Well my UK-counterpart Kirsty beat me to the punch this year but once again I’d like to share some of OUP’s favorite books of 2008. Below are what my co-workers and I were reading this year. Perhaps they will inspire you to read more next year! Below I kick things off my with my favorite book.
Rebecca Ford, OUPblog Editor: I read a lot of books this year but I think the one that will stick with me is Crush by Richard Siken. I haven’t bought a poetry book since college and Siken’s poems made me remember why I love poetry. Each poem in Siken’s collection is overflowing with emotion and panic and his words make you feel his pain physically. Don’t know what I mean? Read here and here. From “Wishbone”, “There’s smashed glass glittering everywhere like stars. It’s a Western, Henry,/ it’s a downright shoot-em-up. We’ve made a graveyard out of the bone white afternoon.”
Megan E. Kennedy, Marketing Manager, Academic and Trade Books
My libro favorito this year was Junot Díaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Told in fast-paced Spanglish and full of interesting (and oftentimes hilarious) footnotes, this book chronicles the life of a second-generation Dominican dork trying to overcome the limitations of his weight, ancestry, family, and an ancient curse called “fuku.” Díaz uses a lively cast of characters—including Oscar’s hermana bonita, his disapproving mother, and the dictator Trujillo—to tell the larger story of the history of the Dominican Republic. The high energy prose is captivating, and effectively conveys both the inner struggles of Oscar’s daily life in New Jersey as well as the struggles of a country oppressed by a maniacal dictator. Léanlo! (Read it!)
Cassie Ammerman, Publicity Assistant: Because I spend so much of my time commuting, I’ve started to listen to more and more audio books in the last year. I have a subscription to Audible.com (best gift ever, thanks Dad!) so I get two free downloads a month. It’s definitely hit or miss with the narrator adding another whole dimension to a book, but I’ve found a couple that really stand out as amazing listens.
I know The Graveyard Book has been hailed by critics worldwide as a fantastic young adult novel, but believe me; it’s not just for kids! Neil Gaimon narrates his own work in the audiobook, and his voice is wonderful and warm. Nobody Owens is a character you love, even when he makes mistakes and defies his ghostly guardians. Highly, highly recommended.
My second recommendation is Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet, narrated by Simon Vance. Another narrator with a British accent (both British authors too, come to think of it. Hmm. Maybe I should pay my colleagues in the UK a visit soon…) who does a wonderful job. This is the memoir of a man with Asperger’s syndrome and savant syndrome. On top of that, he’s gay. But if you think these difficulties kept him down, you’re wrong. He makes the most of his life and has adventures I would never even dream of. This is a great listen, designed to make you think about the people around you and see past the surface of people with disabilities.
Abby Gross, Associate Editor, Brain and Behavioral Sciences: I courted Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler at my neighborhood bookstore for months before going ahead with the purchase. It was worth it. The main narrative is written in the second person — meaning the reader is also the narrator — and it follows on the odd-numbered chapters. Interspersed are first chapters of 10 different books in different styles, set in different parts of the world, with titles that are more like phrases: “Outside the town of Malbork,” “In a network of lines that intersect,” “Without fear of wind or vertigo,” and of course, “If on a winter’s night a traveler.” The main narrative revolves around what begins as a literary detective story: the narrator purchases a book, reads the beginning, finds that where the second half of the book should be, there is the first half of another book, and is compelled to find the rest of the book. The narrator might have given up there but he has met a bookish woman whom he would like to impress by finding the missing ending. In his quest he manages to find not the ending but the beginnings of several other books, the existentialist crises of writers and readers, false authors, false translations, a rogue translator, experts of politically defunct languages, and book-banning dictatorships. Oh, and Mr. Cavedagna, “shrunken and bent,” the poor editor at the publishing house that mangled the books up from the beginning, whose corridors are described as “full of snares: drama cooperatives from psychiatric hospitals roam[ing] through them, groups devoted to group analysis, feminist commandos.” This is not a good subway read, note. But very funny and entertaining and either more profound than I can possibly understand or else not profound at all. A pen has bled itself all over my already rain-crimped copy, so I’ll probably get another one (if not more Calvino books) in 2009.
Dayne Poshusta, Editorial Assistant, History: My favorite book this year is Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. I’m a huge fan of Gabriél Garcia Marquez; this sprawling ode to the timelessness of love and winter in New York City ranks among the best magical-realist fiction. Helprin’s elegant and lyrical writing simply transports the imagination. This was the perfect thing to read in November because it provided a lovely anti-dote to all the doom-and-gloom news about the economy, the war, and the environment.
Eve Donegan, Sales and Marketing Assistant: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is an easy year’s best for me. Due to a lack of focus on my part, I prefer short stories. Diaz’s use of footnotes and the perspectives of multiple characters really got me involved with the text. I finished the book completely satisfied and without a hint of boredom. While the plot was humorous, it also incorporated a very honest look into the sorrows of Dominican history. Diaz offered just the right amount of history within the quirky, funny, and sometimes sad, storyline. This book is for anyone with an interest in the Dominican culture, underdog stories, tales of love, or generational narratives.
Justin Hargett, Associate Publicist: I’d be hard pressed to find a link between any of the books I read this year, other than at some point they were on my shelf or staring me down in a book store. So, as I’ve tried to determine which of this motley crew I’d call my favorite, I keep coming back to four particular books that I would absolutely recommend to anyone, anytime. (I swear this is not a cop-out, I have a favorite, but insist the other three must be noted.)
The runners up:
Barack Obama – Dreams from My Father (The insightful, inspiring memoir of our president-elect. A must read for the civic minded of both sides.)
Paul Hemphill – Lovesick Blues (The life and death of Hank Williams. A timeless experience of life in show business: poverty, stardom, and abuse.)
Steve Martin – Born Standing Up (Who briefly extended my hope of making it in show business as a juggler with no punchlines. Also, it serves as an interesting, and a completely contrary, companion to the previous.)
But, the winner is:
Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood
This tragic romance, the story of a doomed love-triangle soaked in the nostalgia of 1960s Tokyo, is a simple, beautiful novel. Despite a generation’s gap and nearly 8000 miles of ocean and land between, Murakami’s characters (for at least the time I spent with them) were as real to me as the friends I’ve known for years…and perhaps even more real to me than the three very true stories of the runners up.
Cassandra Palmer, Copywriter, Higher Education Group
Earlier this month, I picked up The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago, and found it impossible to put back down. A fictionalized account of the life of Jesus Christ written by a great literary master, this book recreates Jesus Christ as a man who has conflicted feelings about almost everything, but most of all about God. Marked by wry, irreverent narration, it successfully combines philosophical analysis and literary fiction. I would recommend it to anyone dissatisfied with the—religious or commercial, as it addresses both—elements of the holiday season.