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Analyzing the Best Books of 2008

It was originally my intent to write extensively about the selections in my unified list of the best books of 2008, compiled from over 80 sources. But as I look through the list, even this book-crazy blogger is daunted. Over 1700 books were mentioned in these best-of-the-year lists. Since I don’t read exclusively from new books, I can honestly say that I’ve only read a dozen or two of these titles. The sheer abundance of interesting things to read here takes my breath away! I’m just going to summarize the list and let your book groups do the talking!

I love the extent and the diversity of this list. To me it suggests that despite the dark news coming from the publishing industry of late, the arts of reading and writing remain vigorously healthy (hopefully the business models of publishers and sellers will catch up soon). There’s something for every reader in this list: a cornucopia of diversity in the books and authors.

I encourage you to pass the list along to members of your book groups. With these books still in abundance in libraries and bookstores, and in most cases arriving in paperback in 2009, they make good candidates for selection as book group titles. Here are five questions to discuss as you review the list:

1) What were your own favorite titles in 2008? Do you see anything here that your group would love? What books that received fewer votes deserved more recognition?

2) How does this list compare to the bestseller lists that you see throughout the year? What’s different?

3)  How many authors in the list are familiar to you? How many are new faces? Where do they come from? If we compared this list with a similar list from ten years ago, what are the most obvious differences in terms of the composition of the author list?

4) Is selection of best books driven mostly by publicity and name recognition or does the cream truly rise to the top? What books seem to receive less recognition than others? What books receive an unfairly large amount of recognition?

5) How many books published in 2008 did you read during 2008? Do you like to read books that are new and hot or do you prefer to wait a while before trying a book or author?

Finally, here’s a longish summary of the Best of 2008, at least 5 books from each category, and all of the books that received five votes or more. You can download the full spreadsheet showing all the votes through the link at the top of this post.

GENERAL FICTION

Unaccustomed Earth, The Lahiri, Jhumpa 37
Netherland O’Neill, Joseph 28
Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Wroblewski, David 28
2666: A Novel Bolano, Roberto 23
Home Robinson, Marilynne 22
Olive Kitteridge Strout, Elizabeth 22
Indignation Roth, Philip 17
Plague of Doves, The Erdrich, Louise 17
Atmospheric Disturbances Galchen, Rivka 13
White Tiger, The Adiga, Aravind 13
Boat, The Le, Nam 11
Wasted Vigil, The Aslam, Nadeem 11
American Wife Sittenfeld, Curtis 10
Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories Millhauser, Steven 10
Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 Proulx, Annie 10
Hakawati, The Alameddine, Rabih 10
Art of Racing in the Rain, The Stein, Garth 9
Gargoyle, The Davidson, Andrew 9
Our Story Begins Wolff, Tobias 9
Man in the Dark Auster, Paul 8
Say You’re One of Them Akpan, Uwem 8
Songs for the Missing O’ Nan, Stewart 8
Breath Winton, Tim 7
Cellist of Sarajevo, The Galloway, Steven 7
Dear American Airlines Miles, Jonathan 7
Dictation: A Quartet Ozick, Cynthia 7
Ms. Hempel Chronicles Bynum, Sarah Shun-Lien 7
Cost Robinson, Roxanna 6
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone Stanisic, Sasa 6
Three Girls and Their Brother Rebeck, Theresa 6
Widows of Eastwick, The Updike, John 6
America America Canin, Ethan 5
Better Angel, A Adrian, Chris 5
City of Refuge Piazza, Tom 5
Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Barbery, Muriel 5
Goldengrove Prose, Francine 5
His Illegal Self Carey, Peter 5
Monsters of Templeton, The Groff, Lauren 5
My Revolutions Kunzru, Hari 5
Northern Clemency, The Hensher, Philip 5

MYSTERIES, THRILLERS, AND ACTION NOVELS

Lush Life Price, Richard 33
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Larsson, Steig 17
When Will There Be Good News? Atkinson, Kate 17
Child 44 Smith, Tom Rob 15
Brass Verdict, The Connelly, Michael 14
Black Tower, The Bayard, Louis 11
Likeness, The French, Tana 10
Dawn Patrol, The Winslow, Don 8
Exit Music Rankin, Ian 7
Most Wanted Man, A Le Carre, John 7
Spies of Warsaw, The Furst, Alan 7
Trigger City Chercover, Sean 7
Hold Tight Coben, Harlan 6
Fifth Floor, The Harvey, Michael 5
Finder, The Harrison, Colin 5
Forgery of Venus, The Gruber, Michael 5
Master of the Delta, The Cook, Thomas H. 5
Silver Swan, The Black, Benjamin 5
Turnaround, The Pelecanos, George 5
Vienna Blood Tallis, Frank 5

SPECULATIVE FICTION: FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION, AND HORROR

Anathem Stephenson, Neal 16
Sharp Teeth Barlow, Toby 10
Matter Banks, Iain M. 8
Black Ships Graham, Jo 7
Pandemonium Gregory, Daryl 6
Pump Six and Other Stories Bacigalupi, Paolo 6
Shadowbridge Frost, Gregory 6
Steel Remains, The Morgan, Richard K. 6
City at the End of Time Bear, Greg 5
Half a Crown Walton, Jo 5

HISTORICAL FICTION

Mercy, A Morrison, Toni 26
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Shaffer, Mary Ann & Burrows, Annie 24
Given Day, The Lehane, Dennis 20
Lazarus Project, The Hemon, Aleksandar 15
City of Thieves Benioff, David 13
Enchantress of Florence, The Rushdie, Salman 12
Sea of Poppies Ghosh, Amitav 12
Serena Rash, Ron 10
Lavinia LeGuin, Ursula K. 9
People of the Book Brooks, Geraldine 9
Telex from Cuba Kushner, Rachel 9
Shadow Country Matthiessen, Peter 7
So Brave, Young and Handsome Enger, Leif 7
Day Kennedy, A. L. 5
Sway Lazar, Zachary 5

ROMANCE

Private Arrangements Thomas, Sherry 5
Deadly Deceptions Miller, Linda Lael 3
Hidden Kenin, Eve 3
Hostage to Pleasure Singh, Nalini 3
Moonstruck Grant, Susan 3
Sizzle and Burn Krentz, Jayne Ann 3
Spymaster’s Lady, The Bourne, Joanna 3
Your Scandalous Ways Chase, Loretta 3

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Hunger Games, The Collins, Suzanne 25
Little Brother Doctorow, Cory 21
Graceling Cashore, Kristin 12
Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, The Lockhart, E. 10
Graveyard Book, The Gaiman, Neil 10
Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom of Waves, The Anderson, M. T. 8
Nation Pratchett, Terry 8
Paper Towns Green, John 8
Tender Morsels Lanagan, Margo 7
Pretty Monsters Link, Kelly 6
Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ness, Patrick 5

GRAPHIC NOVELS

What It Is Barry, Lynda 7
Bottomless Belly Button Shaw, Dash 5
Joker Azzarello, Brian & Bermejo, Lee 4
Life Sucks Abel, Jessica & Soria, Gabe 4
Skim Tamaki, Mariko & Tamaki, Jillian 3

NARRATIVE NONFICTION

Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, The Mayer, Jane 21
Forever War, The Filkins, Dexter 19
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood Harris, Mark 18
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Faust, Drew Gilpin 14
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto Pollan, Michael 13
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America Perlstein, Rick 13
How Fiction Works Wood, James 11
Outliers: The Story of Success Gladwell, Malcolm 10
Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, The Summerscale, Kate 10
Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America Friedman, Thomas L. 9
Post-American World, The Zakaria, Fareed 9
Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America Hajdu, David 8
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) Vanderbilt, Tom 8
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives Sheeler, Jim 7
Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, A Horwitz, Tony 7
American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work Taylor, Nick 6
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China Chang, Leslie T. 6
Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape Shehadeh, Raja 6
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Roach, Mary 5
Geography of Bliss, The Weiner, Eric 5
Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret, The Shulman, Seth 5

BIOGRAPHIES AND MEMOIRS

Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, The Gordon-Reed, Annette 15
World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul, The French, Patrick 13
Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order, The Wickersham, Joan 12
Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, The Coll, Steve 11
Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, An McCracken, Elizabeth 11
Nothing to Be Frightened Of Barnes, Julian 10
White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson Wineapple, Brenda 10
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House Meacham, Jon 8
Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own, The Carr, David 8
Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, The Schroeder, Alice 8
Bishop’s Daughter, The Moore, Honor 6
House at Sugar Beach, The Cooper, Helene 6
John Lennon: The Life Norman, Philip 6
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer Kaplan, Fred 6
Audition: A Memoir Walters, Barbara 5
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s Addiction Sheff, David 5
Champlain’s Dream Fischer, David Hackett 5
Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars, The Pham, Andrew X. 5
Hurry Down Sunshine: A Memoir Greenberg, Michael 5
Miracles of Life Ballard, J. G. 5
Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, The Lopez, Steve 5
Three of Us: A Family Memoir, The Blackburn, Julia 5

POETRY

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City Kleinzahler, August 5
Watching the Spring Festival Bidart, Frank 4
Ballistics: Poems Collins, Billy 2
Blood Dazzler Smith, Patricia 2
Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems Doty, Mark 2
Ghost Soldiers Tate, James 2
Half the World in Light Herrera, Juan Felipe 2
Human Dark with Sugar Shaughnessy, Brenda 2
My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry Spicer, Jack 2
Sources Johnston, Devin 2
Special Orders Hirsch, Edward 2
What’s Right About Wrong Trussell, Donna 2

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On... Fantasy Fiction and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups.

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