It’s time to look back at 2008 and choose my favorite and not so favorite reading experiences.
Top three novels:
- 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?
- 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!
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.