Friday, December 12, 2008

Favorite New Books of 2008: Part One

I decided to be a unique trailblazer on this book blog and put my FAVORITE 2008 BOOK LIST! Please try to control your gasping, you'll need that oxygen for this fast-paced list! Please note this isn't "my favorite books read in 2008", it's specifically for books released this year (or translated works that were finally done in English this year) I haven't seen any lists that look too much like mine- though obviously there are some books that just rubbed almost everyone the right way- so hopefully this won't be too painful.

Note: I haven't read 2666 yet.

Neat Notes: A gigantic variety of my picks are from first-time novelists. Now that I think about it, a lot of my favorite books are the first books of their respective authors! I guess I'm naturally a sucker for books that were worked on over a period of time by someone who wasn't even sure they'd get published- they just had an immense story in their head that they just HAD to get out through their fingertips before they could move on. First-time published authors with only one book currently out there: I salute you. Every book that is the first for the author will eb marked with an *. Moving on...

* Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
I seriously cannot stop gushing praise like blood out of an open wound about this book. Yes, it's practically bloody from my adoration for it! Pages barely turning they're so soaked in plasma- and I think I've taken this metaphor farther than it should have gone in the first place. I should mention this is *not* a vampire novel.

Set in 1950's Cuba when the revolution was about to explode, this book is all about characters- and those are my favorite types of stories. We have a fake French beauty with fishnets that are literally painted onto her legs. She crosses them towards a politico she's seducing, then she crosses them over to the other side towards the Castro brothers- she's a dancing Mata Hari. They plot while sugar cane fields burn and uppity American society women with no ambitions beyond being racist gossiping trophy wives melt into indignity in the unforgiving Cuban heat. Every single time I opened this book I was transported- I cannot believe how gorgeous Kushner's prose is.

"He sat in the back of the Pam-Pam Room and watched Rachel K's show, her golden sartouche whipping like a lasso as she swung around a pole, no less graceful than a ballerina, though ballet dancers were like porcelain figures, elegantly molded and coldly unsexed, while Rachel K was warm-looking, soft-contoured flesh. A gaudly spill of platinum hair and those barely bobbing firm-jelly breasts that are not only rare, a happy coincidence of genetics and luck, but utterly time-sensitive, existing only in a slim window of youth. Youth was no miracle, he knew. Or it was a banal miracle. And yet he loved the blunt perfection of young flesh. Unreflective, knowing only its moment-to-moment existence."

* A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
"The past is truly an inoperable tumor that spreads to the present."
I've seen a few reviews of this novel malign it for being 561 pages, I guess because it's the sort that usually clocks in around 360 pages (I hope that makes sense to you, because it just barely makes no sense at all to me.) Even though it IS hilarious, and is yet another fictional story about a messed up family, it's so much longer than its recent red-headed step-bretheren because Toltz makes every single character have a neat little history and his or her own unique voice. I mean EVERYBODY- he stuffs the pages full of hyper-descriptive details that flow by so easily and are so readable that he's mastered the practice in his first novel while Stephen King had to eventually ban his orgy of descriptions (for the most part) out of his recent nvoels.

This book reads like a very talented person labored over it for years while experiencing a lot of life at the same time, and thankfully funneled it all into the book. It has true laugh-out-loud humor (I usually just smile to myself when something is funny in a book, this one actually made me vocal), elegant cruelty, empathy and unexpected warmth. If you enjoy joyful complexity this will probably be a great one for you.

* The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
This seems like a love-it-or-hate-it book, and while I love it I still think a million smackers is way too much to give ANYONE- especially a first-timer- for a book. There's just too many great authors making little to no money, it's just stupid to blow the budget on a hyped few.

That's besides the point, anyway- this novel really surprised me. I was ready to hate it, and instead the gargoyle gripped me tightly on page one and dragged me happily through the rest of the pages. This stuff is VERY grotesque, and it's not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of a severely burned porn-star coke-addict whose injuries include castration via fire meeting gin meeting crotch. But Davidson someone finds a way to not only make reading that palatable, but downright fun. The confidence in every sentence just won me over and I bought into this book mind and soul. It's a lot "sweeter" than I would have expected, and the love story involves "lovers" so star-crossed they make Romeo and Juliet look like amateurs. Imagine a male version of Chuck Palahniuk's "Invisible Monsters" mashed with gothic religious fables and a doomed love story. It's weird in a sincere way, and I think that's great.

* The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
I received this book as an ARC, and while I read it I felt like I had somehow discovered a real quiet little treasure. But before I knew it it was winning awards left and right and winning over nearly everybody. I hope the hype doesn't ruin it for anyone- the book almost works because it's so unassuming and nowhere near showy. To quote my review (I apologize for my laziness, but I did like how that review came out): "From page one the story pulled me in with an almost old-fashioned kind of storytelling. Every character is deeply flawed but never wholly a villain, and the way Ren is almost immediately surrounded by a motley cast of characters feels natural." "There are twists to the story, twists that felt like the weird machinations in life rather than manipulated fictional climaxes."

If you're like me and enjoy big-hearted, old-fashioned dark adventures starring plucky orphans- this is a real treat.

More later!

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