Well, I had planned to write this in late December. However, I decided then to spend as much time
as possible with my nieces plus I was trying to become more of a Newsvine slacker and write fewer stories. Obviously that didn't take:)
So here's my list. Note that the list is best books "read" as opposed to best books "published" because in the case of at least one - King Dork - it was published more than one year ago. Lists of this type are also difficult because you have to decide how to define "best" - best characters? Best plot? Funniest?
Why are there not 10? Well, a) 10 is so obvious, so cliche, so easy and b) it's a shout-out to the writers on strike.
The list is in no particular order.
1. The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke has long been one of the best crime writers around, if not one of the best writers of all genres, but he's stepped it up a notch since Katrina as he's been able to write in his latest novel, the Tin Roof Blowdown and this short story collection, Jesus Out to Sea, about how the region has been affected by the hurricane. I was lucky enough to be able to interview him late last year .
2. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz: I love mysteries and thrillers but a lot of my favorite writers -- Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, George Pelecanos -- are getting quite well known. There's something special about coming across an author before he or she is well known. Lutz's debut novel is stunning in its brilliance and hilarity. At turns surprising and funny -- and sometimes both -- I was gushing with praise for it when I talked with her. She and I agreed on the best description of her style: "Nancy Drew after a bottle of Jack Daniels."
Imagine a girl growing up in a family of private detectives in which every member follows and scams each other, and such. Now imagine trying to leave that family business. Add a voice that's even more smart ass than mine. Add new twists on old clichés and play up those detective novel stereotypes. Mix. Hilarity ensues.
I read her next book, Curse of the Spellmans, during the holidays and it is also quite stellar. It does not come out officially until mid-March and my next interview with her will come out around that time.
3. Einstein: His Life And Universe by Walter Isaacson Einstein has long been a fascination of mine and this biography of him made him even more interesting. It's not easy to make descriptions of the theory of relativity interesting but he pulls it off. What made it even more interesting was hearing about how he grappled with religion, religious groups, pacifist groups and others. My interview with the author is here. And, yes, I'll hereby admit that my opinion of some of these books was affected positively by my interviews with the author.
4. King Dork by Frank Portman: This book spoke so loudly to me — and not just because it was written by the singer of the punk band the Mr. T Experience — that I've been handing my copy to friends, pleading, "You HAVE got to read this." If you like sex, dreaded high school, ever spent more than five minutes trying to think of a great band name and love or hate The Catcher In the Rye, than this book will speak to you - and hopefully so will my interview with the author.
5. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction by Patrick Anderson: Anderson makes a solid case for why mysteries and thrillers so fascinate readers, including me, and why writers also love them. He also trashes some writers -- I'm looking at you, Tom Clancy and Patricia Cornwell -- who are undeserving of their riches and current popularity, as he explained to me.
Anderson wonderfully captures not only the history of the thriller but also its acceptance in society as real literature, not just as some niche or genre item. Anderson, who has been a speechwriter for presidents and who has written thrillers, has my dream job: He is paid by The Washington Post to review thrillers. It's always fun just to compare notes with him as I did during our interview.
I have since read and interviewed some of the authors suggested by Anderson including Karin Slaughter and Charles Huston.
6. What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman: This book is a perfect example of what Patrick Anderson is talking about. It's a thriller and mystery, yes, but it is about much more - ranging from the human condition, to relationships, to our wanting to believe the best about people. I've been following Lippman's career for a few years because, like Michael Connelly, she managed to make the transition from journalist to novelist. I interviewed her about 18 months ago. Her books keep getting better, though I don't know if it'll be possible to top the stunning work that is What the Dead Know. I do know I'll keep reading to find out.
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: To not only produce this great book but the whole seven-volume Potter series is an impressive feat. Whatever Rowling tries next -- maybe a detective series as Ian Rankin, another favorite mystery writer/interview of mine — famously suggested then sort of retracted, will, I'm sure, be fascinating. Personally, I'd love to see Rowling and Rankin try a joint project. The best review I read of the book came from Stephen King, which Chandra seeded here.
8. The Year of Living Biblically – AJ Jacobs In 2006 I interviewed Jacobs about one of my favorite non-fiction books, the hysterical The Know-It-All, for which he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and documented the feat, which pretty much took over his life and drove family and friends crazy. For his new book he tries to follow the rules contained in the Bible, from not shaving (he documents with photos) to stoning to death those committing adultery (I think, he decided for legal reasons, to skip that one) and, well, you get the idea.
His 2007 book is very thought-provoking and raises a lot of great questions. My love for the book and the author increased during my interview with him, which you can read here. He went to Israel, he interviewed snake handlers, he met Amish – he explored all types of people and ideas and the reader travels vicariously through him.
9. Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks I wrote my review of Sack's book which was published Tuesday.
Put simply it's a fascinating look into how music affects people's minds.
Rowling and Sacks are the only two on this list who I have not yet had the honor of interviewing.
And that's my list for the year.
Related: Will You Take the 2008 Reading Challenge?