I can honestly say that 2008, despite what I’d hoped for at the end of 2007, was not my best reading year. Oh, sure, I read my fair share of things, but most of it was studies related. In terms of the books I did pick up outside of class, there’s not a lot. Even so, I managed to find ten books from 2008 that I liked enough to put on my list.
Well…technically it’s seven books, a play, an essay, and a short story. But why get specific?
10 – LORD OF SNOW AND SHADOWS (Sarah Ash): I wrote quite a long review for Lord of Snow and Shadows once I’d finished it. For that, you can go back just a little ways in my archive, but for a more general overview, I’ll say this: Of the three novels in this series, I did enjoy this one quite a bit. It could have been a standalone, if the author had wanted it that way (though I can see why she wouldn’t, what with having so much else to write about the characters), and I appreciate it both for that and for the jumping point it gives for the next two novels. And while the story actually involves multiple countries, it still feels contained enough that I’m not overextending myself in an attempt to keep the events straight. While, perhaps, not the best book I read in 2008, it was still pretty enjoyable, and I do have plans to purchase books by Sarah Ash in the future (which reminds me, I would really get busy ordering my copy of Tracing the Shadow). [Read the Review]
9 – LUST, CAUTION (Eileen Chang): Technically a short story that takes place in China in the 1920’s, Lust, caution is one of those stories that you really need to read twice to fully appreciate. It’s subtle and gradual, though the length of the text is short. The descriptions are vivid and sensual. You can smell the smokiness of a room and see the shine of a large diamond on a woman’s small hand. There’s an incredible amount of detail packed into a tiny space. And the emotional impact – I can’t begin to describe it adequately. Eileen Chang does an amazing job with this story, and I’m happy to have stumbled on it. [Read the Review]
8 – STORM FRONT (Jim Butcher): I started reading The Dresden Files series at the tail end of 2008. Turns out they’re exactly the kind of reading I need to untangle my brain from the jumbled mass it becomes at the end of each semester. Harry Dresden, Wizard, based in Chicago and doing the occasional job for the Special Investigations section of the Chicago police. I have to say, I love this character. He’s determined, he’s fallible, sometimes he fails to be as good as he might like, and just because you’ve fired him doesn’t mean he’s out of the game (arrests notwithstanding). I’m glad that Butcher is good at holding back the revelations about Harry’s background. Some authors would have revealed it all in the first book or two, but Butcher leaves breadcrumbs instead. It leaves me wanting to know more about Harry, which keeps me picking up the next novel and the next. Also, I like Karrin Murphy. And Bob. And Harry’s ginormous cat, Mister. I can’t help myself. The stories are pretty good, the reading is easy, and there’s lots of action. The Dresden books are great when you need something to read over a weekend.
7 – SNAKE AGENT (Liz Williams): Snake Agent has a lot in common with Storm Front in terms of readability. Easy stuff, not mind-boggling, but the story is good, the characters are fun, and there’s lots of supernatural business going on. Difference being, the mythology is Chinese rather than Western which, I think, gives it a pretty nice spin. Zhu Irzh is still my favorite character, and if the publishing company would get around to releasing the mass market of Precious Dragon, I would really appreciate it. [Read the Review]
6 – THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (H. G. Wells): Easily one of the most legitimately creepy books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. There was just so much happening in this story that was plain out wrong, and there were moments when I really wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue reading. Which just goes to show you how affecting this book can be. Also, don’t confuse this amazing book with the craptacular movie. Please.
5 – THE BEETLE (Richard Marsh): My Victorian instructor made fun of this book a lot. I don’t know why, but at least he was amusing when he did it. Regardless, I enjoyed this book. There were a lot of things that made me laugh, and there were a lot of things that made me cringe. Chapter three (I believe) when Robert Holt meets the creature — oh my heavens. I made faces I didn’t think I’d ever make while reading a book. That chapter completely squicked me out on some instinctual level. Nice job, Richard Marsh. In any case, The Beetle is pretty enjoyable if you like Victorian genre fiction about preternatural Egyptian forces with an undercurrent of racist Empire commentary.
4 – THE TIME MACHINE (H. G. Wells): I remember trying to read War of the Worlds back in the seventh grade. I never finished it, but that’s not so surprising. I wasn’t really able to appreciate what you would call “classical” literature until about five…wait…six?…years ago. Anyway, my point is, The Time Machine is the first Wells novel that I ever completed. Frankly, I was surprised. When I got into Victorian literature, I expected to read massive novels that might threaten to bury me under their weight. I didn’t expect something shorter than 200 pages with a succinct writing style that I really enjoyed. But The Time Machine was exactly that, and it easily bumped Wells into a slot as one of my preferred authors. I’m going to have to hunt down my copy of War of the Worlds and try it again. Or maybe buy a new one. I’m pretty sure the edition I had was abridged.
3 – RICHARD III (Shakespeare): My best friend once told me that, even though I didn’t have a huge interest in Shakespeare, I’d almost certainly love Richard III. Apparently, she knows me too well. Of all the Shakespeare I’ve read so far (a reasonable amount, I suppose, but certainly not everything) this is definitely my favorite of all the plays. For those not in the know, there’s politics, conspiracy, murder, seduction, and everything else you’d find in a modern blockbuster film, only done better. And when you consider the fact that I have this thing for really clever and classic villains, well, there you are. Also, as a side-note, the movie version with Ian McKellen, Annette, Benning, Robert Downey, Jr., etc was actually pretty interesting if you can forgive the one or two totally bizarre moments.
2 – IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS (Junichiro Tanizaki): This is not technically a book, either. It’s an essay, or what have you, but it’s high on my reading list because it struck me hard right from the start. In Praise of Shadows imagines Japanese aesthetics as they used to be — at least, according to Tanizaki’s position on the topic. It isn’t so much what he says in the essay that affected me so much as how he says it. The language he uses to describe his visuals were so vivid to me that I could imagine it all precisely, from the dim light of candles on lacquer to the subtle differences in skin tone between women at a party. Amazing. I’ve been trying to get my own copy of this essay since I read it. It’s been tougher than I would like, but I’m determined to have this essay as part of my collection.
1 – BREATH AND BONE (Carol Berg): That this book made my number one selection doesn’t surprise me in the least. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it spoiled me for the rest of the year. Not that I’d expect anything less from Carol Berg, who has been one of my favorite authors since 2003. The sequel to her previous book (which was on my Top Ten 2007), Flesh and Spirit, was all I’d hoped for and then some. Characters continued to progress, mysteries were explained, and, well…really cool stuff happened (“cool stuff” — that’s a literary term. Write it down). And, of course, it was all beautifully written. I couldn’t put it down — and I mean that. I lost a whole day reading it. It appeals to my innate desire for Something Greater, which I think is why I connected so well with the character Valen. Highly Recommended. [Read the Review]