A few people had asked me to do a little feature on my best books of 2008. It's a sensible request given that I work in a bookstore and sometimes post about books that I've read or am reading. Putting together a quality post about new books in the same way that's done with music is a different order altogether though. Why? Because I tend to not read new books when they come out with the same frequency that I find new music. Most of what I read during the past year was "catch-up" material, classics and whatnot that I'd never had a chance to read. I don't even bother trying to stay abreast of "new, up and coming" authors (and I'm barely able to do that with bands/musicians).
Nevertheless, I did read a couple new books this year that I really enjoyed. Both of these I did "reviews" of: 2008 Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger and Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence (I also happened to read Midnight's Children about a month ago and it surpasses the glowing review I gave to Enchantress...). The other day I started Joseph O'Neill's Netherland (which made the NY Times "Top of 2008" list) and I like what little I've read so far. I also read the first story in Jhumpa Lahiri's new short story collection Unaccustomed Earth. The prose was elegant and the story exquisitely crafted, but overall incredibly depressing and gushing with sentimentality. Not really my kind of material, though I wouldn't mind being blessed with her gift for diction.
It's really one of the paradoxes and conundrums the modern role of publishing that someone who works in a bookstore and writes doesn't really read contemporary fiction, somehow expects to have a future in this business. Then again, people seem to fall all over themselves to buy the latest David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman or some new age claptrap or mystery/thriller pablum. I write poetry and barely anybody reads that anymore, including myself. I could hardly name you any new, worthwhile poets to check out, yet for whatever reason I hope to find myself in their company. Well, really I don't think anybody wants the company, we desire to exist on the next step above. And we all clamber like the living dead over one another to enter creative writing programs. Madness I tell you, pure madness.
One good piece of advice that I feel entitled to give, however, is "Go Read!" Seriously, go buy some books and read. Forget tv or movies or whatever for a while. We're dying a slow, agonizing death and we word-lubbers aren't going to be the only ones who rue the day publishing dies. It's the one thing I'm bound to get sentimental about.