December 30, 2008

Best Books Read in 2008

Another Exceptional Year of Reading - From short stories to a murder mystery, Cynthia Crossen at WSJ runs down the best books she read in 2008.

Here's my list of books I read and enjoyed in 2008, in no particular order...

I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda (short stories) 
Really creative. Each story was very different and an enjoyable read. Though 1 person wrote this, no two stories were similar. Writing style, where the stories were based, everything was different. Quite an accomplishment from a young (low 30s, if I remember correctly) French author.
The Girl on the Fridge & The Nimrod Flipout  by Etgar Keret (short short stories)
Both of Egret's books are chock full of really creative shorts - some as short as 1 page, most 2-3 pages, and even the longest one is not more than 5-6 pages. But they all pack a punch and both books were thoroughly enjoyable.

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead edited by Jeffrey Eugenides  ... EXEMPLERARY collection of short stories. I will buy this book some day soon!
The Braindead Megaphone short stories by George Saunders (Saunders is fast becoming one of my top 5 best authors of recent times).
Yellow Medicine  Anthony Neil Smith  (Crime thriller - not a genre I read much of and so enjoyed this a lot though the ending was not satisfying. kept me going for long time and so I'd say I enjoyed the read)
Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief Stephen Alter (non-fiction; not majorly new news to someone like me who has been exposed to Bollywood but intersting behind the scenes stuff from making of the movie, Stephen (cousin of Tom Alter, the actor) travels with the Omkara crew during its making provides a good way for narration about Bollywood and its ways. The non-Omkara related "intro to Bollywood" was familiar to me but behind-the-scenes details (with which I am/was not familiar) delighted.

2 short novels...more like novellas...that I did read in 2008.

In Her Absence Antonio Munoz Molina

Conjugal Love Alberto Moravia
I don't write reviews well (some day I should attempt one) and no time now to write even a short summary of why I liked both of those novels but let me say this... both, even in translation, were very suited to my aesthetics and tastes and what I look for in good enjoyable reading - dissecting relationships in great prose like no others I have read recently!
Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters. 
Graphic novel - a poignant touching memoir about life with an HIV positive lover and her son; also HIV positive.

Faust in Copenhagen Gino Segre 
Abook on quantum physics (an area I like to read about though I am no physicist) or rather about quantum physicists and their work in the 1920s and 1930s.
Douglass and Lincoln Paul Kendrick (non-fiction) 
Biography of Frederic Douglass and Lincoln. 
The Haiku Anthology Cor Van Den Heuvel.
Have read this book of haikus earlier but this is one of those books that I need to buy for my personal collection as I love this collection. Even on re-reads (because one does not remember them after some months/years), many of the haikus in this collection delight like nothing else. I would almost put them in the "makes me happy" category but I think haikus and poetry, like music, is more a form of solace and refuge for me rather than happiness.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Finally, I read my 2nd Murakami book this year. Read the above book in August during and on the way back from Portland to see my sister.

At Large and At Small - Essays by Anne Fadiman
Had started the year with a great book (may have been a recommendation by Amit) and enjoyed the essays a lot.

Also, there are some books that I began this year and liked a lot but still did not complete reading. Some of them include:
Travels with Herodotus Ryszard Kapuscinski
The Art of Hunger Paul Auster (In recent years, I have become a big fan of Auster, like Saunders above, and have read many of his novels in years past. Early this year, I read about 40% of this book: non-fiction by him. Again, since I am a fan, I enjoyed his non-fiction too.)
Inner Workings J. M. Coetzee (Essays) and enjoyed a few of the essays but just about 25% of them.
The Complete Stories Franz Kafka (read only Judgement and re-read Metamorphosis)
Saturday Ian McEwan
Strange Pilgrims Gabriel Garcia Marquez (short stories)

I also read quite a few books on the art of fiction in the summer when i  took a 8 week course on creative writing. But not listing them all here as they were more utility books serving a purpose than fiction or non-fictions.

Note: The above is not a list of all books I read this year. Its only the fiction books that I really enjoyed. I think I read far more non-fiction than fiction typically but have not covered non-fiction in the above list (with one exception - the Douglass-Lincoln biography.) Also, I did not read my regular level of books this year because of many months in India dealing with a family crisis and also many hours/weeks/months spent on the internet after I lost my job -- reading and sending emails, job search, and generally fretting! :)

I wish I could have ended the year with a good book too.. but I think the last book I read before I came to India in mid-Dec (not read anything since) was Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, a book by a behavioral economist which I did not really enjoy!!
And so it goes.... 

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