TVFH Top Reads of 2008

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by The Team at TVFH

At our virtual Xmas party we all got drunk and swapped our favourite reads of 2008.
So, as is traditional at this time of year, here's the list in no particular order of the books we most enjoyed reading old or new during 2008:

MotherLand by Dmetri Kakmi
The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore by Paul Burman
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber

Here's who nominated each book and why:

Motherland : Paul Burman:
I don't tend to read a lot of non-fiction, but this absolutely engrossed me. The language is wonderfully lyrical and, along with the imagery it creates, captures a blend of cultures (Greek, Turkish, Australian; classical, modern; pagan, Christian) and the way these overlap and sometimes conflict with one another. A very compelling read.

The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce: Mike French:
Paul Torday's follow up to Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, shows him to be that rare author who can write literary prose that makes you want to stop and savour the flavours and yet can also weave a great story so that you end up wanting to glug back the book at the same time.

The Princess Bride: Stella:
"As… you… wish…" One of the more romantic phrases in the English language thanks to William Goldman's The Princess Bride. You've probably seen the movie – more than once, I can imagine – but you may not have read the book and you really should. Originally published in 1973, it was adapted by William Goldman into the 1987 film, and then in 1998 the book was republished in a fancy edition for its 25th anniversary. Funny, poignant, and tirelessly adorable, it has everything the movie has and more: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... Plus, you get expanded background on all of the central characters. Oh, and there's a Zoo of Death. (It's exactly what it sounds like.) And, I say this from experience, this book makes a great gift. The responses range from, "Wow, I didn't know there was a book!" to "Ooh, I always wanted to read this!" to "Hey, this looks cute!" It can't miss.

Out of the Silent Planet: Naomi:
I read it for the first time this year after having meant to get to C.S. Lewis's space trilogy for years. The science angle is iffy at best but, boy!, does it make a good story. One of the best bits was Ransom acting as translator between the jingoistic Professor Weston and the Eldil. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a book with so little action so much. (Ransom spends a lot of time simply trying to learn the local language.)

The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore: Jane Turley:
I enjoy boisterous blockbusters but I’m also partial to books which exhibit more unusual qualities. The highlight of my literary year was discovering such qualities in Paul Burman’s debut novel.
Thomas Passmore, an emigrant, travels back to England to visit his dying mother but his journey becomes not just one of duty but one of reconciliation for his past is strewn with the emotional debris of his father’s suicide, the death of his childhood friend and the loss of his first love.
The story switches between the past and present but there are also dream-like sequences. Indeed, there is an almost ethereal dimension to this story of love, loss and redemption which keeps the reader perplexed and intrigued to the very end. It is a melancholic tale but also quite beautiful.
However, what really sets this book apart is the evocative nature of the writing and the rich, luxurious descriptions. Book lovers who appreciate the intricacies of the English language will revel in the poetical and lyrical qualities which are rarely found in today’s commercial market.
One thing’s for sure; it’s not snowing for Paul Burman. It’s most definitely greening.

The Road Home: Jen Persson:
My Christmas pasts are misted family memories of a spitting coal fire, colourful wrapping and paperhats, and the melting richness of clotted cream on warm Christmas pudding. Perhaps it is living as an expat, who has worked across much of Eastern Europe, that I am drawn to recall my favourite read of 2008, as Rose Tremain's 'The Road Home'.
I love the language. Different voices have different dialects, accents, and detail: we hear the Irish motion picture described as a 'fillum', just as Lev hears it. I love its imagery and leitmotifs which echo in the subtlest of mentions in the story. I love its perceptiveness of space, freedom and restriction; in the countryside, in microcosms of a restaurant kitchen, a bus, a wendy-house.
I also love puzzles, and Lev's home country is never determined. I believe it is intentionally all and none of a collection of southern Eastern European countries, so as not to label Lev, with a particular nationality. Its timeline is contemporary but not precise. I believe time and place are deliberately left open for the reader to interpret and provides the opportunity to meet Lev in any immigrant we may meet. To see an individual person with a unique story. And that is the beauty of her very real portrayal of characters in this wonderful work of fiction.

Ideas of Heaven: Kathleen Maher:
It makes no sense, but when asked what I read this year, I count fiction only. Of course, I prefer to write fiction instead of other pieces, but even after reasoning with myself—a book is…a book—I relegate reading political books, histories, and books about social trends, the Internet, and how-to Photoshop to pleasant chores, like reading the newspaper or The New Yorker. “Ideas of Heaven,” by Joan Silber, c. 2004. These six stories form a circle of characters, some of whom act upon each other’s lives and others who come from an earlier time but indirectly foretell the personality or fate of the more contemporary characters. This beautiful book almost called my name in January, even though I had read it already, sometimes in 2007.

So there you go - do let us know in the comments what your favourite read of 08 was. See you in 09!


Stella said...

Who made those reindeer-shaped cookies with colored sugar? We absolutely have to have them at next year's party as well.

Hope everyone had a great holiday!

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Stella, spot on as always!

The virtual paper-chains were very cute too. And the tree looked suspiciously like that in Paul's book. ;0)

Have a great start of 2009 everyone!

Anonymous said...

My own favorite was "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime." I picked up a copy someone had left behind, not expecting much, and found it to be utterly delightful.

Separately, it's fun to see "Silent Planet" on your list. I read it when I was about 11 years old and on a sci-fi kick. I remember liking it very much--you've given me the impetus to read it again with my considerably older perspective. (As I recall, it is part of a trilogy.)

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Rufus - did you also read 'A Spot of Bother'? Curious to know if you liked both (no pun intended...)