of Maine

NYT’s Best Books of 2008 (and Row Hard, No Excuses)
December 4, 2008, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Words | Tags: , ,


Back! And just a shade under two months. In lieu of excuses, I’ll be posting a lot of the work I’ve been swamped with in the past two months in the coming days (and catching up on movies, books, and – once I decide how to do it – a series remarking on the pretty underwhelming year in music). Every intention of being back in the daily habit now.

Moving on.

The New York Times published (online, at least) their 10 Best Books of 2008 list. One should expect the list to be a little tame – this is the paper of record, after all – and it is. But I’ve already read two of these books, am in the thick of another, and have another one at the top of my queue, so I guess I’m becoming the contemporary-canonical reader I’ve always hoped to be. Anyway, COMMENTARY! (Note that decent-sized excerpts of the books’ first chapters are linked from the article.)

Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser – The lone welcome surprise on this list, a book of short stories that sounds pretty irresistible.

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison – Next on my reading list (unless I decide to tackle Beloved first, in which case it’s first on my reading list for 2010). The selection’s somewhat controversial, given the mixed reviews the book’s earning so far. But at the same time, every disapproving review of this novel I’ve read has a irratatingly snarky tone (calling it “slight” and what have you).

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill – Yessiree! Zadie Smith did an ace job unpacking this novel (and one of last year’s best, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder) in the NYRB recently. If you’ve read either book, print it out. Netherland’s the undisputably Gatsbyesque tale of a naive and curious wanderer’s crumbling marriage and brief fling with cricket and a mysterious Dutchman. It’s something of a plotless, man-overanalyzing-everything story in the vein of many books I like that many people (especially women) don’t, but it’s got a grace and nearly perfect pitch you can’t help but cherish.

2666, by Roberto Bolano – About 2/3 through. Comments forthcoming. A “holy shit” will suffice for now.

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri – Book’s sitting on my shelf, and I can’t say I plan on reading it anytime soon, until I need some Chicken Soup for the Soul. (Her work is, fortunately, much sadder than that, but Lahiri still falls into my semi-unconscious bias against many female writers – working on it.) I’m sure this is a fine story collection, but I’m stunned the slot wasn’t given to Marilynne Robinson’s Home.

Guess I won’t bother to parse this list, but overall it seems like a sturdier collection of picks. I’m stunned at how eager I am to buy or loan Jane Meyer’s The Dark Side, and The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, is exemplary war writing. Here’s a review I wrote of the book last month. (“Recommended by 6 people”! Really enjoying this corny new thing on the office website.)


2 Comments so far
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Wow, I’d forgotten that I subscribed to your site. I must have signed up right before the two months.

I just finished “Netherland” this afternoon. Great book. Looking forward to 2666 – maybe arriving here tomorrow, UPS willing –

Comment by Condalmo

Hope you like 2666. I can’t really think of how to process it until I’m done with it (hopefully by the end of the weekend).

And now that you’ve read Netherland and Remainder, this Zadie Smith NYRB piece is definitely worth a read.

Comment by ofmaine

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