Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Best (and Worst) From Reese's 2008 Reading

Choosing one "best" book of 40 read proved to be an extremely difficult task. As Kayren pointed out, I do try to read a broad assortment of books which means that I may have enjoyed some books equally but for completely different reasons. For example, I found Clarence Thomas' memoir My Grandfather's Son to be enlightening, as it gave me a glimpse both into what an African-American faces when he/she chooses to stand with a conservative political agenda, as well as a front seat view of what was involved in Justice Thomas' confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. It's hard to compare that with The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, a book I found to be interesting as it discussed ancient Chinese customs and cuisine, choosing to see the romantic interests of the main character as a side story- one I wasn't very interested in, to be honest. See what I mean? How can I compare Godless: The Church of Liberalism by Ann Coulter to Bag of Bones by Stephen King?!

I've done my best.

When I'm choosing a book to read(if it hasn't been recommended by a friend), I must admit that the title draws me first. If it's a cheesy title I probably won't even pick it up. (In fact, the one I'm reading now has a terribly cheesy title, in my opinion. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I'm reading a book called Extreme Measures!) Next, cover artwork. It's not essential, but if it catches my eye I'm more likely to open the cover and read the spiel in there. I usually read the back cover as well, skimming for anything that hints of offensiveness or boredom. Then if I'm still iffy on it, I'll read the first paragraph. If I'm still not sure, I won't bother.

Fourteen of the books on my list are on the subjects of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and immigrants in America or are set during WWII. I'm interested in Asia in the past, Afghanistan and the Middle East in more recent history and currently, Africa as it is currently, and all settings for WWII. I haven't read any strictly historical books on the second World War, but I do have some waiting in line.

Some books come recommended, such as Safely Home, which was recommended by Lora, if I remember correctly. I read amazing reviews of Khaled Hosseini's books, as well as of Stephen King's books. I loved the former and hated the latter. Clearly, recommendations may or may not help.

But what gets me most isn't a good story, it's excellent writing. The most awesome writers can weave magic out of the mundane and typical. They don't need brilliant stories or specific genres to propel them to noteriety, they do it with the sheer beauty of their words. They have the gift of magic.

And so here are my choices for best book of the year, from my own reading list:

Honorable mentions:

Safely Home

Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds

First Place (tie):

Bel Canto

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Worst Books of 2008:

Dishonorable mentions:

The Lovely Bones

Bag of Bones

(Note to self: don't read anything with "Bones" in the title.)

First Place:

Change of Heart

I realize the 3 books on my "worst list" are either very popular books or by popular authors. I've chosen them mostly for their offensiveness factor, as well as elements of the ridiculous. If I'd chosen them by boredom rating, The Alchemist would have made the list, as well as The Prayer Chest. Both were glorified snoozefests.

If I'd been able to choose one from this year, the only one I've read would have made it. I LOVED Cane River by Lalita Tademy. As a rule, I don't read Oprah books, but I'm glad I bent that rule in this case. A very interesting story based in fact from Louisiana, starting before the end of slavery and working up through three generations until 1936. A great novel.


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  1. I love your candid reviews!! I will be adding some of these to my *to read* list for this year. I've discovered that I apparently get more reading done in the first 3/4ths of the year and the holidays take priority at the end--or maybe it was homeschooling. So now is the time for me!

    Glad you finally made it home!

  2. I have to admit that I am absolutely shocked that you picked Change of Heart as your number 1. I thought you would never read a Jody Picoult again and didn't like her books at all. Very interesting! I haven't read that book and haven't decided if I am going to read anymore of hers either. They are so draining to me.

    Love your list, and reading about how you pick. I'll have to get going on mine!

    Love ya! Heather

  3. I think my messy list is a little confusing! Sorry.

    Change of Heart is my pick for WORST read of 2008.

    Bel Canto and A Thousand Splendid Suns tie for best read of the year.


  4. Oh, and I still won't ever read a Jodi Picoult book. That was the last one.


  5. Oh...I am an idiot! Sorry! I get it now! Too early in the morning for me! Now it all makes sense! LOL!


  6. Great insight! I love that you read such a variety of books. I wish I had the time and fortitude to do so. I've tried to branch out in my reading this fall. It resulted in some disappointments and a few pleasant surprises.

    Thanks for the great reviews!

  7. I'm never reading a Jodi Picoult because of what we had talked about before. Thanks for sharing the honest reviews. Saves me grief, time, and/or money!

    Reese, I left you a comment on Heather's picks list about the Lori Wick book I think you should read. I don't read a lot of hers, but you should read at least one. You're adventuresome! My pick for you was Bamboo & has some different Asian history in it, that's why I picked it for you as the one you should read.