Saturday, December 27, 2008

Top Books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly

I know this is a little bit of a cheat post, since I am simply repeating what I have read in EW, but I think it bears mentioning. I have found their reviews to be pretty spot on, and I use them to form my unachievable TBR list. I am embarrassed at how many of these I haven't read, but some of them did make my list. Since I have read very few, I will paraphrase EW's descriptions the best I can.


Fiction


#1. Say You're One of Them - Uwem Akpan. I have this on my list, but the wait for it at the library was quite long. This is a story collection by first-time Nigerian author, all revolving around unforgettable tales of suffering, bravery, the effect of urban poverty on the human soul. Although the stories are grim, they are also full of intelligence, wit and vibrancy, making it impossible not to empathize, and equally impossible to despair. Sounds like a downer, but I will trust them on this one!


#2. The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert
. Spoiled LA slacker with a doting father and self-absorbed mother lays around smoking pot and eating Cheerios and waits for her life to begin. She contracts terminal cancer, and what starts out as a novel with dark humor turns into a tragedy...one unlike any you've read before.


#3. Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout
. Linked stories that capture the ebb and flow of life in a small coastal Maine town. At the center of the stories is a retired schoolteacher who has taught her students life lessons that they carry with them forever, but at the same time she is frank, childish and resentful to her family members. This stout, impossible, wonderful woman is the year's most riveting fictional character. Not to be confused with Kit Kitteridge of American Girl, which is what I thought it was at first.


#4. Lush Life - Richard Price
. I did read this one via audio book, and I finished it within two days. This is a colorful, gritty, dense crime novel that takes us into the boiling melting pot of downtown New York. This is not a whodunit - we know the answer to that one. It is more of a street-level view of wannabe artists in a cafe society along with African-American kids coming of age in the housing projects next door.


#5. Bottomless Belly Button - Dash Shaw
. Cartoonist Shaw sketches the Looney family, whose parents are divorcing after decades of marriage. Shaw unspools the entertwined sagas - romance, neurosis, sexual awakening, and deadpan comedy that build to a bleak, haunting finale.


#6. The House on Fortune Street - Margot Livesey
. The lives of four men and women who come and go from a London flat are explored in Livesey's sixth novel. The common literary motif of families that are strangers to one another is affectingly dramatized in this extraordinary book.


#7. Disquiet - Julia Leigh
. A creepy, potent, moody novella whose characters are totally askew...a woman turns up at her estranged family's estate covered in bruises, her elderly mother lives in a bedroom strewn with raw chicken wings for her cats, a sister-in-law arrives with the corpse of a stillborn baby who is put to bed each night in the freezer. Huh?


#8. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski
. One of the best books I have read this year. Loosely modeled on the plot of Hamlet, a mute Edgar Sawtelle assists his parents in raising and training a special breed of dog. Everything is turned upside down when his mysterious uncle arrives, his father dies suddenly, and Edgar begins harboring suspicions and seeing ghosts. This novel haunted me long after I finished it.


#9. American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld
. About the inner life of a First Lady, who has a secret abortion, a lesbian grandmother, and doubt about her husband's ability to do his job. We are also treated with lively sex scenes and wicked caricatures of a political dynasty. I wonder who this could be a parody of?


#10. What Happened to Anna K. - Irina Reyn
. Reyn uses her talent and cojones to re-write Tolstoy's Anna Karenina into something more modern. Hmmm...


Non-Fiction


#1. Beautiful Boy - David Sheff
. Written by the father of a boy addicted to crystal meth, and is a statement about parental love and its limitations.


#2. Nixonland - Rick Peristein
. This book was on Stephen King's list as well. It is deemed an amusing analysis of Richard Nixon's pivotal role in contemporary American politics.


#3. The Forever War - Dexter Filkins
. War correspondent Filkins provides a harrowing backstory to his front-page reportage on Afghanistan and Iraq.


#4. Pictures at a Revolution - Mark Harris
. In this engrossing history, Harris uses stories of how five films nominated for 1967 Best Picture were made to chronicle changes in Hollywood and culture.


#5. The Bin Ladens - Steve Coll
. Coll approaches the catastrophe of 9/11 as one more crisis within a big, dysfunctional family.

10 comments:

C. B. James said...

I'm currently reading a Nigerian author, Adichie. Her book Half of a Yellow Sun is terrific so far. Nigeria may be the place to watch for good books.

Book Fiend said...

Thanks for posting this list! There are so many of these I've been meaning to get around to, and I just haven't...thanks for the reminder!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I intend to request "Say You're One of Them" again soon from the library...just trying to let the fervor die down. I look forward to hearing about yours, CB. Actually, I would like to get to most of the books on this list. Around my house, though, the holidays are not peaceful and quiet. I'm having to stay up late, get up early, and lock myself in the bathroom to get my reading done!

mattviews said...

Thanks for posting the list. Thank god it's not populated by Danielle Steel and James Patterson. I have only heard of 7, 8, and 10 in fiction---got all three in the pile. :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Right, thank goodness for small favors. If those did show up on the list, I think I might lose my faith in EW. Once in awhile, those books have a decent review, but rarely.

Literary Feline said...

I haven't read any of the books listed, but several of the fiction books are in my TBR collection waiting to be read or at least on my wish list. I guess that's a good thing. :-)

The first three books especially are ones I am looking forward to reading this next year.

Beth F said...

Just stopping by to tell you not to worry that I am no longer "following" you on Blogger. I've moved you to my Read & Review blog roll instead.

Happy New Year.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Thanks for telling me Beth! I would have figured I had offended you, or became boring!

mattviews said...

Any reading plan for 2009? I think I'll kick off with a lot of the non-fiction that I received for Christmas. The first book, however, would be Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago. It begins on New Year's Day. :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Plans? Hmmm...I should be so organized! There is an author local to the panhandle area where we vacation that I've been wanting to read...got a few of her books for Xmas. My goal is to get an interview with her in 2009. I have enlisted in a challenge to read all of the Outlander series, which I will do on audio and will most likely consume me. I think my first book to read in the new year, after I finish "Suite Francaise", will be a non-fiction about the Mondavi wine empire.