Ex Libris 2008

Ok, I’m a little behind in wrapping up last year, including picking the best book I read in 2008.  Let’s just say there have been more important things going on.

Like last year with George Orwell, it was great reading for the first time a book that I could have (should have) read earlier in life.  Naipaul is destined to be a sort of grounding for me, and that lesson in itself was a good one to learn.  I have Patrick French’s biography in the stack of books to read, but more likely I’ll finally get to A House for Mr. Biswas or In a Free State. And I can certainly sense a growing need to learn about and live in Sri Lanka, thanks in large part to Michael Ondaatje’s body of work and the poetic family memories he shares in Running in the Family.

But no, for 2008 it really was a choice between two books: Netherland and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Two very different novels with very distinct writing styles.  As mentioned in the respective reviews, voice mattered a great deal in both these works, and if you want a taste of today’s Dominican mash-up flavor (hurry, it will need updating every year, I’m sure), you need to read Junot Diaz.

But if you want a book that is both chock full of gorgeous prose and which asks you to think about life, which forces you to feel the meaning of the words in the middle of the night, then you can’t go wrong with Joseph O’Neill’s masterpiece.  The folks at Salon.com come close to calling it a perfect book during a 45-minute discussion.  You decide.

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