Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Best of 2008: Fiction

How do I write this post? I've been avoiding it for almost a month now. Choosing my favorite books read this year has been a delightful challenge. I read some really good stuff.

I've taken my friend Jennifer's idea and decided to split this into three different posts: favorite fiction, favorite nonfiction, and favorite literature for young people. (This way, I can include more books and won't have to cut my list too ruthlessly.)

My absolute favorite of this year is actually not a choice. It's an "of course, what else would it be?" The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a wonder. If you haven't read it yet, you must. Now to the challenging picks....

Favorite Fiction

If The Book Thief belongs in a category all its own (Almighty Winner of 2008, perhaps?), then the first place prize for my favorite fiction books has to be split between these two:

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
I scooped these stories up like spoonfuls of ice cream. Well, no, not exactly like ice cream. They go down easy, but they aren't happy stories. Many of them are painful or melancholy, but she writes them so beautifully that they made me happy. I'd read one and then sit with it awhile. Lahiri shows exactly what a great storyteller can do.

The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe
My Uncle Charlie introduced me to this lovely novel. Again, the story is painful and melancholy, but the telling is gorgeous. I was so engrossed in this book that I dreamed of the characters and settings every night that I read it.

Second place for fiction goes to these three winners:

Hens Dancing by Rafaella Barker
Now, this one was a happy book. It's perhaps the book that made me laugh out loud the most this year, and for that it gets second place. It's written in a wonderful style with a great voice: Venetia is a hoot.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
I smiled my way through this novella. It's smart and funny and an absolute treat for a book lover.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
"A book that's fun to read, and that teaches you something" -- that's how this one was described at Conversation with Books this year, an annual event put on by my alma mater. I loved this very satisfying epistolary novel, and I expect I'll reread it someday. I borrowed Jennifer's copy, but I think I'll get the paperback when it comes out.

Honorable Mention:
The Girls by Lori Lansens
Conjoined twins?? Yes!
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Rightly a classic. I put it here, but it is often categorized as YA lit.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Stories of an important book -- a work of art -- and the people whose hands it passes through.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Historical mystery (before and after World War I in England); a great start to the series. I want to learn more about Maisie.
Donna Leon's Inspector Guido Brunetti mysteries
I love spending time in modern-day Venice with Brunetti (and his family). I read the first three this past year.


jennifer said...

Oh Caryl, I loved reading your "best of" list. It felt suspenseful, like when the winner's envelope is opened at the Academy Awards. Now, I'm even more curious about The Book Thief! And, I can't wait to read your next installment. Bravo!!

Michelle said...

I'm right with you on The Book Thief! Wonderful book.

I still have to get The Potato Peel Society from the library, too. Looking forward to that.

I love the palpable "Do I really have to choose" feel to your review. Isn't it just sooo hard sometimes?