08/2008
  38. A Storm of Wings; M. John Harrison 05/08/2008
  39. In Viriconium; M. John Harrison 06/08/2008
  40. Viriconium Nights; M. John Harrison 06/08/2008
  41. Rainbows End; Vernor Vinge 10/08/2008
  42. Exit Music; Ian Rankin 11/08/2008
  43. Devices and Desires; K. J. Parker 13/08/2008
  44. The Road; Cormac McCarthy 15/08/2008
  45. Evil for Evil; K. J. Parker 16/08/2008
  46. The Bourne Identity; Robert Ludlum 17/08/2008
  47. The Body Has a Mind of its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better; Sandra Blakeslee, Matthew Blakeslee 23/08/2008
  48. The One Kingdom; Sean Russell 02/09/2008
  49. Blink; Malcolm Gladwell 06/09/2008
  50. Mr. Dynamite; Meredith Brosnan 10/09/2008
  51. Last Argument of Kings; Joe Abercrombie 12/09/2008
  52. Anathem; Neal Stephenson 25/09/2008
  53. Toll the Hounds; Steven Erikson 28/09/2008
  54. The Escapement; K. J. Parker 04/10/2008
  55. Winterbirth; Brian Ruckley 06/10/2008
  56. Child 44; Tom Rob Smith 10/10/2008
  57. Bloodheir; Brian Ruckley 11/10/2008
  58. Sweet: An Eight-Ball Odyssey; Heather Byer 15/10/2008
  59. Nova Swing; M. John Harrison 25/10/2008
  60. Twenty Years After; Alexandre Dumas 28/11/2008
  61. The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty; David Harris 29/11/2008
  62. Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently; Gregory Berns 07/12/2008
  63. The Left Stuff: How the Left-Handed Have Survived and Thrived in a Right-Handed World; Melissa Roth 08/12/2008
  64. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men; David Foster Wallace 11/12/2008
  65. Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion; David Sirlin 11/12/2008
  66. The White Tiger; Aravind Adiga 12/12/2008
  67. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America; Erik Larson 14/12/2008
  68. Playing Off the Rail: A Pool Hustler’s Journey; David McCumber 15/12/2008
  69. Motherless Brooklyn; Jonathan Lethem 17/12/2008
  70. The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators; Gordon Grice 18/12/2008
  71. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance; Joshua Waitzkin 21/12/2008
  72. Cosmicomics; Italo Calvino [translated by William Weaver] 23/12/2008
  73. The Keep; Jennifer Egan 24/12/2008
  74. The Manuscript; Michael Stephen Fuchs 25/12/2008
  75. The Last Colony; John Scalzi 26/12/2008

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