I think 2008 was a banner year for me in terms of reading. I read- and wrote- probably more than I ever have. And more widely- literary fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, manga, mysteries, Christian fiction, popular fiction. Sometimes I made great discoveries; sometimes I tried something new and it fizzled. I used my reading and writing to document my personal interests, make new friends and to enhance my career. My blog took off (along with many others) and I got the opportunity to do author interviews and giveaways, and to review many great books. I attended a blogger's conference, and had one of my reviews reprinted in a high school textbook. And I met some great people- on-line and off-line.
So, on to the top ten- actually the top eleven. It's so difficult to pick, so I'm going to do the best I can and break it out by category. Some books fit into more than one but I wanted to highlight different books in different ways. I'm calling these picks "Favorites" rather than "Bests" because that's what they are- my favorites for the year. Links are to my reviews.
Favorite overall: Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey. A Booker Prize winner from the 1980s and beautiful love story and literary page-turner. I didn't want this book to end. Don't you love when that happens? An old-fashioned story of love and loss, I wish every book was as accomplished and well-crafted as Oscar and Lucinda.
Favorite literary fiction: The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. This year's Booker winner is a gripping literary page-turner with a unique protagonist and challenging themes.
Favorite ARC/New Release: The White Mary, by Kira Salak. I don't know if it's destined to be a literary classic, but it's one of those books I just couldn't put down. I was totally hooked from word one- loved it.
Favorite nonfiction: My Father's Paradise, by Ariel Sabar. Beautifully-written and highly accessible history and a lovely family story, this one's a winner. I can understand why people might hesitate to pick it up but I promise if you read it you will love it!
Favorite Jewish-interest: The Last Chicken in America, by Ellen Litman. A moving collection of short stories about the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience. I was drawn in by Litman's voice and handling of her characters' emotions. I can't wait till she writes a novel.
Favorite manga: Nana by Ai Yazawa. Nana is a terrific manga series written for young women about two roommates and best friends, both named Nana, trying to make a go of life and love in the big city. Think Sex and the City in the Tokyo rock scene. Light-as-a-feather fun. (I don't write reviews of manga- too many of them, and they're all part of lengthy series- and it's only once in a great while that I finish a whole series.)
Favorite book about Boston and New England: Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir, by Scott Pomfret. I really enjoyed this funny, snarky, angry and loving book about the Catholic Church and Catholic faith.
Favorite Francophile Fun: Death in the Truffle Wood, by Pierre Magnan. I'm not a mystery buff and this book didn't change that, but it did give me a few laughs and a good time.
Favorite Graphic Novel: The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, by Steve Sheinkin. Sweet, fun and great for all ages, it's a graphic novel that serves up wholesome lessons with a chuckle and an unusual visual style.
Favorite Random Thing I Picked Up at a Bookstore: The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia. Sedia mixes a variety of elements- history, mythology, love, and growing up- into a bittersweet fantasy about post-Soviet Moscow.
Bonus Book: Favorite Book That Fit A Bunch of Categories: The Genizah at the House of Shepher, by Tamar Yellin. A slow, thoughtful literary family story about a lost book of the Bible and the family that has harbored it for generations, this book is destined to be a classic. (Jewish Interest, ARC/New Release, Literary Fiction)