Books read in 2008
Here is my list of books read in the year 2008 – I loved keeping track of them last year and being able to remember more of what I read, so I’m going to try to stick with it this year as well.
1. Just Imagine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Whoa, trashy bodice-ripper – I’d read something else by her (can’t remember what now), and the librarian recommended some of her other books, so I thought I’d try this one, as an audiobook – not.a.good.idea. But I listened to it because I was in the car and worried about falling asleep, so… not recommended.
2. Love over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith. The third of the Scotland Street series, published serially (daily) in a Scottish Newspaper. I adore this series – it’s like lots of tiny little short stories, but they all meld together really well as the characters’ lives become more interconnected as the stories progress. I’m worried this will be the last one, but I hope not. I’m going to try some of his other series now, based on how much I love this series. Love.
3. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. I love all of AMS’s books that I’ve read so far, so I wanted to try another of his series. While I didn’t love this one quite as much as the Scotland Street books, it was still really fun and well written. It follows Isabel Dalhousie and her amateur sleuthing to find the cause of a man’s death. I’m definitely going to check into the second one in the series – Isabel is a fun protagonist.
4. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. This was a fun young adult book that I listened to as an audiobook. It chronicles the adventures of two 12-year-olds, Lina and Doon, as they try to find a way to help their city out of trouble. Lots of fun, and the kids live in a world where so many things that are common for us are foreign to them, and their discovery of those things are really great. I don’t think I’ll continue the series, based on what I’ve heard about the others, but this first one was really fun.
5. The Summer of my Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle. This was a really fun read, kinda like a lighter version of Between, Georgia, though there were heavier spots in the book. We learn about Natalie, a lawyer who ends up in the DA’s office in Macon, Georgia after a disastrous affair in her high-power law office in NYC. It is fun to watch her adjust to the south, and her new surroundings as she moves from being a paper-pushing low-level lawyer to serving as co-counsel on a capital murder case. I read it in a little over 24 hours, and I would look into her other books after reading this one.
6. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. Read for book club, and not something I would normally pick up myself. I definitely didn’t love it, though there were parts that were beautifully written, especially her descriptions of the landscape and animals in Africa. I disliked her very broad generalizations about entire people groups, and I really didn’t feel like I knew her any better at the end than at the beginning, which I would have expected from a memoir. (We all decided that she should have written a much more personal memoir with the scandalous history of her family and marriage and all that)
7. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. This one took me a while to get through (on audiobook), but I did enjoy it. There were parts that were more explicit than I expected (sexually, and some language), but overall it was worth the read. I liked her look into academia, especially as academics relate to beauty, and the pictures of family life over the course of time were really interesting, in a family completely different from mine.
8. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith. The second in the ‘Sunday Philosophy Club’ series by AMS. I enjoy his books quite a bit, but this one didn’t feel like it had a lot of substance. (Also, so far in the series, there has never been a meeting of this philosophy club – for the record) I’m just biding my time until his next Scotland Street book comes out.
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A really incredible young adult book (though long) about a young German girl who steals books. I have a hard time reading about Nazi Germany, and while this dealt with tough stuff (hiding Jews, Nazi recruitment tactics, etc), the story was told on a smaller scale. Definitely tough reading in parts, but really worth it. And I loved how he talked about words as if they were a physical part of this world, the way he would describe what someone said with a physical description of how those words would look in 3 dimensions. Oh, and the story is narrated by Death.
10. History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A re-read from last year for book club (my choice). I liked it even more the second time through (which I recall is how I figured it would go when I read it the first time), and was able to pick up on more of the details that make the story so rich this time. And it was a fantastic choice for book club discussion. Her work has often been compared with her husband’s writing, so I’m working on some of his books now (Jonathan Safran Foer).
11. The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud. Several of my friends have compared this book with On Beauty, which I read a month or two ago, and I think that’s a fair comparison to make. They’re both about academia (though slightly different kinds), and elitism, and the secret lives of families. I think I liked this one a bit better, though I think that’s more because I could relate to a couple of the characters more easily (especially Danielle). It’s quite long, and narrated from several perspectives, but I never really lost interest, despite reading it over a long period of time (I interrupted it several times with other books I had to read).
12. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I wanted to read this one after finding a lot of comparisons drawn between it and The History of Love (written by this author’s wife). They are both coming-of-age stories in a sense, both about a child/teen who is struggling with identity and purpose after the death of a parent, both with a somewhat convoluted plot that brings together many characters that wouldn’t normally be connected. Oscar is attempting to solve a mystery left behind by his father, who was killed in the Sept. 11 bombings. I really liked the way his narrations felt like it was a (very intelligent) pre-teen talking, and how honest he was about his irrational fears. There are also narrations by other people in his life, and the way they all come together is quite striking at the end.
13. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. A book club read, and not one that I would normally pick up myself, though I’d glad I read it. I didn’t love it, but I do feel like a more well-rounded Jane Eyre fan now. WSS is set up as a prequel to the events in Jane Eyre, creating the background for Bertha Cosway, the madwoman in the attic of Thornfield Hall, and her marriage to Mr. Rochester. It was short, and full of lots of symbolism, but I had a hard time with the style of writing (which isn’t all that surprising, given that the book is about a woman going mad), which sometimes felt very stream-of-consciousness-ish. Not one that I would probably read again, but I’m glad I’ve read it.
14. Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear. I’m running out of good audiobooks at the library that I haven’t read, and I picked this one up based just on the back synopsis. Interesting science-fiction-ish plot involving the idea of punctuated equilibrium in evolution, that there are large leaps forward in evolution of a species, rather than always being a very slow, gradual process. The science was really not that bad, which was surprising, and I’m considering reading the sequel eventually.
15. The 5th Horseman by James Patterson. Part of the Women’s Murder Club series that I’ve read a couple parts of. I will admit to liking James Patterson’s books, despite how uber-popular he is as trashy fiction, and the strong female characters of these books are fun. They are solving the mystery of a string of deaths in a hospital, while also tracking a serial killer who is killing young prostitutes and positioning them in stolen fancy cars. Not great literature, but a fun, quick read (or listen, as I did).
16. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. The eagerly anticipated (by me at least) second novel by Santos, and a sequel to her first book, Love Walked In, which I adored last year. This one was definitely not a let-down, and I would almost say I might have liked it even more than the first. (I can’t tell if that’s just because I’ve read it more recently though…) She has a true gift for story-telling, especially for getting character’s voices just right, as the story is told from many perspectives. This one had a bit more high drama (it felt that way, anyway), and several new characters. And I laughed quite a bit.
17. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I’ve tried to read Sedaris’s books before, and while I love his stuff on NPR, I could never do the books. So I tried an audiobook with him reading, and it was way better – somehow, his stuff isn’t all that funny to me unless he’s the one talking. The recording I listened to also had some live readings of some of the chapters when he was on stage somewhere, and those were actually even better, with the audience response. His humor is so self-deprecating that it’s hard not to laugh. I especially like the stuff early on about his childhood, though the later parts in France is also funny, having spent some time there.
18. The Prestige by Christopher Priest. This is the book that was the basis for the movie of the same name, which was excellent. The book was good, though slow in parts (they could move through those parts more quickly in the movie), and I’d kinda forgotten how creepy parts of the story were. Still, a good read, and especially for those who liked the movie. It definitely made me want to go watch the movie again.
19. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult. Her newest book, and one of the more controversial topics (for me, at least), about messianic prophecies and Jesus and faith. As with the majority of her books, you get the hear the story from several different perspectives (voices of the different characters), and I appreciated that especially with a story like this one, where people’s impression of what is true/right can be so different from my own frame of reference. Very interesting read.
20. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A book club book, and one I’d been wanting to read for a while anyway. About an eccentric wildly-popular author and the secrets that she has kept her whole life, until now. The story alternates between current day (not specified when exactly) and the author’s childhood, as she dictates her story to Margaret, an amateur biographer and our narrator. The story was captivating for me, and I finished the last 2/3 of the book is less than 2 days, rushing to find out how things would end up. And let me tell you, there is one heck of a twist at the end!
21. The 6th Target by James Patterson. A continuation in the Women’s Murder Club books. I wanted to see where the story would go after the 5th book, but I wasn’t as excited about this one as I have been about his books in the past. The pacing or something felt off, but it was nice to keep up with the characters.
22. The Know-it-all by AJ Jacobs. I first heard AJ on NPR several months ago, when his newest book was coming out. This one is an earlier book, and it was really fun to read. His goal was to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a year, and document what he was reading along the way. The chapters are organized into the letters of the alphabet – sometimes he gives his thoughts about certain entries (how the words are connected with something else he read, or why he though something was funny about they way they stated something), and sometimes he tells stories about how he tried to integrate his newly-found knowledge into his normal life (hilarity ensues). A really enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading the newest book.
23. Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin. A friend’s recommendation. Written in a style somewhat similar to The Princess Bride or that genre – mis-matched fairy tales and all that. Lots of fun puns, and plays on words, which make it quite funny to read. The first of a series of ‘myth adventures’ with the same core cast of characters.
24. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. I have really enjoyed all of her books so far, so I had high hopes for this one. And I have to say, I was a bit let-down, maybe because of those high expectations. She does do dark humor really well, and in this book, about a teenage girl who drowns in a suburban home’s swimming pool, it’s a bit too dark and not enough humor. I still wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, but it was just not nearly as good as Gods in Alabama.
25. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Ah yes, we have reached the vampire romance novels. Recommended by Kari, these are young adult books about the relationship between a 17 year old human girl and 100+ year old vampire (he’s frozen at age 17, for the record). They are fantastically dramatic, full of the overblown expressions that only teenagers can use, but remarkably clean and decent for kids to read (the author is Mormon, which I’m sure contributes to that). This first book covers Bella and Edward’s meeting in high school, and the crazy trouble they get into as they discover that Bella is in danger because of her association with the vampire clan.
26. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer. The second vampire romance, and this one delves into the friendship between Bella and Jacob, a childhood friend, once Edward decides that Bella would be safer/happier without him and leaves. Bella spends a good part of the first half of this book basically catatonic, but her relationship with Jacob eventually pulls her out of that and they get into some trouble of their own. Also, more drama.
27. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. The third vampire romance (most recently published), covering senior year for Bella and the conflicts between vampires and werewolves, and the forces pulling Bella into one world versus another. I’m not going to lie, I was completely hooked on these books from the first couple chapters, but this book is probably my least favorite. I don’t know if I can point to anything specific as to why that is though. But I know I am looking forward to the last book, set to be released in August.
28. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. This was a book club read, and so fantastic. I’m so glad for book club and reading some of these books that I’ve always thought about reading but never got around to actually reading. This is a really long book (though justifiably so), and I did have to speed through the last third to finish in time, but it was well worth the time. It was really amazing how all along the way, you learn lots of little things that in the end add up to making the ending really spectacular and more meaningful. Definitely recommended.
29. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. Recommended by Kari, and an interesting read. On the surface, its about the conflict between public education and religion (specifically sex ed), but it is much more about the characters involved in the debate/conflict. I enjoyed the book (its quite funny in places), but I didn’t connect very strongly with any particular character, which usually affects my lasting impression of the book on the whole.
30. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Another book club book, and this one was dreadful to read. It takes places in an unnamed city in India during the 1970s in the middle of a state emergency, and follows the lives of 4 major characters and how their paths cross and intertwine. There was some really interesting stuff about Indian culture at the time, but the book mainly felt like a very, very long series of horrible things happening to the main characters (I mean, seriously bad stuff), with no sense of redemption or hope at the end. Not recommended for general reading.
31. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers. I’ve read a couple Lord Peter mysteries, but I’ve been wanting to read the ‘love story’ quartet for a while and finally got around to it. This book covers the beginning of Peter’s love of Harriet Vane, who is on trial for the murder of her lover. Peter spends the book, of course, attempting to prove that she didn’t do it, and also attempting to convince Harriet to marry him (these two attempts go very differently). I lover Sayers’ writing and the relationship that develops between the two of them is fun and witty.
32. Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers. The second of the ‘love story’ quartet. Harriet discover the body of dead man on the shore while on a walking vacation, and Peter ends up being recruited in to help prove it was a murder and who done it. Peter is still attempting to convince Harriet to marry him, while she remains steadfastly opposed to doing so. Good banter.
33. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers. The third of the ‘love story’ quartet. This one takes place back at Harriet’s alma mater while she’s back for a reunion of sorts, where things are not going well as the school is being quietly terrorized by someone on the inside. This book is the turning point for Harriet and Peter’s relationship (its taken a while, something like 3-5 years from their first meeting), but it is worth the wait.
34. Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers. (I’m pretty sure I read books in between these and not in a row like this, but this is how they’re listed in goodreads, so I’m sticking with it) The final installment of the love story follows the two newlyweds on their honeymoon at a country house, which turns out to contain the body of the previous owner. I enjoyed the stuff about their relationship a lot in this one, which was bigger than the mystery, unlike the first three.
35. Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. One I’ve been wanting to read for a while (and at one point a book club contender), this is the story of a hermaphrodite initially raised as a girl (due to the fact that her condition was not detected at birth) and her transition into living as a male adult. The book spans quite a large time frame, going back to the grandparents in Greece, up through the parents settling in America and then Calliope’s (or Cal’s) story. It was really interesting, though the pacing felt really off to me, especially in the last 1/3 of the book – I felt like it peaked way too early, and then everything after felt anticlimactic.
36. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. The final installment of the vampire romance novels to which I’m addicted. Although there was a lot that happened early on in this one, the ending felt very…anticlimactic? Like we were expecting a lot more conflict, and it ended up with almost none. As Kari pointed out at some point, it seemed like Meyer just got too attached to the characters and couldn’t hurt them or have them make serious sacrifices, which were really necessary to make the book work. Still nice to have an ending and things resolved, if somewhat too easily.
37. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Another book club read. I liked this one, probably a bit more after the discussion (which is usual). Its the story of an asthmatic boy in the midwest during the 60s, as his family goes on a road trip to try to track down his older brother who is on the run from the law. The main character believes that his father can perform miracles, and that theme is present through the whole book, the possibility of the miraculous happening in our everyday lives.
38. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Also for book club (sad that these are the only books I seem to have time for anymore). A science fiction fantasy story about a battle school in space to train exceptionally bright children as battle commanders, and the fate of one particularly bright child named Ender. While this is not normally a genre I read, I enjoyed the story, especially as an audiobook, which is apparently how Card prefers his books to be delivered. There are a lot of interesting questions raised regarding the right to a childhood (innocence) and the ethics of battle and war. (Also, I think OSC is kind of a blow-hard, but he writes an interesting story)
39. The Shack by William Young. This book was making quite a splash in the Christian community, so I finally got it from the library – its about a father’s way of dealing with the traumatic death of his small daughter. In the course of the story, he meets ‘God’ in three ‘persons’, who help him deal with and explain what happened with his daughter. I didn’t love this one, mostly because of some unsettling things about the personification of God and the theological implications of some concepts in the book. But it was interesting from a psychological perspective, about dealing with unresolved trauma and what brings healing.
40. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier. After reading (and not loving) Chevelier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, I wanted to try something else by her to try – this book is about some teenagers who lived down the street from the poet and artist William Blake. While the story was not hugely plot-driven, it was an interesting picture of life at the time, from circus performers to revolutionaries.
41. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. A book club read, this is a story narrated by a 15-year old boy with Asberger’s syndrome (mild form of autism). When he sees his neighbor’s dog dead, he sets out to solve the crime, not knowing that what he discovers will change his view of the people around him and set him on a path he’s never taken before. Really interesting read, well-written, and a cool perspective from the narrator’s point of view.
42. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. This is a re-read from a couple years ago, but I adore Lauren Winner’s writings. She tells of her conversion from Judaism to Christianity, about the things that attracted her to Christ, and the things that are still difficult for her to give up. Its a wonderful conversion story, told very well and honestly.
43. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. Also a re-read from last year, this was a book club pick for this year. I really enjoyed the re-read, though I think a lot of the power of the book comes from the surprise of some of his arguments, and that surprise is lost a bit on the second time through. But we had a fantastic discussion that spun off of of the book discussion, and it was definitely worth the re-read.
44. The Other Side of the Sun by Madeleine L’Engle. I hadn’t realized until very recently how many of L’Engle’s adult books I’ve missed, so I’ve been attempting to catch up. This one tells the story of a family and house in the south during reconstruction, as a new bride attempts to integrate into a well-established family history. I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would, but like all of her books, it was well-written with memorable characters.
45. The Finishing School by Gail Godwin. I’ve loved the other Gail Godwin books I’ve read (Evensong and Father Melancholy’s Daughter), so I wanted to try another. This books is a coming-of-age story of a young girl under the devoted influence of an older woman. I didn’t really strongly connect with any of the characters, which kept me from really loving this book, but it was beautifully-written and full of interesting people.
46. When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton. This is an interesting story of a family in a very unusual situation – quite soon after Aaron and Madeline get married, Madeline suffers a severe brain injury, leaving her with the mental capacity of a young child. When Aaron remarries several years alter, Madeline remains with the family, but is ‘raised’ as a sibling to the new children. The story is told mostly from the perspective of one of those children, about growing up knowing and not knowing the truth about his family history. Very interesting, one that I just randomly picked up when I need an audiobook at the library.
47. A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L’Engle. I think I liked this one better than The Other Side of the Sun. It tells the story of a family as related by the matriarch (who is a college professor), and flips back and forth from various points in the past to the present day. I enjoyed the story and the characters, and the difficult issues about family relations and parentage.
48. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. This book is a fictionalization of several years of the life of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, during the time of his love affair with a woman named Mamah. It was quite moving in places, and very well-written, but I intensely disliked both of the major characters, which kept me from loving it. Also, the end is horrifically surprising (for those who don’t know the ending, which was kept fairly close to fact).
49. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This was a book club read, but I’d started it a few years ago, back when it first came out, and never got to finish it. Its a memoir that follows Jeannette’s extremely dysfunctional family through her growing up and into adulthood. It got a lot of press when it first came out, and we had a really good discussion from the book, talking about parenting and abuse cycles and mental illness and addiction and many other things that the book touches on. Very interesting insights into a family so different (luckily) than mine.
50. The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith. The third in the Isabel Dalhousie series by AMS – the first two were ok, I liked them all right. But this one was fantastic – Isabel is a fascinating character, and her life changes quite dramatically in this (and the next) book. His books always make me want to visit Edinburgh.
51. The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith. The fourth in the Isabel Dalhousie series – this one also has a lot of changes for Isabel, and I really enjoyed it.
52. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling. For my annual re-read of the series, mostly because I realized this year that I’ve only read book #7 once, which means that I missed a lot in my hurry to find out how things ended.
53. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. More re-reads. I’m actually trying to listen to as many of them as possible of audiobook, because I figure it will help me catch more small details that I may have missed in the past. Also because I :heart: Jim Dale’s voice.
54. The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith. The latest in the Scotland Street series, which is my absolute favorite. I love these characters, and reading a new book is like catching up with an old friend after an absence. I think the second book is still my favorite, but I really enjoyed this one (and still really want to go to Scotland!).
55. The Comforts of a Muddy Sunday by Alexander McCall Smith. The latest in the Isabel Dalhousie series. Also good, but I really loved the two before this one a bit more. Its fun to keep up with Isabel and see how her relationships change over the course of the series.
56. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling. For the re-read again. I adore this book. I think its my second favorite after Order of the Phoenix. I always forget when I’m reading how much got left out of the movie (which is still probably my favorite HP movie).
57. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling. Written as a kind of companion to HP, these are stories that wizarding children would have grown up with, like our fairy tales. It was cute, and I may buy it eventually to have the full set of Rowling/HP books, but nothing earth-shattering.
58. Paper Towns by John Green. I’ve really enjoyed Green’s books (Searching for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines), and I think this one might be my new favorite. Its about Q and his next-door neighbor Margo, and his search to find her after she disappears. But its really more about his search to find her, to find out who she really is, and to figure out how we really know anyone at all. Fantastic things to think about, for everyone but especially for his audience of young adults.
59. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. And thus continues my obsession with all things AMS this year. I’ve actually owned this book for a long time, but never got past the first chapter or two for various reasons – so I decided to give it another try over the holiday break, since I’ve exhausted almost all of his other series. And now, of course, I love this one too. His writing makes the characters so real and easy to relate too (even as a suburban, middle-class white girl relating to an older, African entrepreneur), and I enjoyed how this one felt a little like his serial novels (Scotland Street series) in that each case she solved felt like a little short story inside of a larger story through the whole book. Very enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
60. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling. Re-read. A lot of my friends claim this one as their favorite of the series, but I’ve never loved it all that much. I think its partly because I like hearing about their classes and what they’re learning, and we don’t get that much in this one. But I do probably like it a little more each time I re-read it.