Thursday, January 01, 2009

My Year In Books

Traditionally on New Year's Day, I make a post looking back on the last year's worth of book-reading, and I see no reason to break with that tradition now. So here then, is the complete list of books I read in 2008. The grand total is 161, which seems quite respectable, even by my biblioholic standards. Given that number, though, it's a bit sobering to contemplate the fact that I started the year with 465 volumes on my unread pile and ended it with 453. And that's with the self-imposed (and more or less adhered-to) book-buying quota. My addiction, let me show you it!

I'll refrain from attempting to identify major trends in the year's reading, except to mention the obvious (to me, anyway) fact that I'm reading a lot more non-fiction than I used to. In fact, by the end of the year, the fiction/non-fiction ratio was pretty much one-to-one, with the two mainly alternating. Part of the reason for this is that I've been buying a lot more non-fiction, and at this point I literally have no more room for it on the unread non-fiction shelves, so I have to keep reading it, or I'll have nowhere to put it.

Despite my notorious inability to be decisive enough to feel comfortable making best-of lists of anything, I did sort of put together a "favorite books I read this year" list. It is, I should note, extremely subjective, being based more on personal interest and enjoyment than on any judgments about cultural importance or literary value. It's also to a large extent arbitrary, as there are lots of other books that could just as easily have made the cut, and if I were to draw up a list of honorable mentions, it would be several times as long. And I haven't even attempted to put them into any order except the order I read them in. But here we go...

Ten Favorite Books of 2008:

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: OK, I have to admit it. Even thinking about dead bodies creeps me out. I don't even attend funerals if I can avoid them, and you won't get me near an open casket. So I was reluctant to read this book even though I'd heard all about how cool and non-icky it was. Well, you know what? It's wonderful: well-written, thoughtful, compassionate, fascinating, and genuinely funny. I actually feel, if not better about death, at least much less squicked out by the subject than I did before reading this. I've also come to the conclusion that I actually very much like the idea of donating my body to science when I'm done with it. (If any of my next-of-kin are reading this, feel free to make a note!)

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Alan Grossman: I've never been a huge comic book geek, certainly not nearly as into the whole superhero genre as... well, as most people I know. But I do love seeing writers play around with superhero tropes in thoughtful and original ways, and this novel does a terrific job of that. It's impossible not to find the supervillain anti-hero both sympathetic and interesting.

Fray by Joss Whedon: Yes, it really has taken me this long to get around to reading this! Hey, I was late to discover Buffy in the first place, too. But it's a very good addition to the Buffy universe, capturing much of the sensibility of the TV show while still being very much its own story, with its own well-realized science fictional setting. I'm not entirely sure how it reconciles with the end of the series, continuity-wise, but I don't honestly care all that much.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin: It may be just me, but there's something unbelievably, incredibly cool about being able to trace your own evolutionary lineage. I kept constantly looking up from this book to gaze in fascination at my own hands, picturing where all those little bones had come from, and where, in other creatures, they had gone. Understanding evolution means understanding the ways in which you are connected to all other life on this amazing planet, and that's such a rich, uplifting, and satisfying thing.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon: A fairly lightweight, if slightly dark-ish comedy about a dysfunctional English family -- not really the sort of thing that usually grabs me and takes over my brain. But I was surprised how utterly absorbing I found it.

The Secret Life Of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman: A fascinating biography of a fascinating person who did some astonishing things.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Autobiography of a woman who grew up in various Muslim countries before emigrating to Holland, where she became involved in Dutch politics. It's an enthralling, informative, insightful, occasionally disturbing story, and it certainly helped open my eyes to the complexity of the Muslim world and the role of women in that world today.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: Coincidentally, another memoir of a woman growing up in a Muslim country (in this case Iran) and relocating to the West, this time in graphic novel format. This one, too, is highly moving and informative.

Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith: The cute, simple style of the artwork in this graphic novel gives a pretty good indication that this story will be funny and charming, but I wasn't at all expecting it to be as deep, nuanced, and downright epic as it was.

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama: Even when I don't entirely agree with him, this guy comes across as thoughtful, reasonable, intelligent, level-headed, and full of genuine integrity. He's making it very, very hard to hold onto my political cynicism, and, I must say, that's a really pleasant, if slightly scary, feeling.


  1. Cadaver: Duly noted. Would that be *Science Fiction*?

  2. Nah, I've devoted most of my life to that. The body can go to "science fact." :)

  3. I wrote a long comment, which blogger decided to eat. :(

    So I'll confine myself to suggesting that you might enjoy this:

  4. Bah! Stupid Blogger. :(

    That looks like an interesting book, though.

  5. She was a remarkable woman. Her book about her time in Paris I suspect would also be well worth reading. See: