Posted by: chartroose | January 9, 2009

2008 Reading Roundup

It’s time to look back at 2008 and choose my favorite and not so favorite reading experiences.

Top three novels:

  1. A Handful of Dust — Evelyn Waugh could write, and I mean write.  I was very impressed with this novel, and the funny thing is that, as a rule, I’m not particularly fond of British upper-crusty gentry novels.  Waugh is the best storyteller of this year’s bunch.  Doesn’t it seem odd that my favorite novel would also be the oldest one I’ve read this year?
  2. Popular Music from Vittula — This barely beat out my number three pick, but I chose it because I think Mikael Niemi is such a fantastic writer.  Niemi is a superstar in Sweden and Finland, and his book continues to be near the top of the publishing charts in that region of the world.  He’s the Jo Rowling of the Norwegian set.  I need to reread this one!
  3. Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro is my hero.  He wrote this prophetic novel which is so much more frightening than your typical genre horror fare because the story could so easily become reality.  It gave me the shivers then, and thinking about it gives me the shivers now.

Best “Feel Good” Novels

  • To Serve Them All My Days — This was the coziest of all my reads, and I enjoyed it so much that I even bought the Masterpiece Theater series to watch afterwards.  Delderfield’s novel is a huge tome, but I whizzed through it and wished it were even longer.  Longing for more is the mark of a good book! 
  • The Whistling Season — I immediately became immersed in this coming-of-age novel set in early 20th century Montana.  I’ll try to read another Doig novel this year.

Most Surprising Find

  • Now is the Hour — This was the first homosexual novel I’ve ever read, and I was impressed by the writing skill of  Tom Spanbauer.  The story moved me and opened my eyes to the plight of gay men during those years before homosexuality became trendy (and stupidly stereotyped).

Biggest Disappointments

  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle — It droned on and on and on, and I don’t know why I bothered to finish it.  It received such good reviews that I was expecting Rembrandt and was disappointed when all I got was Norman Rockwell.  Blah!
  • Goodbye, Lemon — Lemon was the operative word in this case.  I think Adam Davies was trying so had to impress the reader with his pithy way with words that the story became completely and irrevocably lost.  And the ending, oh. my. God!  It was the worst ending of any novel I’ve read all year.
  • Charity Girl — Ridiculously plotted novel of a young woman’s fall from grace during WWI.  What could have been a fascinating story of the opression of women during the war years turned into mindless, melodramatic drivel instead.  Some men are adept at writing good female characters.  Michael Lowenthal is not one of them.

Honorable Mention

  • Watch me Disappear — Jill Dawson wrote a creepy and insightful coming of age mystery about memory and how things are often not what they seem.  This would be #4 on my top novels of the year list.
  • The Pale Blue Eye  — I’m a big Louis Bayard fan, and this mystery featuring Edgar Allan Poe was entertaining and impeccably written.
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames — More snarky David Sedaris humor.  This time, the subject was Mr. Sedaris’ several midlife crises and increasingly misanthropic attitudes about society.

That’s it!  Most of the other novels were just kind of there, I guess.  I believe that there are definitely more “meh” novels written than either good or bad ones.  Because of this, I normally end up feeling vaguely dissatisfied with my overall reading experience at the end of the year.  How about you?

P.S., I enjoyed Popular Music from Vittula so much that I bought a couple of copies:  one for myself, and one to give away.  If you’d like to read this, leave a comment below.  I’ll choose the recipient on Wednesday, January 14th. 

P.S.S.,  If you have not yet received the prizes you won last month, it’s because I haven’t sent them yet.  My apologies for being so lax.  I’ll be sending them off after work this evening.



  1. ==>Doesn’t it seem odd that my favorite novel would also be the oldest one I’ve read this year?

    No, not really!

    I will have to host a personal mini-challenge to read Watch Me Disappear with We Disappear. I’ll tack on to my Chartroose challenge.

    I was really hoping to get to Remains of the Day before Feb but I’ve not been reading up to my usual speed of late and have 4 books in queue bugging me to hurry up.

    PS I would love to win Popular Music from Vittula.

  2. Of all the books you listed, good and bad, the only one I’ve “read” is When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I say “read” because I actually listened to it. I need to check out some of your recommendations.

  3. After your rave review I’ve added it to my TBR list. Please enter me in the giveaway. Thank you!

  4. What a great best of list! 🙂 I’ve got Evelyn Waugh in my sights for this year…right now I’m thinking about Decline and Fall but maybe I’ll switch.

  5. I added Popular Music…to my wishlist right away! That one sounds great. And ditto on Edgar Sawtelle. At least you made it through the book :/ I quit after about 30 pages. It was just dragging waaaaay too much. I read one review that says it picks up in the last 200 pages. Sorry, but I’m not reading 400 pages to see when it picks up. And I loved Engulfed in Flames too! Sedaris could publish a new book every month and I’d read it!

  6. I’ve had the Vittula book on my list since your review a while back – I’d love to win it! 🙂

  7. Yes, I definitely had a “meh” type of year in terms of my reading. Most of what I read was just average, or just slightly better than average. I haven’t read any that you mentioned here, but just picked up “Never Let Me Go” this week.

  8. I have yet to read an Oprah’s Book Club book that I enjoyed. I ought to just give it up. Sawtelle was no different – I didn’t like it either.

    On the plus side, I see you have Mister Pip in your waiting line and I’ve heard some really great things about that read!

  9. I really liked Handful of Dust too. Maybe it’s the lack of expectation?

    Homosexuality has been stupidly stereotyped long before it was trendy. In fact, stupidly stereotyped might be two words that belong together.

  10. I wonder what I should do with my copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I received as a Christmas gift.

  11. Thanks for some good recommendations. I’ve been wanting to read a book by Evelyn Waugh.

  12. I’m going to move A Handful Of Dust closer to the top of Mt. TBR.

  13. I’ve read one of your top 3 – Never Let Me Go – and was blown away by the writing. It appeared so simple, but the ideas behind the words were incredibly powerful.

    Anyways, I’m adding your other 2 top picks to my reading list right away. I’ve never read Waugh and Vittula sounds really interesting.

    I’m also intensely jealous that you’ve read Watch Me Disappear! I cannot find that book anywhere around here 😛

  14. I have Popular Music on my wishlist as well; please toss my name into the draw. I’ve heard of many of the books on your list but I haven’t read a single one!

  15. Never Let Me Go just rocked my socks right off.
    I love this list. A bunch of these are going on my TBR list.
    Put my name into the draw too please 😀
    Edgar Sawtelle sucks eh? I was wanting to read it but have heard that from most people who’ve reviewed it.
    I think it’s because the cover appeals to me.
    And I think that’s my bookish resolution of the year, no more judging books by their covers!!!

  16. Never Let Me Go was my first book of 2009. I’ve already read a second book by Ishiguro. I think he’s a friggin genius. His books always end too quickly. Must re-read!

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