Analyzing the Best Books of 2008

It was originally my intent to write extensively about the selections in my unified list of the best books of 2008, compiled from over 80 sources. But as I look through the list, even this book-crazy blogger is daunted. Over 1700 books were mentioned in these best-of-the-year lists. Since I don’t read exclusively from new books, I can honestly say that I’ve only read a dozen or two of these titles. The sheer abundance of interesting things to read here takes my breath away! I’m just going to summarize the list and let your book groups do the talking!

I love the extent and the diversity of this list. To me it suggests that despite the dark news coming from the publishing industry of late, the arts of reading and writing remain vigorously healthy (hopefully the business models of publishers and sellers will catch up soon). There’s something for every reader in this list: a cornucopia of diversity in the books and authors.

I encourage you to pass the list along to members of your book groups. With these books still in abundance in libraries and bookstores, and in most cases arriving in paperback in 2009, they make good candidates for selection as book group titles. Here are five questions to discuss as you review the list:

1) What were your own favorite titles in 2008? Do you see anything here that your group would love? What books that received fewer votes deserved more recognition?

2) How does this list compare to the bestseller lists that you see throughout the year? What’s different?

3)  How many authors in the list are familiar to you? How many are new faces? Where do they come from? If we compared this list with a similar list from ten years ago, what are the most obvious differences in terms of the composition of the author list?

4) Is selection of best books driven mostly by publicity and name recognition or does the cream truly rise to the top? What books seem to receive less recognition than others? What books receive an unfairly large amount of recognition?

5) How many books published in 2008 did you read during 2008? Do you like to read books that are new and hot or do you prefer to wait a while before trying a book or author?

Finally, here’s a longish summary of the Best of 2008, at least 5 books from each category, and all of the books that received five votes or more. You can download the full spreadsheet showing all the votes through the link at the top of this post.


Unaccustomed Earth, TheLahiri, Jhumpa37
NetherlandO’Neill, Joseph28
Story of Edgar Sawtelle, TheWroblewski, David28
2666: A NovelBolano, Roberto23
HomeRobinson, Marilynne22
Olive KitteridgeStrout, Elizabeth22
IndignationRoth, Philip17
Plague of Doves, TheErdrich, Louise17
Atmospheric DisturbancesGalchen, Rivka13
White Tiger, TheAdiga, Aravind13
Boat, TheLe, Nam11
Wasted Vigil, TheAslam, Nadeem11
American WifeSittenfeld, Curtis10
Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen StoriesMillhauser, Steven10
Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3Proulx, Annie10
Hakawati, TheAlameddine, Rabih10
Art of Racing in the Rain, TheStein, Garth9
Gargoyle, TheDavidson, Andrew9
Our Story BeginsWolff, Tobias9
Man in the DarkAuster, Paul8
Say You’re One of ThemAkpan, Uwem8
Songs for the MissingO’ Nan, Stewart8
BreathWinton, Tim7
Cellist of Sarajevo, TheGalloway, Steven7
Dear American AirlinesMiles, Jonathan7
Dictation: A QuartetOzick, Cynthia7
Ms. Hempel ChroniclesBynum, Sarah Shun-Lien7
CostRobinson, Roxanna6
How the Soldier Repairs the GramophoneStanisic, Sasa6
Three Girls and Their BrotherRebeck, Theresa6
Widows of Eastwick, TheUpdike, John6
America AmericaCanin, Ethan5
Better Angel, AAdrian, Chris5
City of RefugePiazza, Tom5
Elegance of the Hedgehog, TheBarbery, Muriel5
GoldengroveProse, Francine5
His Illegal SelfCarey, Peter5
Monsters of Templeton, TheGroff, Lauren5
My RevolutionsKunzru, Hari5
Northern Clemency, TheHensher, Philip5


Lush LifePrice, Richard33
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, TheLarsson, Steig17
When Will There Be Good News?Atkinson, Kate17
Child 44Smith, Tom Rob15
Brass Verdict, TheConnelly, Michael14
Black Tower, TheBayard, Louis11
Likeness, TheFrench, Tana10
Dawn Patrol, TheWinslow, Don8
Exit MusicRankin, Ian7
Most Wanted Man, ALe Carre, John7
Spies of Warsaw, TheFurst, Alan7
Trigger CityChercover, Sean7
Hold TightCoben, Harlan6
Fifth Floor, TheHarvey, Michael5
Finder, TheHarrison, Colin5
Forgery of Venus, TheGruber, Michael5
Master of the Delta, TheCook, Thomas H. 5
Silver Swan, TheBlack, Benjamin5
Turnaround, ThePelecanos, George5
Vienna BloodTallis, Frank5


AnathemStephenson, Neal16
Sharp TeethBarlow, Toby10
MatterBanks, Iain M.8
Black ShipsGraham, Jo7
PandemoniumGregory, Daryl6
Pump Six and Other StoriesBacigalupi, Paolo6
ShadowbridgeFrost, Gregory6
Steel Remains, TheMorgan, Richard K.6
City at the End of TimeBear, Greg5
Half a CrownWalton, Jo5


Mercy, AMorrison, Toni26
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, TheShaffer, Mary Ann & Burrows, Annie24
Given Day, TheLehane, Dennis20
Lazarus Project, TheHemon, Aleksandar15
City of ThievesBenioff, David13
Enchantress of Florence, TheRushdie, Salman12
Sea of PoppiesGhosh, Amitav12
SerenaRash, Ron10
LaviniaLeGuin, Ursula K.9
People of the BookBrooks, Geraldine9
Telex from CubaKushner, Rachel9
Shadow CountryMatthiessen, Peter7
So Brave, Young and HandsomeEnger, Leif7
DayKennedy, A. L.5
SwayLazar, Zachary5


Private ArrangementsThomas, Sherry5
Deadly DeceptionsMiller, Linda Lael3
HiddenKenin, Eve3
Hostage to PleasureSingh, Nalini3
MoonstruckGrant, Susan3
Sizzle and BurnKrentz, Jayne Ann3
Spymaster’s Lady, TheBourne, Joanna3
Your Scandalous WaysChase, Loretta3


Hunger Games, TheCollins, Suzanne25
Little BrotherDoctorow, Cory21
GracelingCashore, Kristin12
Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, TheLockhart, E.10
Graveyard Book, TheGaiman, Neil10
Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom of Waves, TheAnderson, M. T.8
NationPratchett, Terry8
Paper TownsGreen, John8
Tender MorselsLanagan, Margo7
Pretty MonstersLink, Kelly6
Knife of Never Letting Go, TheNess, Patrick5


What It IsBarry, Lynda7
Bottomless Belly ButtonShaw, Dash5
JokerAzzarello, Brian & Bermejo, Lee4
Life SucksAbel, Jessica & Soria, Gabe4
SkimTamaki, Mariko & Tamaki, Jillian3


Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, TheMayer, Jane21
Forever War, TheFilkins, Dexter19
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New HollywoodHarris, Mark18
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil WarFaust, Drew Gilpin14
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s ManifestoPollan, Michael13
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of AmericaPerlstein, Rick13
How Fiction WorksWood, James11
Outliers: The Story of SuccessGladwell, Malcolm10
Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, TheSummerscale, Kate10
Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew AmericaFriedman, Thomas L.9
Post-American World, TheZakaria, Fareed9
Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed AmericaHajdu, David8
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)Vanderbilt, Tom8
Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished LivesSheeler, Jim7
Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, AHorwitz, Tony7
American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to WorkTaylor, Nick6
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing ChinaChang, Leslie T.6
Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing LandscapeShehadeh, Raja6
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and SexRoach, Mary5
Geography of Bliss, TheWeiner, Eric5
Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret, TheShulman, Seth5


Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, TheGordon-Reed, Annette15
World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul, TheFrench, Patrick13
Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order, TheWickersham, Joan12
Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, TheColl, Steve11
Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, AnMcCracken, Elizabeth11
Nothing to Be Frightened OfBarnes, Julian10
White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth HigginsonWineapple, Brenda10
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White HouseMeacham, Jon8
Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own, TheCarr, David8
Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, TheSchroeder, Alice8
Bishop’s Daughter, TheMoore, Honor6
House at Sugar Beach, TheCooper, Helene6
John Lennon: The LifeNorman, Philip6
Lincoln: The Biography of a WriterKaplan, Fred6
Audition: A MemoirWalters, Barbara5
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s AddictionSheff, David5
Champlain’s DreamFischer, David Hackett5
Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars, ThePham, Andrew X.5
Hurry Down Sunshine: A MemoirGreenberg, Michael5
Miracles of LifeBallard, J. G.5
Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, TheLopez, Steve5
Three of Us: A Family Memoir, TheBlackburn, Julia5


Sleeping It Off in Rapid CityKleinzahler, August5
Watching the Spring FestivalBidart, Frank4
Ballistics: PoemsCollins, Billy2
Blood DazzlerSmith, Patricia2
Fire to Fire: New and Selected PoemsDoty, Mark2
Ghost SoldiersTate, James2
Half the World in LightHerrera, Juan Felipe2
Human Dark with SugarShaughnessy, Brenda2
My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected PoetrySpicer, Jack2
SourcesJohnston, Devin2
Special OrdersHirsch, Edward2
What’s Right About WrongTrussell, Donna2



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Analyzing the Best Books of 2008"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

    Post a Comment