Books I Read in 2008: A Review

As I did last year, I thought I’d go over the books I’ve read over the last 12 months. Of course, this time around I also did the whole “52 books in 52 weeks” challenge where I aimed to read an average of a book a week during the year. I passed that goal by quite a bit, it turns out, so I think I can say I completed that challenge. Also congrats to Jeremy and Heliologue for hitting (or passing) their goals as well, as well as Nick who got a late start but participated every week once he got going.

All in all, I ended up reading 65 books in 2008, which you can see here. Here’s some fun stats:

  • Total books: 65
  • Total pages: 18,759*
  • Average book length: 354 pages**
  • Paper books: 22
  • Audio books: 43
  • Fiction books: 39
    • Fantasy: 14
    • Horror: 4
    • Science fiction: 7
    • Other fiction: 14
  • Nonfiction books:26
    • Business: 4
    • Humor: 4
    • Biography: 5
    • History: 1
    • Science: 7
    • Other nonfiction: 5

*If you convert the length of the audiobooks to page counts by looking at their paper counterparts

If I were to pick a theme for 2008, I’d say that it’s definitely the year that I discovered some great new authors. I fell in love with the Diskworld books Terry Pratchett, as well as the self depricating but brutally honest humor of David Sedaris. I also liked the mixture of humor and science writing that Mary Roach brings to her books, and I could even mention Naomi Novik since I liked her 5 Temeraire books well enough to read them all.

And of course, this annual post wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of the best and worst books I read this year.

Best Book I Read in 2008

Like last year, this was kind of a tough call since there weren’t any books that just completely blew me away. There were several good books, though. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon was an intruiging look at the mind of an autistic boy and I appreciated how the author used the narrator’s disability to bring a unique dramatic tension to what should be an emotionally charged story. And Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is far from an uplifting story, but this tale of a man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world is really powerful and really hard to put down. Both those books are runner-ups.

Predictably Irrational

My favorite book from 2008, though, is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. This nonfiction book about “behavioral economics” discussed the various kinks in the human psyche that compel us to behave in ways that are odd and downright indefensible in everyday situations. Why are you likely to pay more for something if you are shown a large number completely unrelated to the price? Why do people who read words like “elderly,” “decrepit,” or “senior” tend to walk more slowly when they get up and leave the room? Why does losing a dollar cause us more pain than gaining a dollar gives us pleasure? Why are we more likely to buy a product we’re not even shopping for or don’t even need if we’re given a free sample? And, perhaps most importantly, how do people in the know –people like advertisers, politicians, and psychology graduate students– use these idiosyncrasies to subtly manipulate us?

What I like about Ariely’s approach is that he keeps everything relevant and grounded in situations we encounter every day, but at the same time he didn’t stray from the science of psychology. Along with every little vignette and story he includes concise explanations of the studies that support his point, including the methodologies and theories behind them. It’s great science writing and incredibly interesting.

Worst Book I Read in 2008

Hoo, boy, this was a tough one, as there were a few really strong contenders for this title. I hated Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver because it was a meandering, overly verbose, plotless mess that was torture to get through. And I very nearly gave the award to Jim Collins’s Good to Great because this business book that’s supposedly about how to build a good company into a bastion of greatness proved to be little more than vaguely mumbled platatudes born of research methodologies so flawed they’d get you expelled from most community colleges.

How Starbucks Saved My Life

In the end, however, I had to go with Michael Gates Gill’s How Starbucks Saved My Life not on ly because of how badly it was written, but how blatant and ham-fisted it was in its sermonizing. The author’s pedigree as an advertising man infringes on his ability to take what is a decent premise (i.e., an out of work executive is forced to take an hourly job at Starbucks to survive) and completely ruin it by not only making it sappy and saccharine, but slapping you with the story’s moral with all the subtlety of a deodorant commercial. Really, just awful.

So, that’s it for 2008. All in all a pretty good year. I’m going to continue on with some of the new authors I’ve discovered next year, particularly Terry Pratchett and David Sedaris. I’m going to keep writing the reviews on Fridays and I’ll probably hit the 52 book mark again since my commute isn’t getting any shorter and I’ll hopefully spend at least an equal amount of time in the gym. But I don’t think I’ll formalize the challenge again in 2009. Instead, I have a different 52-in-52 goal in mind, which I’ll be posting about soon.

But what about you guys? What were your best and worst books of the year?

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4 thoughts on “Books I Read in 2008: A Review

  1. Best book (audio) was Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. I’m not sure if I have a worst book cause (a) I’m seriously forgiving, especially for authors I’m already or have once been a fan of [*cough* Piers Anthony *cough*] (b) If I’m not feeling a book, I tend to not finish, though that honestly doesn’t happen much (c) I have a horrible memory (d) I have nowhere near the same amount of time to read as I did oh, three years ago.
    If I can come up with a worst book, or revise my idea of the best book I’ll probably come back and post again cause, you know, I have no boundaries. Well I do but… oh, shut up Patti.
    Back on topic, Assassination, while not just the most recent book I’ve read/listened to also sat very well with me, and left me saying, “I *heart* Garfield”.
    And once again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to type llama (twice).

  2. I’ve enjoyed Sarah Vowell on “This American Life”, I may have to check her books out.
    My least favorite books of the year were the Christmas Sweater and War of Gifts. Both of them holiday books, and both of them were poorly written. I wasn’t expecting much from Christmas Sweater, but War of Gifts just reminded me how good Orson Scott Card used to be, and how bad he is now.
    Other than the three or four photography books I read and loved, my favorite this year was probably Old Man’s War. It got me back into science fiction and introduced me to one of my favorite new authors, John Scalzi.

  3. Well, 2009 was more of the year of the podcast for me. I am completely hooked. However, I did manage to get through a dozen or so books this year. My favorite by far was The Drunkyard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Ours Live by Leonard Mlodinow. Close seconds would be In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Can’t comment on any really bad ones this year. If I don’t like it, I usually don’t have the patience to listen/read all the way through. Looking forward to you next challenge, I’m game. Work is a little frustrating lately and I need to focus on other stuff.

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