It’s time for the annual run-down of ‘the best’ I came across during 2008. This post will stick to the written word, first off with the best novels I read (regardless of when they were published), in the order I read them.
1. Darkmans – Nicola Barker (2007). A long and wild tale set in the south of England, where the past and the present intersect and interact in strange ways.
2. The Plot Against America – Philip Roth (2004). A fictionalized America where Charles Lindbergh becomes President, this book is so nicely controlled and subtle, about the ways that fear and suspicion can drag people down.
3. Your Face Tomorrow (vols. 1 & 2) – Javier Marias (2002/2004). Marias is a Spanish writer who’s spent time in England, who writes in a marvelously meandering way, and this story involves a man getting hired into a mysterious and eventually violent situation. I look forward to a translation of the third volume in 2009.
4. Lush Life – Richard Price (2008). A crime story of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, that sheds light on a large cast of characters inhabiting the diverse and changing neighborhood.
5. Anathem – Neal Stephenson (2008). Another long book from Stephenson, this time creating an entirely new world where he explores Platonic ideas and long-term thinking.
6. Memoirs of Hadrian – Marguerite Yourcenar (1954). A lovely work that seems to fully inhabit the world of Hadrian, Roman Emperor around 100 CE.
7. Church of the Dog – Kaya McLaren (2000/08). A first novel revised and re-published this year, it has a slightly magical quality, telling the stories of four characters on a ranch in eastern Oregon, each learning ways to open themselves up to the possibilities.
In the non-fiction realm, here are some highlights:
1. This is Your Brain on Music – Daniel Levitin (2006).
2. Picasso (vols. 2 & 3) – John Richardson (1996/2007). A thorough and insightful biography of a man both creative and superstitious, with huge appetites.
3. The Human Touch – Michael Frayn (2006). How human experience underlies so much of what we consider to be real and true.
4. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson (2003).
5. Beyond the Dream Syndicate – Branden Joseph (2008). Largely about LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad’s minimalistic and conceptual work of the early sixties, but generally about post-Cage art and the interesting characters involved.