These are the top twelve best books I read in 2008. If I blogged about the book, then I’ve noted the date when I posted the review; please check the archive for a fuller discussion of the book.
1. Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
8 September 08
Indescribable. You just have to experience it.
2. Averno, by Louise Gluck
Gluck’s lyric meditations on death, often using the myth of Persephone as a way in; deceptively simple language that strikes to the core, the beauty of the natural world, solace and despair commingled. Still too close to these poems to blog about them.
3. The Three-Cornered World (Kusa Makura), by Natsume Soseki
22 September 08
An artist visits a remote mountain resort out of season; beautiful descriptions, thoughtful—and sometimes funny—discussions about life and art. Is solitude necessary for immersion in your art? Is distance necessary for aesthetic appreciation of life?
4. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale
8 December 08
Fascinating account of a true crime investigation by one of Scotland Yard's first detectives, with illuminating social context about Victorian England.
5. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, by G.B. Edwards
31 March 08
Fictional first-person narrative of life on Guernsey in the beginning of the 20th century; a character and a voice that stay with you.
6. The Lost Upland, by W.S. Merwin
12 May 08
Three stories set in the rural uplands of France with their limestone outcroppings, sheep pastures, and vineyards; gorgeous language, flawed and funny characters, the sadness of an ancient way of life disappearing.
7. The Gathering, by Anne Enright
13 October 08
A peculiarly affecting story of an Irish family; fiction rarely feels this real.
8. The Untouchable, by John Banville
11 February 08
Fictional retelling of the story of Anthony Blunt, one of the Cambridge spies; devotion, betrayal, the quest for authenticity—it's all here.
9. True Confessions, by John Gregory Dunne
A classic crime story—can't imagine why I'd never read it before; it has the qualities that later made Chinatown such a great film.
10. After, by Marita Golden
Will change the way you think about race, cities, police. One of the most honest books I've ever read. Just as good on this second read for my book club.
11. The Lighthouse, by P.D. James
2 June 08
Further investigations by Commander Dalgleish, this time on a small island off the coast of Cornwall that has been turned into an exclusive resort; an intelligent read, with allusions to lighthouses and small islands to delight the reader.
12. The Darling, by Russell Banks
A woman's life, from Weather Underground to Liberia to a farm in upstate NY; I especially appreciated the parts set in Liberia and the understanding of its past and complex present that I gained from this book.