booklit’s best of 2008
As the year ends with an unexpected reading slump, I know that I’m not going to get any new books written up before the end of the year, so feel that I can list my top ten reads for 2008.
Here are my picks from 2008’s reading, by year of inital publication. There’s no fixed criteria, other than that I enjoyed them or can’t get them out of my head – usually both.
- Doctor Glas, Hjalmar Söderberg (1905)
A Swedish classic that lets us into the unreliable mind of the eponymous doctor revealing, through the entries in his diary, a love triangle that leads to murder and deals with a number of issues that today, over a hundred years on, are still remarkably relevant.
- The Invention Of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares (1940)
A small slice of science fiction from Argentina, by a friend and collaborator of Jorge Luis Borges. Slight in page count, the book creates an intriguing mystery surrounding the strange inhabitants of an island the narrator, a fugitive from the law, has found himself on. For fans of the TV show Lost, this novel is a must-read, given the parallels in plot and its appearance in one episode.
- The Catcher In The Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)
The most famous novel from one of America’s most famous recluses. While I thought I may be late in discovering this novel, given that there was the underlying suspicion it’s best read at a more impressionable age, I was impressed by the strength of its narrator. Yes, he’s a whiny, spoilt brat, but it’s no reason not to enjoy the book.
- Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo (1955)
A fascinating and concise story from one of the Spanish language’s greatest writers. Even though he published next to nothing, Rulfo dared to play with structure and, in doing so, ushered in magical realism. The novel is told in a series of fleeting whispers that are, with a first read, disorientating and bewildering; and, on rereading, amazingly coherent, despite a seemingly scattered approasch to tense, perspective, and chronology.
- Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth (1959)
Having resolved to read the works of Philip Roth in order of publication, this first novel, more a novella, proved an enjoyable experience. An apprentice piece, to be sure, unhampered by Roth’s later alter-egos, but tightly structured and not without a fair share of emotion. It also comes with five short stories, a singular occurence in his fifty years of writing.
- Terra Amata, J.M.G. Le Clézio (1968)
This year’s Nobel laureate, having been rushed back into print, had me fascinated from start to finish in this novel about a man looking back at his life and realising all that he missed within it. It can be a touch overpowering at times but the sensory overload it provides is certainly memorable and the experimental style makes me keen to read more.
- Metropole, Ferenc Karinthy (1970)
A haunting novel, translated to English this year, that follows a linguist’s futile efforts to communicate with the people of a sprawling metropolis. Little reviewed at the time, it may yet take its place among the classics (Kafka’s The Trial and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four are suggested on the cover), and has recently been longlisted as one of Three Percent‘s Best Translated Books of 2008.
- 1933 Was A Bad Year, John Fante (1985)
There is a punchy humour to Fante’s prose that makes him a joy to read and in 1933 Was A Bad Year, he shows it off to great effect. Set in Depression-era America, it follows one boy’s coming of age, having to choose between the harsh realities of life and chasing a dream.
- The Death Of The Author, Gilbert Adair (1992)
As any reader of booklit knows, I’m a fan of Gilbert Adair and was over the moon to learn this book, so long out of print, was being given a new lease of life, thanks to Melville House‘s Contemporary Art of the Novella series. It didn’t disappoint – not only for its spoofing of academia and literary criticism, but because it provided one of the best twists-in-the-tale I’ll probably ever read.
- The Mirror In The Well, Micheline Aharonian Marcom (2008)
On the surface, it may seem like a stream of consciousness where every second word is designed to shock and offend, but dig underneath its sordid surface and there emerges a story that has Biblical echoes as well as the birth of the United States through immigration.
There are some notable mentions, mostly those I read but didn’t get around to posting about. I’m sad to say that, of those books, two would easily slot into my top ten, ousting both Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus and J.M.G. Le Clézio’s Terra Amata. These are Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, the latter even making a notional top three, alongside Adair’s The Death Of The Author and Söderberg’s Doctor Glas.
Now, with 2008 wrapped up, see you in 2009. Have a happy new year.
December 30, 2008