Reading, 2008

It occurred to me that one of the databases I use to keep track of my books could also keep track of what I’d read. Having tweaked a filter here and there, said database tells me that I read 100 books in 2008 (surely I missed a few?). And out of these 100, I now list 10 books. They’re usually (but not always) highly rated—sometimes an author’s ideas were more enticing than his or her writing style. But I think in the end, these are books that years from now I’ll actually remember having read. In chronological order:

  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (9/10; finished 1/25/2008): I have a weakness for epistolary novels, which is why I picked this one up in the first place. Yes, the author wants to make a point about freedom of speech. Yes, the author plays a game in which as letters disappear from the story, he stops using them in his writing. Despite all that, the novel doesn’t become too cute or too earnest for its own good.
  • Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips (8/10; finished 2/22/2008): The Greek gods have fallen on hard times and are living unhappily crammed together in a rundown house in London. I’m willing to look over any modern fiction involving Greek mythology, but this one won a place in my heart when I realized that Artemis plays a major role in the story and she was my favorite goddess when I was a kid.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (8/10; finished 5/8/2008): Um, yes, I only read this for the first time last year. In my defense, let me just say that the parts that get talked about the most, like the madwoman in the attic or Jane being a poor governess who falls for a rich guy didn’t make the story sound all that enticing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Jane was a likeable, interesting young woman. Still a little heavy on the melodrama, but that might just be my modern sensitivities.
  • You Can Go Home Again: Reconnecting With Your Family by Monica McGoldrick (10/10; finished 6/12/2008): Family psychology, using historical families to illustrate the author’s points.
  • Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann (5/10; finished 6/27/2008): It’s not very good as a mystery and my suspension of disbelief got stretched more than once, but…but…but it was about sheep, and that certainly made it stand out this year.
  • Unleash the Poem Within: How Reading and Writing Poetry Can Liberate Your Creative Spirit by Wendy Nyemaster (9/10; finished 6/29/2008): Hey, look: a book that suggests that maybe you could write poetry just for fun, and not necessarily for publication. Nyemaster introduces the reader to various poetic forms and shares how she and her friends managed to cram poetry-writing into their hectic lives. I even wrote a haiku after this book.
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (7/10; finished 9/1/2008): I consider a self-help book to be a success if I take away just one tip that improves matters, however minor. Allen’s writing is on the dull and pedantic side and I can’t really recommend reading this book. But since September, when I leave work for the day, my email inbox is usually empty or has fewer than five emails in it, and that’s enough for me.
  • Tigerheart by Peter David (9/10; finished 9/2008): A pastiche of Peter Pan, set in more modern times. It works, somehow.
  • The Commons by Matthew Hughes (5/10; finished 10/2008): Flat characterization and stiff writing are not the materials of which great novels are made. I just really liked Hughes’ concept of a universe in which trained professionals could study and interact with archetypes face to face.
  • Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe (9/10; finished 11/30/2008): The authors hypothesize that each generation of Americans fits into a cycle of four types. These four types come of age against a historical background of spiritual awakenings alternating with secular crises. Wow, I just summed up almost six hundred pages in two sentences. Well, whether or not the hypothesis proves valid, I found it intriguing as a concept, and am now watching to see if the pattern holds as we head toward what the authors predicted would be the next secular crisis.

So did anyone else read anything memorable this year?

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