Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books and Cooks - Best Reads of 2008

I've read a lot of good books this year, but a book that lands on my Best Reads list has that extra something that I find hard to define. These books have touched me, and have stayed with me, some for nearly a year now. They have surprised and impressed me. They are not necessarily what the critics would call the best books, but they are the books that have affected me most deeply.

I don't allow myself to put books on my list that are re-reads. But if I did, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood would both be on there. Both are timeless classic books, one set in the past, the other in the future. Both show life that is harsh, one ends with hope, the other, I still haven't decided. (What do you think happened at the end of The Handmaid's Tale?)

Here are my favorite books of 2008. Links will take you to my original review.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak - Brilliantly creative storytelling, a story that touched my heart all wrapped up in a book I wasn't sure I wanted to read.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry - Set in India, terrible things happen in this book, every time you think the character's luck will change, things become worse. These characters were so alive for me, I still think about them, I still pick up this book and re-read the ending.

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor - At only 64 pages, this book packs a bigger punch that books 10 times its size. This 1938 book of letters that was originally published as a magazine article set during WW2 deserves the hour of your time it will take to read.

The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich - I was surprised to love this book that I read for bookclub. Unique characters and a compelling story put this book on my list.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser - I thought I knew a lot about our country's food supply, but it turns out I was wrong. If you need another reason to never touch fast food or commercially produced meat, read this. If you want to be horrified at how the fast food industry has impacted our entire food supply, read this. Terrific.

When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson - Atkinson outdid herself with this third installment of her Jackson Brodie series. I love how she manages her tightly controlled plots and at the same time writes memorable and brilliant characters.

Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd - I haven't forgotten Miss Ranskill these many months. Brilliantly republished by Persephone Books.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - I read this despite being one of 17 people who didn't adore The Kite Runner. Hosseini tells an important and moving story, it's easy to forget that he is a man writing these full and deep female characters.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran - A delightful surprise which charmed me to pieces.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson - A late addition here - it's not easy for December reads to make it onto this list, I like to let thoughts percolate a bit. This teen novel surprised and impressed me with its utterly unique story and compelling main character. Pearson's peeks into the future are thrilling and I couldn't stop thinking about this book and telling others about it.


The Best Book of the Year? I cannot choose one, but without any hesitation the two books that stand out the most for me, that were unforgettable and stunning were:

The Book Thief


A Fine Balance

Happily, my book club will be reading The Book Thief in November of 2009 so I'll have the chance to experience it all over again.

Happy New Year to all of you! I am so grateful for this community and for the opportunity to share my reading life with all of you. Cheers!


bermudaonion said...

I haven't read any of the books on your list. :( It looks like I need to do some exploring. Thanks for the great post.

Ti said...

Thank you for posting this. I am trying to decide which book to pitch for my book club's 2009 list (we pick for the entire year) and I think I may go with The Book Thief after reading your comments. I had it in mind but needed a little nudge.

Nan said...

I loved reading your list, Tara. I'm with you on the Taylor book.

Iliana said...

The Book Thief and A Fine Balance are indeed awesome. Those have become keepers for me.

Hope you have a wonderful New Year and here's to another great reading year Tara!

Anonymous said...

Most books I re-read would automatically go on my best of list as that's why I read them! I can understand that it's hard to exclude them.

I really enjoyed Pomegranate Soup, The Book Thief and When will there be good news? when I read them, so will look out for your other picks. I've been meaning to read Address Unknown and Erdrich for some time now, and A Fine Balance sounds good.

Literary Feline said...

Several of the books on your list are ones I've been wanting to read, especially The Book Thief and A Fine Balance. I had been hoping to get to The Book Thief before this year was out, but no such luck. Maybe next year. A Thousand Splendid Suns is another one I really want to read.

Have a Happy New Year!

J.L. Danger said...

you did great this year Tara! Happy 2009!

Anonymous said...

The Book Thief is on my list of books to get around to in 2009. It keeps disappearing in the TBR pile, though! Literally...I have no idea where it is right now.

Happy New Year and happy reading!

Lisa said...

The Book Thief is definitely one of my top reads for 2008. I have A Fine Balance on the shelves, so I guess I better get to that one soon. Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

I really will read THE BOOK THIEF this year. Les has been trying to get me to read it for a couple of years now. I absolutely loved A FINE BALANCE when I read it a long time ago. Might try it again this year. I agree that A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS was an important book. Think every woman should read it. My book club is doing A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN in April.

Bree said...

I haven't read any of these books either but have several on my wish list.

nutmeg said...

I think I will commit here in your comment box Tara, to read A Fine alance this year. It has been sitting on my shelf far too long. I too loved The Book Thief When I read it and I am in a quandary about what to do about When Will There Be Good News. I read the first in the series a while ago and cannot remember much about it and I don't know whether to start at the beginning again or just pick up the second and then the third?

And you know not to get me started on Fast Food Nation! Did you read Omnivore's Dilemma this year?

Tara said...

bermudaonion, really? Thanks for stopping by.

Ti, I'm really curious to see what my bookclub thinks of it, I think there will be much to discuss.

Nan, thanks Nan, and thanks to you for writing about the Taylor book or it wouldn't be here.

Iliana, I'm glad you agree! Happy new year to you, too.

adevotedreader, the ones I re-read were all for bookclub, but fortunately they were already favorites of mine. It sounds like we have similar taste! Address Unknown is great, and has minimal time commitment!

Literary Feline, both that you mention are great, I'd love to know what you thought of them. Happy New Year to you too!

J.Danger, Thanks! Happy New Year!

softdrink, it's really teriffic, I hope you like it.

Lisa, A Fine Balance is a terrific read, but terribly sad..just so you know.

Kay, hello! I was just thinking of you the other day. I think, no know!, that you'll love the Betty Smith book and I hope that you'll like The Book Thief - I resisted that one for so long, and am glad I gave in.

Bree, Happy New Year! Let me know if you try any of these!

Nutmeg, oh I hope you do read A Fine Balance and hope that you love it. This third one by Atkinson could be read alone, but benefits in some ways (mostly Jackson's back-story) from the first two. The second was my least favorite, though I think I should re-read it. I've read the first twice and have a better grasp of that one. I read The Omnivore's Dilemma in 2007 - it was my book of the year!

Cath said...

Happy New year to you, Tara! Very much with you on The Book Thief. Wonderful. And A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my favourite read of 2008. I've put The Handmaid's Tale right on the top of my tbr pile. I've never read it but feel it would be appropriate for Carl's sci fi experience. I also really want to read A Fine Balance.

Danielle said...

I really need to read A Fine Balance--I remember when you first posted on it. It's still on my list. Address Unknown sounds interesting, too! Happy reading in 2009--I look forward to hearing about more good books!

Ali said...

A friend loaned me her copy of A Fine Balance and I have yet to get past page 3. The first 3 pages were very good, LOL. I'm sure I will read it but it's hard for me to jump into a book knowing it's sad, and I keep hearing that from everyone (my friend who loaned me the book, included).

Staci said...

I adored The Book Thief and A Fine Balance. Your list has a lot of excellent books and I'm adding some of them to my list of must-reads for 2009!!

Tara said...

Cath, The Handmaid's Tale is really fascinating and it's definitely sci-fi. I hope you like it!

Danielle, Both are so good Danielle. I'm looking forward to following your reading this year as well!

Ali, I like sad books (is that strange? I don't know) so that isn't a problem for me, but I could see that being a hindrance.

Staci, Hi! So glad to know you enjoyed those as well, and happy that you found some good things on my list.

melanie said...

After having Pomegranate Soup gathering dust for the last year or so, I just read it on your rec. And it is fabulous! And has me craving Persian food ;)

Tara said...

Melanie, I'm so glad you liked it!! Me too, on the Persian food.

Les said...

I am so far behind in my blog-hopping, Tara! I just had to pop in on this older post of yours, though, and tell you that I loved A Fine Balance when I read it several years ago. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, too. I'm also a big fan of The Book Thief, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I have another book by Rohinton Mistry that I plan to read this year. It's been on my shelf for far too long!

avisannschild said...

Sorry to be commenting on this post so late! I've added a few more books to my wish list now! (The only book on your list that I've read is Fast Food Nation, which was hard to read by parts, but definitely fascinating and well-written.)

Tara said...

Hi Les! I am too! It sounds like we like a lot of the same things! I have 2 others by Mistry that I have high hopes for.

avisannschild, thanks for you comment! I'm glad you found some interesting things on my list!