As usual the papers are full of Christmas Books articles, where authors and critics list their favourite titles from the last year. Do we care? Possibly the only enjoyment to be had from this sort of thing is in writing your own lists. Let’s have a go.
Very early in 2008 I enjoyed Skin Lane by Nigel Bartlett. Feels like I read this one in the dim and distant past, just like the 60s era that he so expertly recreates. A great read, but only if you’re into disturbia.
I also managed to complete my first ever Will Self novel, The Book of Dave. Having congratulated myself on this epic task I have no further urge to read anything else by him. Good while it lasted though.
Remainder by Tom McCarthy was possibly my read of the year. This is a book that’s had a lot of attention from reviewers telling you to read it. So do. I’ve nothing more to add really.
Both Slam by Nick Hornby and Gold by Dan Rhodes were enjoyable light reading. Hornby explores teenage pregnancy with wit and originality, and Rhodes is a real comic talent to watch out for. Okay, teenage pregnancy isn’t a light subject but … Hornby .. light .. good writer … sigh, see what you think. What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn is a much darker novel exploring the disappearance of a child. It’s a real sleeper of a book, with great reports still coming long after its original publication.
Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks was an enjoyable addition to the James Bond canon, although my thriller of the year was Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. This is the book that caused aghast cries from some quarters (including blogs) when it was placed on the Booker longlist. I can only put this down to snobbery – I found it a very well written and original novel.
As far as ghost stories are concerned, I liked The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill, although Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was my favourite supernatural tale of the year. It joins Remainder as this year’s best read, alongside Just After Sunset by Stephen King.
Before I turn to non fiction it’s worth mentioning a book that defies any category. Born Yesterday by Gordon Burn. This examines real life events in 2007 but wraps them in a fictional premise that forces you to look at the news afresh. Highly original.
Miracles of Life by J.G.Ballard is an excellent autobiography that brightened up the early part of the year.
I also enjoyed Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare, a light read that’s set me up for some of the other bard biographies around.
Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher was a book I didn’t expect to enjoy, but it’s a very engaging look at a real Victorian murder mystery and its far reaching consequences.
For a weightier read, there’s John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman which took me three posts to review and is my non-fiction favourite of 2008.