Meta-list of the “best of” books of the year

by on November 17, 2008 at 7:09 am in Books | Permalink

Not all the "best of" book lists are out, but I can issue a preliminary report, with possible updates to follow.  This year opinion about best books seems unusually diverse.  Not so many books have been intellectually central to the market.  I have seen the following titles pop up repeatedly on "best of" lists:

Roberto Bolaño, 2666.  Duh.  After four hundred pages of reading, I see it as less perfect than The Savage Detectives but it has greater world-historic reach and even some sprawl.  A clear first choice in almost any year.

Julian Barnes, Nothing to be Frightened Of.  I like some of Barnes’s work, most of all Flaubert’s Parrot, but I am embarrassed that such a shallow book would receive any favorable notice at all.

The Forever War, Dexter Filkins.  The quality of the journalism is high but for me it was insufficiently conceptual so I put it down after fifty pages or so.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel, By David Wroblewski.  I liked the 150 or so pages I read but just didn’t have the time or the love to finish it.  It reminds me of Stephen King’s better work.

I’ve drawn from the lists you will find here, among others.

During the year I saw many favorable reviews for Alexsandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project (I liked it) and Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies (I haven’t read it yet), though neither seems to be popping up on so many "best of" lists.  Perhaps Robin Hanson would view such lists as signaling rather than a honest statement of preferences.

1 josh November 17, 2008 at 7:44 am

“Perhaps Robin Hanson would view such lists as signaling rather than a honest statement of preferences.”

Duh. Of course there is some correlation between what you like and what you want people to believe you like.

2 C November 17, 2008 at 10:38 am

It is unfortunate that Tom Gjelten’s “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause” has received so little attention on these lists. It’s an absorbing and accessible blend of history, biography and journalism. Highly recommended.

3 Michael Giesbrecht November 17, 2008 at 10:53 am

Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem” would be on my list of best books of the year. Unfortunately, I probably would not have understood some of the math and most of they physics even if they weren’t first translated into an invented language.

Don’t quit before page 400 (or there abouts), Tyler.

4 Chris November 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Mark Oliver Everett’s “Things the Grandchildren Should Know” is the best book of the year, hands down.

5 Danny Toone November 17, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Can I make a recommendation? Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. This was the first well written expose of the field of Behavioral Economics that I have read.

6 Hannü December 20, 2008 at 5:54 pm

Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han by Hannü

Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han is a travelogue from Tibet as well as a book of conversations with dozens of Tibetans from all walks of life in Tibet on a wide range of subjects – the Dalai Lama, polyandry, sky & water burials, the Muslims, the Han, Tibetan mastiffs, aweto, languages, thangka, Buddhism, independence and more.

Published this year, it is the most democratic and down-to-earth book from Tibet in decades. A marginal revolution.

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