Thursday, January 8, 2009

2008 Books: The Ten Mosts

Here are some books I enjoyed in 2008. I've listed 10 categories but over 20 books: anytime books get together in my house or on my computer, they multiply. Some titles are new, but most were published before 2008. The links will take you to their Amazon pages.

I read mostly for fun, though occasionally a serious book sneaks by my inner censor. I think you'll enjoy these, unless you're seriously committed to that kind of literary fiction where depressed characters relentlessly and interminably examine their inner states of being. I didn't include any of those.

I often choose books that friends recommend. Please let me know your Mosts!


Most significant: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Sprawling yet sensitive novel set in Nigeria during the Biafran revolution in the late 1960s. PW's starred review calls it "a dramatic, intelligent epic," characterizing it as "a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing."
Most surprising: Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth
It's an Oprah choice, but it's not depressing. It's a potboiler, but it's full of interesting historical detail about cathedral architecture, 12th-century English political and military struggles, and the daily life of common people in the high Middle Ages. Oh yes, and it's a page-turner.
Most hilariously (and intentionally) bad: Mark Schweizer, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Alto Wore Tweed, The Soprano Wore Falsettos
A friend got Mr Neff started on this series because the protagonist is organist/choirmaster at a St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. There the resemblance ends. If you are Episcopalian and have a juvenile sense of humor, you'll love these dreadful books, of which there are now at least six.
Most fun to read on the beach: Elizabeth Buchan, Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, Wives Behaving Badly, The Good Wife Strikes Back
Buchan's hen-lit is not as vindictive as it sounds. Her characters--British women of a certain age--have been hurt, but the emphasis is on how they put their lives back together. Pleasant and life-affirming with just the right touch of schadenfreude.
Most prolific and always my favorite author: Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, The Miracle at Speedy Motors, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, Love Over Scotland , The World According to Bertie
McCall Smith writes almost faster than I can read. These are from four series: Professor von Igelfeld, Isabel Dalhousie, 44 Scotland Street, and of course The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Three of the books were published in 2008. I was happy to learn that the 10th Mma Ramotswe book is due in April 2009: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.


Most significant: Peter Brown, The Body and Society
The reissue, with lengthy and important new introduction, of Brown's magisterial 1988 work. What did early Christian writers believe about the human body, especially about sex? And how could they be so different from us?
Most reassuring: Brian Kolodiejchuk, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
You don't have to read even half the book to get the point: Mother Teresa's life involved a whole lot more duty than rapture. Most of the time she didn't feel God's presence at all. Critics who confuse faith with feeling have suggested this means she was a fraud. Another interpretation: her fierce obedience shows that feelings are but a small part of real faith. I'm guessing I'm not alone in seeing this as good news.
Most disappointing: Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me
I like Norris, though perhaps not as devotedly as the 95% of first-time memoirists who write in their cover letters that their manuscripts are a lot like hers. This book should warn them that even Norris may not be as good as Norris. Here are interesting glimpses of her difficult marriage along with helpful thoughts about acedia (sloth), but I was hoping she would help cure me of acedia rather than induce even more of it.
Most good sense: Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. How hard can this be? A good (and quick) read for people who loved The Omnivore's Dilemma or who are feeling mildly guilty about the aftereffects of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Most fun: Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, Love by the Glass
She was a black Christian. He was a white Jew. Both were newspaper reporters. They fell in love with each other and, soon enough, with wine. But not just the drink--they love the role wine plays in enhancing everything from daily meals to marriage proposals. Nowadays they write the wine column, "Tastings," for the Wall Street Journal. This is their story. And if you want to meet them before reading it, click here.

1 comment:

Ashleigh Draft said...

Thanks for posting this! Our Grand Rapids book group is in the process of picking our next read, and your Michael Pollen endorsement is an asset to my personal campaign. Sorry to hear Acedia & Me was disappointing. "...Though perhaps not as devotedly as the 95% of first-time memoirists"? Hilarious!!