Top 10 of 2008, plus bonus worst 3

  • The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter: Despite the fact that Charles Baxter induces a plot amnesia that always makes me forget what his books are about within a week of reading them, I am always keenly aware while I’m reading them that this man is a word genius. In this one, Nathanial Mason’s life story is stolen by the creepy Jerome Coolberg.
  • The Night of the Gun by David Carr: Carr excavates his past issues with addiction and violence, self-reporting on his own on-again, off-again relationship with sobriety. The most honest addiction memoir I’ve read [and i’ve read a lot of them] and also the first addiction memoir I’ve read where I’m not convinced the addict can stay afloat. [review]
  • My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands by Chelsea Handler: Handler chronicles her deviant sexual past, with stories ranging from the time she photographed her parents in the act, to waking up next to a little person, to a boyfriend who had his way with the dog she was babysitting. Hilarious writing. Unfortunately, her follow up Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea sucks and reveals her as a one trick pony, making me question how good My Horizontal Life actually was, yet unwilling to pick it up again to see.
  • Service Included: Four Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch: This memoir is set around the opening of the New York restaurant Per Se and the pending NYT review by food critic Frank Bruni. This inspired much geeking out about food writing.
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris: It is possible that Sedaris has thoroughly mined his life of all fodder, and that quitting all of his vices has dulled him a bit and maybe this isn’t as good as Naked, but he still remains better than most people who are allowed to put words on paper.
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami: Within the first few chapters I fell asleep after reading and had a dream that was narrated by Toru Okada in a sort of slow, soothing, whisper — exactly what reading these words feels like. There are chapters that include torture scenes from World War II that are so vivid and so violent, my legs went numb. In one, a side character watches a man be skinned alive. “It truly was like skinning a peach.” In another, a handful of men are stabbed with bayonets, the process of doing it described in great detail that is essentially: stab, stir and repeat. Reading this changed my personal Top Five of All-Time Faves. [review]
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami: Such a charming book, but one that could only be written by an already-celebrated writer. Murakami’s novella-sized memoir is — at surface level — about running and writing and himself, writen in a sort of freewriting way that makes it seem like it is a letter to a friend. it also comes across as passive-aggressive common sensey self help. He doesn’t tell you what to do, he tells you what works for him with a kind of shrug. [review]
  • Into the Forest by Jean Heglund: If i had read this book when i was 14, I would now be one of those people who could discern which berries in the woods are poisonous and I’d probably know how to sew. This is thinkie YA fiction.
  • The Keep by Jennifer Egan: I like when a writer can get to the root of a bad smell, “Not rot, but something after rot, a moldy emptiness, the smell of stale pollen, bad breath, old refrigerators that haven’t been opened in years, rotten eggs and certain wool when it got wet, the afterbirth of his cat Polly when Danny was six, his aching tooth when the dentist first drilled it open, the nursing home where great-aunt Bertie dribbled pureed liver down her chin …”
  • Veronica by Mary Gaitskill: I dog-earred so many pages of this book that it started to look like an origami project.

BONUS: WORST BOOKS READ IN 2008

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: Wherein teenaged girls and moms all over the world are enamored with a psychologically abusive vampire. [review]

Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk: A day on the set of the filming of a porn, where the old porn star is trying to set a new record for most partners. Repetitious and filled with Palahniuk’s obsessive writing ticks in a way that has grown obnoxious.

I Was Told There Would Be Cake by Sloane Crosley: Someone lets Crosley write a book of essays that are so diluted and boring and nice that no one could possibly be offended by any of it. I’m assuming that because she works in the industry, people are afraid to say that it’s crap and reviewers rave. I’m not afraid: This is crap.

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