Year 2008 was surely an eventful one for the literary world. Salman Rushdie won the Best of the Booker award early this year and Aravind Adiga bagged the Booker Prize for his debut The White Tiger. American author Stephanie Meyer stole J.K Rowling’s coveted place to become the queen of teenage fantasy. Great authors emerged and grand writers were lost. We shall miss the inspirations of Randy Paush and the techno thriller novels of Michael Crichton after they died this year, but we have a roll of other great novels to relish! Let's take a look...
It’s the end of the year 2008, and Culturazzi brings to you a list of the top 10 books that made it really big this year! (We’ll try to exclude the obvious Booker Shortlists and Longlists from this one. You can take a look at those HERE.)
This bestselling book is a debut by American writer David Wroblewski. The book made its privileged entry into Oprah Winfrey’s book club this year. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is Shakespeare’s Hamlet retold but Wroblewski does it this time around in a small farm of rural Wisconsin. The main character of the novel is a mute boy who runs away from home after his father is killed. He later returns to his usurped home, hoping to prove his suspicions that his uncle murdered his father. The 570 page novel is known for its exquisite language and the intricacies of its plot. Watch out for this "American Hamlet"!
This is the fourth book in the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Much like the Harry Potter series, this series too is a rage amongst all age groups, from teenagers to adults. The book had a special midnight release party in many bookstores, and from its initial print run of 3.7 million copies, 1.3 million were sold in the first 24 hours of its release, setting a record in first-day sales performance. For the information of the "highly intellectual" - Twilight is a series of four vampire based fantasy/romance novels by the American author. It follows the adventures of “Bella” Swan, a teenager who moves to Washington, and finds her life turned upside-down when she falls in love with a vampire named Edward Cullen.
Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s much awaited 9th novel A Mercy was released late this year. Like her most acclaimed novel Beloved, this novel too revisits slavery, and is the story of a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her. Florens, the main character who is a young slave girl tells her story in chapters that alternate with the narratives of other characters. Florens was given at 7 to a Dutch trader named Jacob Vaark as payment for a debt. What she is too young to understand is why her mother insists that the trader take her daughter: Her mother knows that Florens stands the chance of a better life as a slave with Jacob than with Senor D'Ortega, the abusive man who would otherwise employ her. This is the "mercy" of the title.
So who doesn't know about this year’s Booker Prize winning novel? Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger studies the contrast between India’s rise as a modern global economy and the main character, who comes from crushing rural poverty. Balram Halwai who is The White Tiger (protagonist) of the book earns the title by virtue of being deemed as the smartest boy in his village - a community which is deep in the "Darkness" of rural India. The novel progresses in a series of letters written by Balram to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Here Balram relates his rise from humble origins of his village to his current position as an entrepreneur in Bangalore, India. You have to be reading this one if you call yourself a bookworm.
This is a nonfiction book by American journalist Dexter Filkins, about his observations and reflections on assignment in Afghanistan and Iraq, during the Iraq War. It begins with a Taliban-staged execution in Kabul, and ends with Filkins musing on the names of those dead in a WWI British cemetery in Baghdad. Non-political and highly personal, Filkins as a brave war correspondent goes after the day-to-day story that delivers a report of Iraqi life over the years after the invasion. A highly recommended book by many critics.
Unaccustomed Earth is the latest novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. The book, like her prize winning book The Interpreter of Maladies, is a collection of five short stories, namely: Hell-Heaven, A Choice of Accommodations, Only Goodness, Nobody's Business and Hema & Kaushik. The stories take readers from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand by focusing on the life of people coming from different cultures and how they cope with one another. The novel is rich with Lahiri’s trademarks – an emotional astuteness, her beautiful language and those powerful plots.
Writer Leif Enger’s second novel So Brave, Young and Handsome is set in America in 1915. The main character and story-teller is Monte Becket, a novel writer who quits his job in the post office. Having lost his sense of direction in life, Monte simply lives with his painter-wife Susanna and his charming son name Redstart. Life changes forever when he meets the outlaw Glendon Hale and they venture out into a world full of possibilities and redemption. The novel is complex and hilarious and matches the charisma of Leif Enger’s first novel, Peace like a River that won the title of the Los Angeles Times Book of the year in 2002.
This book by Helene Cooper is the latest book selected by Starbucks to be featured at its stores nationwide. (The Starbucks Book Club is like Oprah's Book Club in its choice of superior books and on the influence front!) The House at Sugar Beach is a memoir by the writer, about her privileged African childhood in Liberia during the country's civil war. Helene Cooper is the daughter of one of Liberia's elite families but after a coup threw her people out of power, she moved to the United States, eventually becoming a journalist. Her book if full of vivid detailing which uses the language of a poet rather than a journalist.
1997 Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser's novel Dangerous Laughter that released this year is complete with thirteen short stories. The author, quoted by The New Yorker as "a virtuoso of waking dreams" creates with this book, a stunning collection of dark and comic stories. Part one, "Vanishing Acts," features stories of risk and escape. Part two's "Impossible Architectures," is about astonishing kings and enthralling cities. Part three’s "Heretical Histories" presents startling alternative possibilities to the histories of our world that so far have been securely established. The book is a perfect introduction for those who are new to the grand author’s writing.
Okay, we know this was was one of the frontrunners for the Booker this year, and we had chosen to leave them out of this list. However, we had to make an exception for The Northen Clemency. And the big reason is: the novel was recently named Amazon's Best Book of 2008! The book by Philip Hensher is set in Sheffield, and charts the relationship between two families: Malcolm and Katherine Glover with their three children, and their neighbors - the Sellers family who have newly arrived from London. Philip Hensher with his powers of invention, high-quality humor, and artistry of language makes this novel a true modern epic.
So here's bidding adieu to a "literally" fabulous 2008! Let's hope we have a bookalicious 2009... Happy reading!