Year in Read, 2008


® – Reread
Amazon link – General interest recommendation: if you like reading, you’ll like this book. There are other books on this list I liked that didn’t get linked only because I had complicated and uninteresting reasons for enjoying them.
* – Didn’t finish

My Kind of Place*, Susan Orlean,
Man of My Dreams®, Curtis Sittenfeld

Didn’t hold up as well the second time.

The Swimming Pool Library, Alan Hollinghurst

Earlier: Fan Fic.

Let’s Talk About Love, Carl Wilson

A funny, charming and honest look at Celion Dion. Those with in an interest in pop culture and French Canadian culture should look into it.

The Ghost Writer, Philip Roth

I heard the semi-sequel, Exit Ghost is supposed to be good, so I read this in preparation. Currently there are no Exit Ghosts on Amazon for a penny, so I can’t tell you how well the two books connect.

Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs, Chuck Klosterman

Well, at least someone’s stoned musings are getting published.

The Gift, Lewis Hyde
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Janet Malcolm

Earlier: The Impossible Education

Why Switzerland?, Jonathan Steinberg

Earlier: Why Switzerland? Why Switzerland!

The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer

This book never ends, but it’s good. If you like true crime and Mormons in shorter doses, I’d recommend In Cold Blood (not about Mormons) and Under The Banner of Heaven (about Mormons).
Earlier: One Raronauer Reads, Explained

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri

I can’t blog enough good things about this book.
Earlier: I Read It FirstFollow Your Dreams

Apex Hides the Hurt, Colson Whitehead

The main character in this book develops a toe infection that causes him to limp and sort of lose his mind. I didn’t really appreciate this book until I sprained my ankle and started going crazy myself.

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

When I went through my precious Albert Camus phase, I didn’t read this seminal essay. I think I was holding off until I was old enough to understand it. I’d recommend this book to anyone who gets satisfaction out finishing their laundry and to the people who don’t, because they should. There are few pleasures in life, and we must take them where we can.

Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy

Pop sociology, in the best sense of the demeaning phrase.

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, Stephen Koch

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, but in general, books on how to write depress me. I don’t like thinking about how there is a market for how-to-write fiction books, but no market for fiction.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
A Clearing in the Distance, Witold Rybczynski

Note: Enjoying running in Prospect Park is not the same as having an interest in the life and times of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Birds of America, Lorrie Moore

After reading this book, I realized only like Lorrie Moore in the increments the New Yorker fiction departments sets.

Madame Bovary®, Gustav Flaubert

There’s a reason this is a Penguin Classic.

Portnoy’s Complaint®, Philip Roth

Have you read this? I mean lately? God, this book is one breath. And in a monologue, Roth creates scenes and characters all while maintaining this incredible energy. Perhaps I’m like fans of Birth of a Nation, who can overlook the inherent racism for the film making, but what’s a little casual misogyny compared with this kind of writing?

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao®, Junot Diaz

To learn how to write, you have to read. I’ve learned a lot from the books on this list, but Junot Diaz is a different matter. He’s obviously mastered the craft, but his writing is on such a higher level that he’s impossible to steal from.
Earlier: Brief and Wondrous Dreams, ‘Your Adoring Audience Is Clamoring For More Heavy-Handed Sarcastic Wit And Cynicism.’

No One Belongs Here More Than You., Miranda July

Makes a great gift for a precocious teenage lesbian. I read Stephanie Vaughn after Miranda July, but Vaughn published first, and I got the sense that Vaughn influenced July heavily. Personally, I like Miranda July better as a film maker than as a writer.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon

This is actually the only Chabon I like. Chabon should write more about the homosexual periods of his life and less about fictional Jewish settlements in Alaska.

Goodbye, Columbus®, Philip Roth

This novella is like the literary equivalent of The Wizard of Oz for me. As soon as I start it, I have to finish it.

Middlesex®, Jeffrey Eugenides

I liked this book more the second time I read it. I still think the ending is weak, but the characters, writing, story—it’s all the there. I bring up Eugenides with people from Michigan, and they never know him, which is sad because I don’t know any writer with more affection for Oakland County, Michigan.
Earlier: I Reread Books So You Don’t Have To Read At All

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami

Earlier: Running HighNot UntrueI’m So Vain, I Probably Think This Blog Post Is About Me, The New Yorker Knows My Body

Emperor’s Children, Claire Messud

Earlier: You Know That Book Everyone Was Talking About Two Years Ago? I Just Read It

Special Topics in Calamity Physics*, Marisha Pessl
Stop-Time*, Frank Conroy
The Hunters, Claire Messud
Fortress of Solitude®, Jonathan Lethem

When I read this book the first time, I had been to Brooklyn maybe twice. In the three years since I first read it, I’ve explored Boreum Hill, where the novel takes place. I thought this knowledge would give me extra insight into the book. It didn’t.

I also reread the book to see a fine example of memoir-novel. I finished the book certain that Jonathan Lethem gave a practice blowjob to his childhood best friend.

The Cutmouth Lady, Romy Ashby
Dora, Sigmund Freud

Not to be a jerk, but New Yorkers throw the theories of Sigmund Freud around as if they understand him by osmosis. It wasn’t until this year that I knew what id was, and I’m still working on ego and superego. Since I like participating in pop psychology conversations, I thought I’d read this book to have a better idea of what I was talking about. Someone very familiar with Freud’s work recommended this to me, saying “It’s Freud before he became Freud.” But I think Freud after he became Freud would have been better for me, or at least better for dinner party chatter.

The Last Life, Claire Messud
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld

I had a dream about Laura Bush where I tried to convince her to read American Wife. I liked this book a lot.
Earlier: American In-Law

Netherland, Joseph O’Neill

A friend of mine who didn’t like Oscar Wao didn’t like this book, either. And I can see why: they’re writing books, not story books. But if you like your sentences incredible, read this book.
Earlier: Cricket Writing

Low Life, Luc Sante

At times when I was reading this book, I wondered if Sante was just making facts up.

Sweet Talk, Stephanie Vaughn

I read this book for “Dog Heaven,” a story featured in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. Unfortunately, that was the best story in the collection. Related, I’d recommend the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, featuring the sonorous fiction editor Deborah Treisman and a writer reading his favorite work from the New Yorker archive, to anyone with an iPod and an interest in fiction.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch

My ideal non-fiction book involves lots of reporting on an important subject that’s easy to read. Other books in this category include Cold New World and Random Family. Reading about genocide is no party, but I’m glad I know more about Rwanda now. Gourevitch is an engaging, sensitive writer; people interested in the world should read this book.

While I was reading this book, some crazy person from my Birthright trip sent our group an email about someone criticizing the state of Israel and our “never again” promise. Gourevitch writes extensively about this “never again” claim. The genocide in Rwanda is proof that “never again” only refers to groups of Western social-political importance. When Jews say “never again,” they mean “never again for us,” which is fine, but “never again” is just factually incorrect; it already happened in Rwanda.

Lost Hearts In Italy, Andrea Lee

I read this book because I liked a story Lee published in the New Yorker this year and she was featured in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast. For me, this book had too many jumps in perspective and time, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Lee herself said that she prefers writing short stories, which is a nice coincidence because I like her short stories more. That said, once I started this slender book, I was eager to finish it.

A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, Alistair Horne
The Devil Problem: And Other True Stories, David Remnick

Previously read: 2007, 2006