Since August of 2002 I have been keeping a list of every book I've read for pleasure. This is quite a committment and every time I fill in a new book I'm sort of amazed that I've managed to keep the list up for over six years. Just look at how little time it took me to start regularly neglecting my blog - you should be suitably impressed.
Since starting my Master's program last fall my "pleasure book" time has significantly decreased. I do not list books I have to read for courses or research, even though I've read lots of fantastic books that way. My list is purely books I've read from cover to cover for enjoyment.
It's New Year's Eve and because I don't have any particularly exciting plans I decided I'd list my top picks of books. These were not necessarily books published in 2008, just ones I'd gotten around to reading this year.
Here we go! Is there a theme? Probably. I gravitated big-time towards non-fiction and graphic novels, but there are some other gems here too.
10. Missing Sarah by Maggie DeVries: http://tinyurl.com/7ywkdn
Maggie taught one of my courses this year. This is a sad, quiet memoir about a family coming to grips with losing a daughter and sister first to a life of drugs and prostitution, and then to Robert Pickton.
9. The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell: http://tinyurl.com/9znjrw
Predictable, maybe. But an amazingly readable, intelligent and entertaining insight into the human relationship with dogs.
8. Nul Points by Tim Moore: http://tinyurl.com/93zuhj
How much do I love Tim Moore. Le sigh. I don't think anyone's books have made me laugh so much - if you don't know Moore, look him up. He writes fantastically hilarious travel narratives, always with an provocative starting point. In Nul Points, he travels around Europe to catch up with those singers who have earned the dubious distinction of attaining a score of zero in the Eurovision song contest.
7. Suffer the Little Children by Donna Leon: http://tinyurl.com/75ejlu
Everyone likes a good mystery. Donna Leon's mysteries are good in many, many ways. Set in Venice, they center more around the frailties of human beings rather than psychological suspense or plot twists, but they still manage to be suspenseful and satisfying. They're always a treat, and this one is a fine example of her work.
6. Skim by Mariko Tamaki: http://tinyurl.com/72lvkf
A pitch perfect graphic novel in its depiction of 1990s high school setting; its understanding of teenage girlhood; and its emotional truths.
5. Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer: http://tinyurl.com/ayl8ox
Want to read about wacky religious sects? About magical goggles and golden plates? Want to feel relatively normal? Let's face it: we all do. This is your book.
4. Porcupine by Meg Tilly: http://tinyurl.com/993ojx
A simple story about a young girl coping with loss and upheaval - but, like Skim, it resonates perfectly.
3. American Born Chinese by Gene Yang: http://tinyurl.com/72u5e6
A rather complex graphic novel that brilliantly incorporates three distinct plot strands. Anyone who has felt like an outsider or awkward in their own skin will be drawn to this book. The ending is totally unexpected but deeply satisfying.
2. The Arrival by Shaun Tan: http://tinyurl.com/7pq4v3
Until about two days ago, this was going to be my Number 1 (see below). An astonishing, breathtaking book about the immigrant experience. I don't want to say more and ruin the surprise. Also, Shaun Tan is a Very Nice Man, and unlike many children's authors/illustrators, totally normal and not creepy or full of himself! (There, I said it. A lot of them are. Just saying.) I was lucky enough to chauffeur him to a speaking engagement in October which made me love this book even more.
So now that I have a personal investment in The Arrival, I feel just a little treacherous recommending something else as my top pick of 2008. But my heart cannot lie...
1. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: http://tinyurl.com/7j74ha
I only read this two days ago, so it barely squeaked in on my 2008 list. Go read it. Now. It is funny, heartbreaking, intellectual, heartwarming. I want to read it again and again. It is a gem. That is all I will say.