Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bryce’s Best of 2008 (Part 1), or, On Physicians’ Timetables, or, Sorry I’m Running Late

As my year drew to a close last week (one year of school left. Sort of.), I am reminded that I never put forward my Best of 2008 post. I had intended to write it, and even thought about it once or twice. However, doing “research” for the Best of 2009 article I plan to write always seemed more interesting. So, my selections for favorites that I discovered in 2008 are below. As always, I’m open to suggestions in all areas. Just make them good suggestions.

Without any further ado, here are my Best Reads of 2008.

Best Books of 2008

1. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. This book ruled with incredible awesomeness. Undoubtedly one of the best fantasy books I have ever read, and it actually came out in 2008. It takes the very traditional, oft-repeated approach to fantasy novels of a young man, orphaned, who later turns out to kick ass. This one does it with some incredible flair, great prose, amazing puns (if you think I’m kidding, read the book and then tell me I’m wrong), and clever twists. This book definitely stands out, head and shoulders, as the single best book of the year.

2. The Backslider, by Levi Peterson. Long-hailed as one of the standard works of Mormon fiction, this was another very well-constructed story, with some powerful themes in it. I do not believe a comparison between the protagonist, Frank Windham and the main character of Catcher in the Rye , Holden Caulfield, is out of order. Clearly a “coming of age” type of story, told as Frank struggles to deal with his Mormonism, parents, neighbors, and love. It really is a great read, with tight plot lines. While the book does have a bit of an abrupt climax without much resolution, this is clearly intentional. The focus of the book is on Frank’s struggles, not on his life after the resolution of those struggles. While some of the story lines may seem bizarre to those familiar with Mormonism, I think they are fairly representative of Peterson’s experience with his religion as he was raised with it, and gives a fascinating peek into his experiences as a young man.

Incidentally, I took the opportunity to also read Canyons of Grace, a collection of short stories by the same author, and have come away very impressed with this English professor of Weber State University. I would definitely recommend this collection as well.

3. Dune, by Frank Herbert. I grew up consuming fantasy novels whole, to hear Mother tell it. How did I never read this book until this year? I played the video game on my 386 running DOS 6.0. I’m not totally sure where I got the game, but I do know it was from one of the pre-internet “BBS”s that I used. That game was fun, but it just didn’t make sense. It had these Stormtrooper knock-offs that were fun to play with though.

I made the unfortunate mistake of renting the movie Dune as a senior in high school. This should come as no shock to anyone who might be reading this, but Satruday nights, after 10PM, Top Hat Video would let any video still in the store be rented for $0.25. My dad had this sweet dual deck VCR ideal for copying videos, and I could squeeze three movies onto one blank cassette. Hence, logically, I would rent 10 movies for $2.50, copy them over the weekend, and watch them at my leisure. In this way I stumbled on Dune, the movie. And such things as Sting in a plastic pair of pants speedo.

But there is also some other actor in the film who looks just like him, and that really helped the plot make sense. Especially since I had no exposure to the story before the film. To sum my experience with Dune in my youth, I was always completely confused.

But I did pick up the book eventually. And the book was great. I was pretty disappointed when my roommate told me that all the subsequent entries in the series stink. And any book that can stand the test of time and desecration dressed in dark blue vinyl clearly deserves a spot on this list.

4. Honorable mention goes to Joe Abercrombie, for cranking out (quickly!) his trilogy that took the traditional Tolkien quest, told it exceptionally well, all while turning it on its head. The most believable characters – the most flawed characters – that I think I’ve ever read about.

5. Another Honorable Mention to Scott Lynch, whose first two books of the “Gentleman Bastard” series have been enjoyable, believable, and completely different from each other.

Well, that is it. My Top 5 for 2008. If you have read any of them, I would like to hear your opinion; if you have your own list of Best Books of '08, I would also like to hear that. I promise I don't only read fantasy.

So far there has not been anything notable produced by my research for 2009, but I have hope for some promising releases later this year. Suggestions are always welcome.


Ranteumptom said...

My last attending thought the subsequent Dune books were worthwhile, and he was a surgeon so I'm pretty sure his literary review is infallible.

merilee said...

All right, So I loved "wind" but I kept trying to read "backslider" and couldn't do it. I think that the English degree ruined me. If I start thinking about the writing then I find myself unable to finish a book. So can I suggest, a book call "Thing unseen" IT WAS AWESOME. It was written for the jr high crowd, but seriously it was so good. It would be a great brain rest-stop while still engaging the creative side. REALLY READ IT. I'm your big sister, trust me. (I'll let you borrow my copy)

Ann-Marie said...

Jenny and Mer both called and raved and raved and raved about the book Guernsey Literary & Potato Pie Society. It's my next read. Everyone I've heard has said it's the best of the year! Read it with me?

peetie said...

AMP, bring the book to Utah when you come. I'd like to give it a whack.