Friday, November 28, 2008

New York Times' critics name favorite books of 2008

This year, rather than announce the 10 best books of the year -- typically five fiction and five non-fiction books -- the New York Times has done something different. Two of its reviewers, Janet Maslin and Michiko Kakutani, have each selected their 10 favorite books of the year.

Kakutani's selections include three I have read and one that is on my short-list. The three I have read are Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves, Lush Life by Richard Price and Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. The book on my short-list is Toni Morrison's A Mercy. I am surprised, but pleased by Kakutani's selection of Erdrich. She is a terrific, yet often overlooked, novelist. I liked Lush Life a lot, but did not care for Netherland.

Maslin's picks includes two books I have read -- The Given Day by Dennis Lehane and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I liked Edgar Sawtelle a lot, but was lukewarm about The Given Day. Also on her list is 2666 by Roberto Bolano. That's on my short-list. And a book I plan to add to the short-list that Maslin enjoyed is When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Times announces Notable Books of 2008

The New York Times posted its Notable Books of 2008 on its website today. The list is always worth perusing, both for the books listed and those omitted.

Here are the Notable Books that I have read:
  • Breath, Tim Winton
  • The English Major, Jim Harrison
  • Fine Just The Way It Is; Wyoming Stories 3, Annie Proulx
  • The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti
  • Home, Marilynne Robinson
  • Lush Life, Richard Price
  • A Most Wanted Man, John le Carre
  • Netherland, Joseph O'Neill
  • Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories, Tobias Wolff
  • Telex From Cuba, Rachel Kushner
  • Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Nixonland, Rick Perlstein
  • The Ten-Cent Plaque, David Hajdu
  • Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt
And those on my reading short-list:
  • The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon
  • 2666, Roberto Bolano
  • American Lion, Jon Meacham
And those that piqued my curiousity:
  • Black Flies, Shannon Burke
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Simon Armitage
  • When Will There Be Good News?, Kate Atkinson
  • Delta Blues, Ted Gioia
  • A Great Idea At The Time, Alex Beam
What I am wondering is where is Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Post chronicles the struggles of an independent bookstore

An article in this morning's Washington Post chronicles the struggles of Vertigo, an independent bookstore in College Park, Maryland.

Here's a sample of the article by reporter Bob Thompson:

Late last month, Warren and Stewart appealed for help in an e-mail to regular customers and a posting on the store's Web site. "Vertigo books is at risk," it began. "Vote with your dollars now if you value our local economy and this store." They didn't want to be seen as whining or asking for handouts. But they'd also watched what had happened, over the past year, to other independent area stores.

Poof! No Karibu.

Poof! No Olsson's.

Poof! No Candida's or Chapters or A Likely Story -- though Chapters remains on life support, its inventory in storage as it struggles to find a new location.

It's difficult to imagine that an independent bookstore cannot prosper in the Washington D.C. area. Lots of readers, lots of book buyers here. Unfortunately, all those readers are either turning to the chains (Barnes & Noble or Borders) or buying books on line.

Anyone who cares about books has an obligation to support independent bookstores and to help reserve this horrible trend. I give my custom to the chains, but I also support the independents. I loved the Olsson's that was just around the corner from my office and I believe that Politics & Prose in Washington and Murder by the Book in Houston are two of the finest bookstores anywhere.