Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favorite Reads of 2008

Since 2005, I've made a point of listing all the books I read. Why? I'm a compulsive list-making freak, that's why. I think the idea, initially, was to write little mini-reviews of each one, but, well... the idea never really got that far.
I'm pretty selective about my reading; the result is that I seldom wind up reading a book that you'd call downright shitty. Most of them are, at least, worth reading. I read about 40-50 books a year-- about half the number a couple of my friends read, about 3 times as many as some others. But it's not really about quantity, is it?
Here's my list of favorite books I read in 2008. Not really a break-out year for books that knocked me senseless, but there were a few.
'08's greatest find for me was George Saunders. Pastoralia, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, and The Brain-Dead Megaphone are, respectively, a short story collection, a children's book, and a collection of essays. But all three display a keen wit, a truly original voice, and a moving humanity. I look forward to more and more books from George Saunders.
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, I read on the recommendation of my friend Christian. I had complained about the lack of well-written SF, with sympathetic characters and something worth saying about humanity. Christian-- and Ender's Game-- proved me wrong. It's a terrific book with real emotional resonance.
The Black Mass of Brother Springer, by Charles Willeford, was one I'd read years ago and only recently managed to get my hands on again. Every bit as satirical, black, and funny as I'd remembered, and a big influence on my own work. True neo-noir, it was written in the late '50's, but was decades ahead of its time in terms of tone and subject matter.
Dark Passage, by David Goodis, is an excellent example of noir at its finest. A classic man-on-the-run story, as the hero, accused of murdering his wife, seeks the true killer while evading the police and others who would destroy him. A standard sort of scenario by now, but Goodis wrote with such energy and style, that the tension becomes enough to give you a goddamn nervous breakdown.
My absolute favorite of '08, though, is the one I was wrapping up just about a year ago today-- Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis. This one shook me. Ellis is a rare writer, one who is willing to tell the total, unpolished truth-- not just about his enviornment, his culture, but about himself. Lunar Park is deeply disturbing, anxious, funny, and brutal, and I loved it.
Some honorable mentions:
Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon
The Mulching of America, by Harry Crews
and the entirety of the Hard Case Crime line of paperbacks (some of which were duds, but more than you'd expect were honeys)
Psychotic Reactions & Carburator Dung, by Lester Bangs
God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens
When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, by George Carlin
The Universe Next Door, by Marcus Chown
That's it for 2008. May your '09 be filled with tons of great books!