At Kate's Christmas party a couple of weeks ago, Chris Mooney asked, "Have you read anything this year that's really blown you away?" I couldn't think of anything, and neither could he.
We both came up with several books we'd admired or enjoyed; I just couldn't think of anything that I wanted to push on everyone, the way in past years I've wanted everyone to read A.S. Byatt's POSSESSION, or Irwin Yalom's WHEN NIETZSCHE WEPT, or Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO.
In putting together this list I did remember one book that stunned me like that, a most unlikely one: WORLD WAR Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks. It's not a zombie novel, really; it's a story about the collapse of civilization, and what it takes to restore order and preserve our sense of ourselves as something more than animals. It's brilliantly imagined, beautifully written, and everyone with any interest in public policy needs to read it. Thanks to Chris for lending me his copy, and insisting that I read it.
And here's the rest of the first half of my "Favorite Reads of 2008" list. These weren't all published this year -- I just read them this year. For my list of favorite mysteries published in 2008, click here.
Laura Benedict, CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS. A sophisticated horror novel that is also tremendously insightful about women's friendships, and the lies we tell ourselves. I read this months ago, and am still thinking about it.
Daniel Mark Epstein, SISTER AIMEE. A fascinating biography of a fascinating woman, the faith healer and religious leader Aimee Semple McPherson. Epstein does not take her at face value, but he doesn't discount the possibility that she was who she claimed to be, and he gives her her place in the context of her times. (Kathie Lee Gifford, the subject of the musical I stage-managed, has written her own musical about Sister Aimee. I didn't know that when I read this book, which was months before I signed onto She Can't Believe She Said That. Convergences like this interest me.)
Tana French, THE LIKENESS. This follow-up to French's Edgar winner IN THE WOODS is at least 50 pages too long, but that is part of what makes it feel so timeless -- it's a throwback to the novels of the Bronte sisters, or even Dickens. Long-buried secrets and wild coincidences fuel this story of Cassie Maddox, who impersonates a murdered girl in order to find out what happened to her.
Victor Gischler, GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE. I'm not sure what it says that two of the best things I read this year were novels about the end of civilization. This one has all the humor that's missing from WORLD WAR Z (which is deadly serious), and suggests that buying a case or two of whiskey might be the smartest investment you could make in these troubled times.