Top Ten Books 2008

This is the time of year where I go a bit list crazy. This time up it’s the return of the infamous Books What I Read in…, last year we stopped at five but this year I’ve done ten as my reading levels have been a little higher and I just couldn’t cut the list down. Interesting to note I upped my SF and fantasy reading, going to need to balance that out a bit more next year.

Anyway, here goes:

10. From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell – There is a problem with influential writers. Often, if you come to them sometime after they’ve made their initial impact, you find a weird sense of deja vu permeating your reading of their work. You know you haven’t read the work before but their impact on other writers and indeed other media has become so widespread that you feel as if you have. I’m too young to have caught Watchmen when it was originally released and, although I enjoyed it, that feeling kept bugging me throughout. Not so From Hell, beautifully written and drawn, deliciously dark and meticulously researched – it was an absolute delight to read. Moore at his story-telling best. Skip the film. No really: skip the film.

9. Spin By Robert Charles Wilson – I raved about this book at the time I read it. The review predates bookrater.co.uk and can be found here. Wilson’s a talented SF writer that manages to successfully blend huge SF ideas with good characterisation and Spin is a damned fine example. A good introduction to SF in my opinion.

8. Signals to Noise By Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean – OK, by now you’ve figured out that the deal here is these are the best books I read in 2008 rather than those released in 2008. Neil gets two entries by virtue of my only reading Signals to Noise for the first time this year and him releasing a damned fine book (more on that later) but in point of fact it’s Dave McKean that pushed this into my list for 2008. Gaiman’s prose is typically very good but McKean’s art is…something else…it’s just a beautiful book and I often take it down off the shelf just to flick through the art. If you’re wondering what the fuss is about when it comes to Gaiman & McKean: a) where have you been and b) read this book.

7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Reviewed on bookrater.co.uk, you can read this here. My opinion on this one hasn’t changed, I wish it had been written when I was a child and I can’t wait for my niece to be old enough for me to read it to her, complete with voices.

6. My life as a Fake by Peter Carey – Actually a fairly recent entry that I haven’t had time to review yet, although I will. I am fond of Peter Carey’s work and will periodically dust off my copy of The True History of The Ned Kelly Gang just for the joy of how it’s put together. My Life as a Fake is a typically well-constructed novel full of rich layers and skillful prose that I read on one sickly Sunday, binging on Carey’s riff on Frankenstein.

5. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – OK, I admit it: I hadn’t read this. There I said it. If you’re a hardcore SF fan then you’ll have read this and you won’t need me to tell you it rocks. Better than 1984 for the simple reason that it has somehow managed not to age as much as Orwell’s classic. Bradbury’s prose is typically liquid and his characters beautifully crafted. If you’re a fan of literature (let alone SF) you need to read this.

4. After Dark by Haruki Murakami – I’ve been meaning to check out Murakami for ages, this year I finally did. After Dark is a stunning tale told over a single night and focusing, at its core, on two sisters and their shifting relationship. Dark and evocative, this novel will leave you feeling like you’ve been up all night drinking too much coffee and you just hallucinated the story, in a good way. Read it. Read it now.

3. Living Next Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson – Review on bookrater.co.uk, you can read it here. This book has hard SF, myth, pop culture, character driven story and some damned fine writing all wrapped up in one package. I loved it and have resorted to pushing it at anyone I think will read it.

2. The Scar by China Mieville – I read a ton of China’s stuff this year and if this list went to thirteen then all of his stuff I’ve read to date would be on it. Sadly, thirteen is unlucky. The Scar is my favourite China novel because I think, out of the stuff I’ve read, it’s his most well-rounded work. I love King Rat but it does have a few bumps that, to paraphrase a friend, mark it as a first novel and you can tell China seems to be feeling his way through the story, searching for his style. Perdito Street Station is great and wonderful but it does bloat in places. In contrast The Scar is tight, confident and told in the kind of beautiful prose style that only China can deliver. I want to read it again just writing this.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Klay by Michael Chabon – Chabon was claimed by the literary set by virtue of publishing mainstream first but I think most genre fans have spotted that is heart really belongs to us. I can’t say enough good things about this novel: the characters enthrall, the blending of history and fiction masterly don, that lyrical prose style, the dash of myth…I’m basically gushing. The guy has a pulitzer; he doesn’t need some tired taff to know he’s good. Still my favourite accidental spot, even if he did look terrified at being recognised.

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