I have once again been prowling the corridors of OUP here in Oxford, finding what my colleagues from all over the Press have been reading in 2008. Here are your recommendations – if you move quickly you could treat yourself to one before Christmas. Me first…
Kirsty McHugh, Press Officer, Trade and Reference Books, and UK Blogger!
My book of the year was The Victorians by A.N. Wilson, by a country mile. I have been fascinated by the Victorian era since I was a child, and am studying part time for a Masters Degree in Victorian Studies at the University of London at the moment (because I obviously don’t have enough to do working full time). This book is probably the best single-volume history of the era that I know of, and I urge anyone who wants to know more about an incredible period of history to pick up. Covering literature, politics, war, music, and the rise of tabloid journalism, this is simply a wonderful, deeply interesting book.
Stephanie Astill, Marketing Campaign Co-ordinator, Primary Schoolbooks
My favourite book of 2008 wasn’t one book, but a trilogy by Pat Barker – Regeration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. The whole trilogy centres on the lives of shell-shocked officers in the First World War, and their treatment under the care of Dr. W.H.R. Rivers. Perhaps the fact that the stories are loosely based on real characters makes them all the more poignant, and they are a stark reminder of how long-lasting the effects of war can be. Sometimes horrific, sometimes darkly funny, all three books are definately on my ‘read again’ shelf!
Owen Dobbs, Sales Support Manager, Academic Division
Strangely I have selected books in pairs for this.
Firstly the “immigrant experience” pair. I found What is the What by Dave Eggers (published 07) an extraordinary novel. Structurally imaginative, epic in scope and with a level of empathy for it’s subject that is rare, Egger’s rose above his reputation as the uber hip McSweeny man and delivered a novel utterly devoid of self consciousness and artifice. A complete triumph. The Other Hand by Chris Cleve is lighter but no less compelling. Cleve describes the unlikely turn of events that makes Nigerian born Little Bee a key protagonist in a marriage break up between a broad sheet columnist and a fashion magazine editor. That pitch alone should make you want to get a copy!
Then I have the “Web 2.0″ pair. In a year when I bought a new computer and a clever thing called an iPhone (and belatedly joined the masses on Facebook) a couple of books convinced me that the considerable expense of these purchases was well worth the money. Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams provides compelling examples from business where mass collaboration online has dramatically improved prospects for those bold enough to trust ” the wisdom of the crowds.” Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky does similar but looks more to the social implications web 2.0 principles will have. These recommendations come with a warning though. I now use expressions such as “aggregate” and “enriched content” in pub conversations. As I say, watch yourself.
Finally special mention for two novels that I thought were top notch this year. Helen Garner’s The Spare Room and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. Buy them, read them, lend them.
Robin Hesselink, Marketing Services Team Leader, Oxford Journals
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is a very unconventional yet poignant love story, and the otherwise implausible premise- a man with a rare genetic disorder unpredictably travels through time- is made completely believable thanks to Niffenegger’s beautiful prose. Heartwarming, heartbreaking, and exquisitely written, this is a must read for all romantics.
Sarah Brett, Assistant Web Editor
Despite being well over the average age of the readership of Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ series I have been entirely caught up in the cult following of these books since the first one was pressed upon me by a friend who feverishly assured me it was going to be the next big thing. So my favourite book of 2008 can only be Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book of the series, which came out in the summer. Meyer completely delivers on the promises made in the earlier books and certainly no other book this year has carried such anticipation for me. I devoured it within 24 hours and heartily enjoyed the thrills and spills of the emotional rollercoaster that carries the reader to the climax of the story. I can honestly say that it’s the best starcrossed vampire romance, written by a Mormon, that I’ve read this year.
Coleen Hatrick, Publicity Manager, Academic and Trade Books
My favourite book of 2008 was probably The Gathering by Anne Enright, a story of a large Irish family facing bereavement. A successful mix of contemporary London ish life style splayed against a traditional, cosseted, and secretly dysfunctional Irish family backdrop. Another favourite was The Spare Room by Helen Garner, an easy to read, beautifully produced, sparsely written story about friendship and the mental gymnastics needed to face an unfavourable and hopeless medical diagnosis.
Sam Evans, Sales & Marketing Support Manager, Primary Schoolbooks
Sharing a Shell, written by Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo and Oxford Reading Tree’s Songbirds is a beautifully illustrated rhyming story about friendship between Crab, Blob and Brush. This is a great book for taking on holiday with your little ones.
Phil Henderson, Senior Marketing Manager, Trade Books
In my old age (Hm Hm) I confess I have discovered a secret delight – Terry Pratchett. The characters who people his Discworld are magnificently foible-filled and recognizable; their goings-on shed rather more light on our own lives than is comfortable. I read Making Money this summer and briefly had what felt like a real insight into our international money markets and the dark engines that drive them. Briefly. The credit crunch put an end to that – or perhaps I should say that Pratchett’s subject was extraordinarily timely.
A slightly more grown-up discovery has been The London Review of Books, and in particular an article that was also spookily prescient. Donald MacKenzie wrote about LIBOR – the inter-bank lending rate – and the very ordinary mortals who keep this hub of the international banking system from collapsing. Or don’t. But at least I now have a sense of why/how they don’t. How reassuring.