Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Reading in 2008


I’ve dived into 2009 with a delicious orgy of reading. The kids are still on holiday, it’s minus bloody something outside and I’ve got a blankie and a pile of Christmas books to work through. Luxury! So far I’ve read both of Barack Obama’s books (Dreams from my Father and Audacity of Hope) and Elizabeth George’s latest massive tome, the 530-page Careless in Red. I have also read and cooked from my wonderful birthday present, Nigella Lawson’s latest recipe book Nigella Express. (I can recommend the fudge.) Now I am reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which I bought in New York last year, and which promises to be delightful. More time under the blankie is predicted. Pity the fudge is finished though.

But before I get carried away with this year’s reading, and before 2008 dissolves completely, I thought I’d better review last year’s books. My total for the year was 53 books, which my old self finds disappointing since she fondly imagined she always read at least 100 books a year. Turns out I don’t: in 2007, I read 81 and this year 18 books fewer. My new self knows why – I spent more time writing than reading in 2008, and I hope that 2009 will be the same. I don’t subscribe to reading goals, though I admire those who do, but found that I consciously avoided literary fiction and books set in South Africa because I wanted to avoid any crossover with what I am writing. I read a lot of memoirs, some chick lit, some thrillers and a couple of books from the start of last century. Turns out, though, that my favourite reads of the year were litfic, so that probably is my natural reading home.

Here are the stats:

Fiction: 34 (64%)

Non-fiction: 19 (35%)

Short story collections: 1 (1.8%)

Memoirs: 11 (20%)

True crime: 1 (1.8%)

Books on AIDS: 3 (5.6%)

Thrillers: 5 (9.4%)

Books by women: 36 (67%)

Books by non-Anglo American writers: 10 (18%)

Dry stats aside, here are my awards:

Book of the Year:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Adechie – superb prose, wonderfully drawn characters and a history lesson all in one package. A wonderful book, destined to become a classic.

Runner-up: Richard Ford’s trilogy, of which I have only read The Sportswriter and The Lay of the Land. Ford deserves all the paeans and praise he receives for he is a wonderful writer. The surprise for me in both books was his characterization of the Tri-State area: in Ford’s skillful hands, it becomes a protagonist itself.

Find of the Year:

Geraldine Brooks! I read all three of her novels this year and was most impressed. She has a facility with bringing a specific historical period to life, be it Civil War USA, plague-ridden England or post-war Serbia.

Blogging Recommendation of the Year:

Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, recommended by Litlove. I loved this novel for its powerful, tragic story and rushed off to present it to my book club only to discover that all US members had read it either in high school or at university. Not so new to them though, but a wonderful find for me.

Thriller of the Year:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – a gripping plot and ace characterization. I look forward to reading his two other novels.

Most Disappointing Thriller of the Year:

PD James’s The Private Patient. Oh dear, the master of the art was off-form with this one: plot didn’t gel, characters weren’t clearly or thoroughly realized and the motive for murder was vague, at best.

Most Hard-Hitting Non-Fiction:

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous. This had strong contenders in The Gifts of the Body and Sizwe’s Test, but its frank telling of Berlin in the dying days of World War II was brutal.

Most Spectacularly Annoying Protagonist:

Undine Spragg of The Custom of the Country – what a grasping, power-hungry and superficial woman. A fascinating portrayal of avarice by the stylist extraordinaire, Edith Wharton. (I did I envy Undine’s wardrobe, though.)

Memoir Writer With Whom I Would Most Like To Have Dinner:

Anthony Bouraine, without a doubt. Especially if he’s cooking.

Protagonist I Most Wanted to be Friends With:

The Girls of Riyadh! What a fabulous bunch. Of all the chick-lit books I read, this one stands out the most in my memory (they often melt into a messy, love-stricken whole).

Book that Brought on Landscape Envy:

The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg. Despite the irritating title, it made me long for Africa.

Right now, with temperatures sinking and snow outside, I’m still longing for Africa. So my plan is to burrow further under my blankie and read some more. My reading resolution for 2009 is write more than I read, and post more frequent reviews. To kick-off, I will review one of my 2009 books – vote in the comments for which one you would like me to review.

Wishing you a wonderful reading year!

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

12 thoughts on “Reading in 2008

  1. The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg. I rather like the title and loved the book. I would be interested to hear your review. regards

  2. Makes me wish that I’d kept a list this year though if I had, The Bridge of San Luis Reye by Thornton Wilder would have been close to the top of old books – a marvel of economy and generousity.

  3. i’m well impressed! i managed a very disappointing 12 books last year – a) because i no longer read on my commute and b) i got bogged down in one book for several months before ultimately abandoning it 😦 although i read several fantastic books, i’m determined to do much better this year. i used to be an insatiable reader – i need to re-prioritise my time.

    as for reviews, I vote for Dreams from my Father, as i’d heard that the difference in tone from Audacity of Hope (when he had to be much more cautious in his writing due to his burgeoning political aspirations) is interesting to note.

  4. Brooks’ March is my book club’s April pick and I am looking forward to it very much. The Audacity of Hope is next to me- I started it on a plane then misplaced it last year and must finish The White Tiger (tough reading so far) before I get back to it. Always fun to see what you are reading. I read more periodicals and genre around my serious books. The darker it is outside, the more I read magazines, I must say.

  5. I’m intrigued by the title The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. My reading last year has consisted almost entirely of baby books, but now I am a bit bored of them and only refer to one when I have questions. A thriller is right up my alley.

  6. I would love to read a review from you on The Audacity of Hope Please!

  7. I would also love to see what you think of Dreams from my Father, but if you ever read Geraldine Brooks’ non fiction book Nine parts of Desire I’d be fascinated to see what you think of it.

    And thanks again for your review of Half of a Yellow Sun – you made me read it (even though I wasn’t feeling intellectual enough for litfic) and it was everything you claimed for it and more.

  8. I read A Woman In Berlin this year too – it is indeed brutal, but compelling and fascinating – I’d certainly recommend it.

  9. I love your categories! What a great list, and I’m so thrilled that you liked the Jane Smiley. You remind me also I must finish Obama’s memoir, which I was enjoying a great deal before other books leap-frogged it. I’m hoping to read Geraldine Brooks and Richard Ford, and indeed Stieg Larsson in 2009.

  10. I loved the Voluptuous Delights. I have only ever been to the Vumba (the area described in the book) once and Lauren Liebenberg describes it so well. I used to hear stories from my nanny of the ‘ancestors’ being alive in the trees and in the Vumba I could believe it. She also describes the long hot summers on the verandah with nothing to do surprisingly well.

  11. Oh what an enviable list!! After a storming year in 2007 of nearly 2 books a month, I plummeted right down this year 😦 My books of the year were Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country (as much resonance today as ever) and John Irving’s Until I Find You (which left me with lingering images that come back to me at random moments, as all his books do). I think the book that put me off reading for some months this year was Umberto Eco’s excrable The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Oh the tediousness, the tediousness!

  12. I really like the way you organized your list. Very illuminating. I see a few must-haves on here. Sigh. I’m really trying to curb the book binging this year! We’ll see how far that goes.

    Wishing you wonderful reading in 2009. I am glad to be getting back to the blogosphere, and your site is definitely one I’ve missed. Cheers!

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