A Dozen of 2008’s Best Books

December 15, 2008

alfredAlfred & Emily
By Doris Lessing
In this intriguing blend of novel and memoir, Doris Lessing combines aspects of her parents true lives in World War I England with an imagined world in which their paths took very different turns. Also, on this list of bests should be Ms. Lessing’s Stories.

mercyA Mercy
By Toni Morrison
While not always a convincing narrative, A Mercy is still a complex and powerful fable set in colonial America. Ms. Morrison once again shows that she is one of America’s finest writers.

book-coverBetween the Deep Blue Sea and Me
By Lurline McGregor
How does heritage impact one’s life? This is the primary question behind Lurline McGregor’s debut novel. Responsibilities to past, present and future are explored in the absorbing Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me.

By Tim Winton
Seemingly a novel about surfing, Breath is a haunting coming-of-age story. Tim Winton blends his talent for beautiful prose with a tale of youthful fervor and fear – and learning to live with both.

a-case-of-exploding-mangoesA Case of Exploding Mangos

By Mohammed Hanif
In this extremely timely satirical novel, Mohammed Hanif uses his biting wit to illuminate the complex events of modern-day Pakistan (and, yes Virginia, it is funny).

By Justine Picardie
Okay, I’m a geek, but I loved this story of Daphne du Maurier and her obsession with the Brontës (especially Brontë brother Bramwell). Daphne sucked me in with its twisting tale within a tale storyline.

godGod and Gold
By Walter Russel Mead
In this compelling look at the spread of a common English-speaking culture, God and Gold argues that the United States is the logical successor of Great Britain’s empire building. While the connections are sometimes a little murky (or missing), Mead rationalizes the rise of the Anglo-Americans.

irregThe Irregulars
By Jennet Conant
The Irregulars is a fascinating telling of kids book author Roald Dahl’s life before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach when he lived the clandestine life of a spy. Perhaps not the most historically relevant story, it is nonetheless entertaining.

northernThe Northern Clemency
By Philip Hensher
Booker Prize finalist Philip Hensher has a way with language that shines through in this well told tale of English family life. The Northern Clemency combines an impressive ability to animate both characters and settings with a skilled comic timing to craft an immensely satisfying narrative.

not-quiteNot Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
By Rachel Fershleiser
Compiled from submissions to SMITH magazine, which asked readers to send in six-word memoirs. From “most successful accomplishments based on spite” to “found true love, married someone else,” these snippets give fleeting insights into how people see themselves and those around them. Too bad, I can’t write a six-word synopsis.

unaccustomed_earthUnaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth is a stunning collection of stories. Ms. Lahiri hauntingly illuminates both the ties that bind families together and the rituals that doom them to isolation. Her masterful portrayal of cultural and generational chasms provides a definite “must read.”

ft_vowellThe Wordy Shipmates
By Sarah Vowell
Another nod to my inner geek, Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates makes the list of top books of 2008. An amusing concoction of pilgrim history and pop culture, The Wordy Shipmates definitely entertains.


  1. Thanks for some great suggestions. More wonderful books to read once the holidays are over!

  2. Great list. Dont agree with you about A Mercy. I think it was the best book of the year.

  3. I have to read Exploding Mangoes and Between Deep Blue Sea. Thanks Aloha Aina.

  4. You missed THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE: A NOVEL, by David Wroblewski, This ranks with the very best of them.

  5. Unaccustomed Earth is the best book I’ve read in years! Extraordinary in every way. I too am sorry you excluded “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.” Otherwise, a fine list.

  6. I’m disappointed that Unaccustomed Earth made it on to the list.

    While it’s good book, it’s not great: the stories are all virtually identical and are uniformly depressing. In the end a beautifully written but unimaginative collection that makes you just a little more unhappy for having read it.

    I can have the same experience looking at my stock portfolio. Why pay for it in a book?

  7. Thansk for a great list – where’s the best CD list

  8. Some intriguing picks and I’m excited to read several like Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me. Loved Northern Clemency. My vote for best of the year. Mahalo for including Breath. Big fan of Tim Winton.

  9. My best book for the year is “Eat Me: the Food and Philosphy of Kenny Shopsin”

  10. 1. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski
    2. Lush Life – Richard Price
    3. The English Major – Jim Harrison
    4. The Road Home – Rose Tremain
    5. Wyoming Stories 3 – Annie Proulx
    6. Friendly Fire – A.B. Yehoshua
    7. Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
    8. In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan
    9. The End of Food – Paul Roberts
    10. The World Without Us – Alan Weisman

  11. I’m surprised no one mentioned Shadow Ground by Peter Mathiessen. That was my favorite book this year. Also, Between the Deep Blue Sea was a good read, but was it really one of the 10 best of the year?

  12. Seriously, no “Beautiful Children”?

  13. I think Lush Life should have been on there.

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