Note: may not have actually been published in 2008, but was read by me in 2008. In order of preference . . . .
1. What is the What, Dave Eggers
2. Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
3. Sandspurs, Mark Lane
4. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
5. Are you there Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea, Chelsea Handler
6. Atonement, Ian McEwan
7. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
8. Skinny Bitch, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
9. The Double Blind, Chris Bohjalian
What is the What by Dave Eggers
I spent months telling everyone I know about this book. It truly affected me. It’s the story of a man whose family and village in Sudan were attacked by the murahaleen and rebel militias in a civil war in Africa. At the age of nine, Valentino is forced to flee after seeing his brothers, sisters, mother, father and neighbors brutally slaughtered. He along with all the other “lost boys” of Sudan travel hundreds of miles by foot pursued by militia, wild animals and threatened by hunger and exposure. It’s incredible that he and any of these young men lived. It’s astounding that he was sent to America as part of a refugee relocation effort. And it’s amazing that he told his story to Dave Eggers who then wrote the book in Valentino’s voice. This is not light reading. It is disturbing at times, but it left me feeling hopeful and inspired. A must read!
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
I haven’t read a book for teens since I was one. But I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s not so much a vampire story as a romance novel and something about it just sucks you in (no pun intended). It’s not exceptionally well written and, after spending the last 20 years reading adult fiction and non-fiction, the writing and story seemed overly simple. But what makes this a good read is the characters and the setting. Meyer does an excellent job creating full-bodied and distinct characters in an eerie setting that I found myself drawn to and thinking about long after I put the book down. And the movie, very true to the book, was delightful! I’ve already loaded the rest of the series into my Kindle for reading in 2009.
Sandspurs by Mark Lane
This collection of Florida newspaper columnist Mark Lane’s work is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read if you live in Florida, especially if you’re a Florida native. He gets right to the heart of what makes Florida unique – love it or hate it. And he conjures up the best of what Florida used to be – a state full of small towns, scenic roads, predictable but sometimes dangerous weather and all manner of quirky people, places and things.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I don’t often read books that become a part of Oprah’s book club, but I was intrigued by this book as soon as I heard about it. I picked it up (no small feat since it is 562 pages) before it was ordained by Oprah but after it became a critical favorite. The writing is exceptionally well done in a quiet, building sort of way. You can’t help but fall in love with Edgar, the deaf mute whom the story is about. It has everything a great American novel should – an underdog, a family secret, mystery, good guys and bad guys, tragedy and triumph. In addition, it features some amazing canine characters, probably the best written dog character I’ve experienced since reading The Dogs of Babel. It took me all summer to read this book, but it was easy to drift in and out of. If you’ve got the time, invest it in reading this book.
Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
After reading some pretty heavy stuff this year, I needed a mind-break. This book did the trick. It’s funny in a bawdy “No she didn’t!!!” kind of way. It was a favorite among my female friends. Very funny, sarcastic, and a quick read. Chelsea Handler is one of the best female comedians of our time.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
My grandmother gave me this book because she said she couldn’t understand what was going on in it after reading the first several chapters. It was difficult to get into and I admit, I skimmed a lot of it because it was overly long and descriptive. But it had a great payoff. I didn’t see the movie, so I can’t comment on that, but I really loved the ending of this book. However, if you want a neat, happy ending, this is not the book for you.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
I admit I only read this book because I’m interested in seeing the movie that’s now out with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. It was written in 1961 and the story is about a young, idealistic, passionate couple whose lives sputter and stall after they move to the suburbs in the 1950s. Think “Mad Men” combined with “Titanic.” I think doomed love must have been a theme for me this year (Twilight, Atonement, and to some degree Edgar Sawtelle), and this book is the poster child for that particular genre. The book's themes include the death of dreams, the dangers of apathy and the pitfalls of money and success. The bright light of the book is the character of April, whom I thoroughly enjoyed. A lonely woman who wakes up one morning, takes a look around and says “This is it? This is all there is to life?” Perhaps a feeling we can identify with on a bad day . . .or maybe any day.
Skinny Bitch by Rory Friedman and Kim Barnouin
This is Chelsea Handler meets Rachel Ray. Two bawdy, colorful super skinny chicks offer up advice on losing weight and living a healthier life in stark terms. “Duh, put down the donut bitch!” Funny and thought provoking.
The Double Blind by Chris Bohjalian
The only reason this made my list is because of the surprising twist at the end. I can usually see these things coming, but this ending truly startled and perplexed me. I had to go back through the book and re-read parts to figure out how I could have missed anticipating this ending. It’s written as an homage to the Great Gatsby. If you like mysteries, you’ll like this book.