2008 Reading Rundown

I was horrified at the tiny number of books I read in 2007 (wedding stress plus, okay, the addition of a large amount of X-rated X-Files fanfic to my PDA) so decided to keep a log of the books I read in 2008. I didn’t bother to record any of the cookbooks I read and probably missed out one or two photography books too but am happy enough with the 26 I did record, it seems a decent number for a working adult with a life and various other addictions.

Here’s an executive summary for anyone who might find it useful.

5 stars:

  • On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan): Perfect distillation of McEwan’s best abilities unmarred by any of his failings. [My entry]
  • Epileptic (David B): Interesting plot, but it’s the complex, surreal drawings which elevate this to extraordinary. [My entry]
  • Stuart: A Life Backwards (Alexander Masters): Funny, illuminating and really sad. The choice of a “backwards” narrative (Stuart’s idea) is spot on. [My entry]
  • Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro): Elegantly unfolded plot, wonderfully perceptive writing. [My entry]
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy): Literary triumph, real life downer – it’s transporting, but be warned that it transports you to a meticulously imagined post-apocalyptic world of almost unremitting bleakness.
  • Nine Parts Of Desire: The Hidden World Of Islamic Women (Geraldine Brooks): Engaging, often surprising, and (came across as) mostly balanced. It made me want to read further into the topic.
  • Understanding Exposure (Bryan Peterson): A really accessible and useful introduction to the topic for this photography noob.

4 stars:

  • Memoirs Of My Melancholy Whores (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): Much of what is wonderful about Garcia Marquez’s writing, in a shorter and more accessible package. [My entry]
  • In The Bedroom (Andre Dubus): Even if you’re not much of a short story person (neither am I), these are some of the most masterfully written short stories I’ve ever read. I’d never heard of Dubus or this book until Karen pressed it into my hands, and am grateful for the recommendation.
  • What Is The What (Dave Eggers): The story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is worth reading in itself, but Eggers also does a great job of telling it.
  • An Artist Of The Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro): Last read this as a teenager and still find its particular insights into Japanese society interesting.

3.5 stars:

  • Northern Lights (Philip Pullman): Rather too dull to unseat C.S. Lewis’s Narnian chronicles, but its ambition is impressive.
  • Black Swan Green (David Mitchell): Pleasant and well-written, but while I can’t think of any flaws I can’t remember much of the book at all.
  • What The Dead Know (Laura Lippman): I haven’t read many crime novels, but if they’re all this riveting I should read more of them.

3 stars:

  • When You Are Engulfed In Flames (David Sedaris): Fine if you’ve never read him, but disappointing compared to any of his previous books.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys): Impressive if you think of it as ambitious fanfic, otherwise it’s rather unsatisfying despite the good writing.
  • The Wasp Factory (Iain Banks): Passably diverting account of a disturbed teen and his freaky little universe. Might gross out the squeamish.
  • The Shadow Of The Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon): Enjoyable enough as an escapist romp through a fantasy Barcelona, but a tad overlong and predictable.
  • The Harmony Silk Factory (Tash Aw): Its ambition somewhat exceeds its execution, but am glad a Malaysian-born author got famous with a book steeped in Malaysia and I’ll keep an eye out for what Tash Aw comes up with next.
  • Water For Elephants (Sara Gruen): Unmemorable writing but the story’s great fun, especially if you counted Mr Galliano’s Circus among your favourite childhood books too.
  • Magic For Beginners (Kelly Link): Whimsical, dark short stories. Good while you’re reading them, but forgettable afterwards.
  • The Somnambulist (Jonathan Barnes): A “fantasy London” book. Promising first half, but second half lost steam and went a bit nuts.
  • Learning To See Creatively (Bryan Peterson): Good reminders and examples of things you probably already know.
  • Understanding Shutter Speed (Bryan Peterson): Not as immediately inspiring as Understanding Exposure, but perhaps I’ll think differently when I experiment more with shutter speed.

2 stars:


  1. Northern Lights: The rest of the trilogy kind of makes it all a bit more interesting. It’s like Lord of the Rings in that respect (and probably a couple of others, but I’m no book reviewer), it takes a while to get going.

    What is the What: Beautiful stuff, I thought. A bit long though – it just made it too heavy to carry on the tube…

  2. Matt: Oh, I gave up Lord of the Rings halfway in boredom. Have read The Hobbit probably about 10 times though! I’ll still read the next book in the Northern Lights trilogy if I come across it, though it’s rather annoyingly not in my local library. Re: weight of What Is The What, methinks you need a MANBAG.

  3. Tetanus – what a score! I hope you enjoy it – I found it really bleak at first, but kept reading because the quality of writing was undeniable, and it eventually grew on me. He is able to immerse you so completely in his characters and their inner lives within the confines of a short story.

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