Best Books of 2008

For the first time ever I did a tally of the books I’ve read this year. So far I’ve read 97, so I think it’s reasonable to hope for 100 before we reach 2009. This made me think of traveling around the blog world last year and seeing people score almost double that quantity of books, and I have to say I wonder how on earth anyone manages to read, regularly, more than a book every 3 days. How do they go to work, and bring up children, and put meals on the table and have conversations, or go shopping? I’m a recluse who doesn’t do much housework so it is a complete mystery to me. Please, if there’s a secret to it, I need to know.

Anyway, here are my selections for the year:

Best Literary Fiction
The Black Book – Orhan Pamuk
In A Hotel Garden – Gabriel Josipovici (I include GJ here because of what he achieves in terms of richness of meaning, but should point out that he is extremely accessible as a writer)
Highly Commended: Captain Starlight’s Apprentice – Kathryn Heyman

Best General Fiction
The Importance of Being Kennedy – Laurie Graham
Digging to America – Anne Tyler

Best Book by a New Author I’ll Be Looking Out For

The Dissident – Nell Freudenburger

Best Book I Liked That No One Else Seemed To
On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

Best Intelligent Comfort Reads
The Editor’s Wife – Clare Chambers
Family Happiness – Laurie Colwin
Hearts and Minds – Rosy Thornton

Best Modern Classic
The Chateau – William Maxwell

Best Crime/Thriller

Ghost – Robert Harris

Best Short Story Collection

All In Together Girls – Kate Sutherland

Best Poetry Collection
The Enchanted House – Beth Janzen

Best General Non-Fiction
Nothing To Be Frightened Of – Julian Barnes
Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints – Joan Acocella
Highly Commended: A Chance Meeting – Rachel Cohen (I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s brilliant)

Best Biography
The Silent Woman – Janet Malcolm
Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life – Clare Tomalin

Best Travel Writing
Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain – Michelle Morano

Best Completely Unclassifiable Book
The Orchard – Drusilla Modjeska

33 thoughts on “Best Books of 2008

  1. Hi Litlove

    I do read 2-4 books per week. I don’t have kids, but I am a lawyer which I think makes up for it. I take the train to work which is one hour round trip. Then I have an hour for lunch. I take my book to the gym and read while I workout of the cardio equipment. I don’t watch tv that much. I don’t play video games. Basically whereever I go I have a book in my purse.

    Also I read veryfast. Hope that helped.

  2. Oh I love reading these posts – ’cause you know it only means more books to add to my TBR list 🙂
    I think Hearts & Minds will also be going on my list. Such a charming read.

  3. I don’t know how people manage to read so many books either. I gave up working (paid that is) over 18 months ago and I still can’t read 100 books a year – this year’s total so far is 88, so no chance of getting to 100! Can I say that you’re not the only person to like On Chesil Beach because I did too? I also thoroughly enjoyed Hearts and Minds – a lovely book and I’d love another book Rosy Thornton for next year. Julian Barnes’ Nothing To Be Frightened Of has been on my wishlist since I first heard about it.

  4. This is a great list! I love Laurie Colwin. She’s been on my comfort read list for a long time. I liked On Chesil Beach, too, though not as much as I liked some of McEwan’s earlier books. More books to add to my list–thanks!

  5. All the papers and magazines have created their “best of 2008” lists, but I’m much more interested in what my fellow “normal” readers have to say!

    I’ve read several on your list – and I, too liked Chesil Beach. I listened to it on audiobook, actually.

    I’m printing out your list to take to the library with me 🙂

  6. Oh Litlove, thank you for this list. I just mentioned on my blog today that all of the best of lists (from the literary press) were making me tired and all seemed to be the same. Yours is a breath of fresh air!

  7. I’ve never read a 100 in a year either and it wasn’t so long ago (before blogging that is) that I read maybe 50 in a year! Still, there are readers who can consume massive amounts of literature and I’m not sure how they manage it either! Osmosis perhaps. I’ve yet to try that method and I don’t think it would be as fun. I have a few books waiting for me that are on your list and I think I need to write a few others down. I love your categories by the way (you read such a nice variety of books) and am glad to see Clare Chambers make the list! 🙂

  8. i love these categories…and now, of course, have to see the one that can’t be categorized! And as far as reading books goes, how many reading-blog hours sums to one book? –op

  9. I think 100 books is incredibly impressive. And if you add up the book reviews as well, I’m sure that it’s even more so. I also know that any list you recommend is dangerous because now I’m already thinking about On Chesil Beach, The Black Book, Josipovici and the others. I suppose it would also be fun to do a blog wrap-up of the year. Which of your own posts did you enjoy the most?

  10. First of all, to Anna, Emily and Vicky – yay! so glad to know you liked On Chesil Beach too! The last review I saw of it described it as ‘pernicious’, which does make me wonder about the depth of feeling it arouses in some readers.

    Dear Bloglily – thank you so much! I’m rather hoping your name might appear on my 2009 list…?

    Bluestocking – I think being a lawyer more than makes up for having children 🙂 But yes, I see that steady, fast, constant reading is the key. On a good week I can read three books, but I can’t maintain that speed constantly. Oh and I am still having trouble with your site, despite accessing it from my new netbook with is cookie-free etc. Not sure what to do!

    iliana – I love reading bloggers’ lists too! And so glad you might include the Rosy Thornton. It was unusual and a pleasure to read.

    Gentle Reader – I caved in last night and started Laurie Colwin’s Happy All The Time, which is shaping up as good as Perfect Happiness. She has just such a delightful voice – I love her. I quickly ordered two more secondhand copies of her books as I didn’t want to be without any to read on my shelves!

    Becca – aw, thank you, I feel so honoured! I like bloggers’ lists much, much more than the newspaper ones. Checking out lists by ‘celebrities’ in one of the papers I found several books that seemed unavailable or out of print. Grrr. Silly newspapers.

    Stefanie – thank you so much! I had a lot of fun going back over the whole year of blogs to remember what I’d read! It also had the added advantage of making me think about all the books I’d like to read next year, which was dangerous and yet pleasurable. I’d love to see a list of your best books, although I tremble in advance for my tbr pile! 🙂

    Danielle – Clare Chambers is such a cut above the rest. I love her books. Have you read Laurie Colwin? I think she’s like her in terms of being both amusing and insightful. So glad to know that you couldn’t do more reading either, as you are one of my model readers to emulate!

    Openpalm – now that is such a good question! I reckon I read about 90 mins a day on other blogs, so that would represent a significant chunk of a novel, wouldn’t it? Still, I do love blog reading too. And I adored The Orchard – definitely a book worth reading.

    Pete – you are so very kind. I would certainly urge you towards In a Hotel Garden, given your interest in empathy. It’s a brilliant commentary on that. And your last question is an excellent one – I’m planning on two more end of year posts: a review of the year in blogging and a look forward to the books I’d like to read in 2009. You have been warned! 🙂

  11. Thanks for this great list and vetting so many books for us. I looked the ones I hadn’t heard of up on Amazon and they sound great. Except, I have to admit, Chesil Beach. A friend gave it to me and I’ve picked it up and leafed through it a few times but it left me cold and bored. Maybe if I forced myself to read it I’d have a different reaction.

  12. What a fabulous list and I’m taking notes! There are several you mention that I would really like to read…so off to bookmooch and amazon I go.

  13. I manage to read between 50 and 70 books a year, so your 100 looks like an awful lot to me! I think I’d have time to read more if I set my mind to it, but I think my brain maxes out after a while, and I stop reading very well. Trying to read more might feel like a chore, and I don’t want to get obsessed with numbers, so … whatever! Numbers don’t matter! 🙂

    Great list — I’m particularly intrigued by the nonfiction you’ve got on there and would love to read the Barnes, Cohen, Morano, and Modjeska — they all look great!

  14. Honeypiehorse – (what a great name, btw) You don’t have to like the McEwan – you’re in the majority as far as I can see! And sometimes books just don’t land well at the right time. I’m so glad you like the list – do hope there’s some there that you’ll really enjoy. Verbivore – this time of year is just a menace to the tbr pile, right? But I admit I love reading other blogger’s lists. And I’d love to know what you make of any of the books on mine. Bkclubcare – thank you so much for dropping by! And I’m glad you liked On Chesil Beach. Do hope you enjoy some of the books on the list and I’ll be very interested to know what you think of them! Dorothy – I have no idea how you manage to get so much done with all your sports training. No way could I read a tenth of what I do if I had a triathalon to prepare for! And you’re quite right – reading can only be measured by pleasure, not by quantity. Andrew – lol! your comment cracked me up. I don’t watch tv either, so I agree that helps add a few hours to the total. You should blog, you know, if you are getting through 100 books + a year. Your book family is right here online. 🙂

  15. I enjoyed ‘On Chesil Beach’ once they got rid of the anachronistic errors (round about the third edition, I think) but those annoyed me considerably because they did undermine the whole premise and should have been spotted sooner. I know it isn’t possible to publish the perfect book, but slipshod editing is getting worse. I didn’t really fancy the Robert Harris, but if you felt it was that good then I shall add it to my list of books I’m ordering from the library and not reading! I wouldn’t dare add up how many book I’ve read this year. It wouldn’t come anywhere near a hundred.

  16. I’m nowhere near even 97 books (more like 70, I think I’ll find, when I finally tally them all), but I know the reason I don’t have so many is that I spend a lot of time online. And thanks for your list. Luckily, most of these, due to earlier posts from you, are already in my TBR tome. Rosie Thornton will be on my “favorites” list, too, when I post it. I was THRILLED recently to get an invitation from her to be her friend on She seemed happy that I loved Hearts and Minds so much.

  17. Ann – for a woman who is supposed to be resting and recuperating, you’ve had an extremely busy year! I didn’t notice any anachronisms in Chesil Beach, but then I wouldn’t – I expect his editor was younger than me and didn’t notice either, but you are right that publishing houses ought to do better. I’m not sure about you and the Robert Harris. I’d rather steer you towards William Maxwell, who is just a delight and would offer you many an enchanted hour. Emily – being online just eats up time, doesn’t it? I do sympathise. And Rosy is just a darling. I’m getting the hang of goodreads and quite enjoying it now. I adore ‘finding’ books with their little jpgs of their covers. It’s a sort of dangerous virtual possession to which I am happy to succumb!

  18. I don’t know how some bloggers do it either Lit love! Elaine at Random Jottings posted recently about being a “speed reader” and having read 200 books this year, and frankly I’m flabbergasted and slightly envious.

    I try not to worry about the quantity of books I’ve read (83 for the record), but rather the quality and if they give me new subjects of interest and authors to read and re-read.

    I’ve got many of your picks in my TBR pile, so am glad to hear they’re good. Of those I have read, I really liked On Chesil Beach and Digging to America, which certainly wasn’tthe case for everyone. The Orchid is of course, a favourite.

  19. This is a wonderful list. I also enjoyed Kate Sutherlands’ “All in together girls” and am glad you discovered it too! I like how you’ve classified your choices. So far this year I am at 176 books, a number which shocked me when I tallied it up. That’s about 50 more than my usual amount, but I think all the blogging this year inspired me. Also, I have no kids and spend nearly all my spare time reading; and I read very quickly.

  20. Sarah – yes, I saw that recently, too! Just amazing. But I do agree that reading should be measured in terms of pleasure, rather than quantity, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve read five books or five hundred in that respect. You’re right that the Anne Tyler got mixed reviews, but I have loved all her books in the past ten years or so, and much more than her earlier ones (with the exception of The Accidental Tourist). I must come and check your year end lists as our tastes sound very similar!

    Melanie – yay, another Kate Sutherland fan! That’s great. I’m extremely impressed by your year end totals. I do think (although it seems blatantly obvious) that speed of reading counts a lot. And I’m also completely in agreement that blogging is inspiring! 🙂

  21. I liked your list very much. For me, my best continuing author (an author I’ve read before 2008) is Alberto Moravia. I read three of his books in 2008 (Time of Indifference, The Conformist, and Contempt) and want to read more next year. My best newcomer for 2008 is Salley Vickers. I read two of her novels, Miss Garnet’s Angel and Another Side of You, in 2008. I would also like to give a very honorable mention to Irene Nemirovsky – the more of her old novels I read, the more I like her.

  22. I’ll have to check out some of your recommendations!

    I had 101 books last year, and this year I’ll have about 120 or so. I attribute the increase to listening to more audios while walking, driving, and doing housework.

    But, I think I’m at my saturation point. I don’t see accomplishing much more than that.

  23. Great list, Litlove! I see a few I’ll have to dig into. I have to second your pick on Kate’s short story collection and also Silent Woman. Both great. Happy New Year to you! Looking forward to wading into the blogosphere again.

  24. Pingback: Personal Deliberate Reading 2011 « Care's Online Book Club

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