Simon P’s Books Of The Year 2008
It’s time for a bit of self indulgent nonsense and my nominations for Books of the Year 2008 – or at least those books that for one reason or another have struck a chord over the last twelve months.
Surprise of the Year
Things To Teach Your Grandchildren by Mark Oliver Everett
A moving and amusingly wry coming of age account featuring suicide, death, cancer, teenage awkwardness, more death, pop stardom and quantum physics. I don’t love books about makers of music but this not only had me reaching for the CD shelves but actually had me look at life in a different light for a week or two. I will be giving a few copies of this as presents this Christmas.
The Timing Is Everything-Uncanny Prescience of the Year
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – by Nassem Nicholas Taleb
In which the myriad false premises beloved of otherwise super clever people in the field of economics are laid bare as the pseudo science they are. Or how the cleverest people in our society are also the most dangerously stupid. In any other year this would be a very funny book.
The Timing Is Everything-Least Timely Book of the Year
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson
2008 is perhaps not the year to write a major book and TV series about the primacy of the financial markets. But well done to the good professor for some late editorial changes to the accompanying TV series to reflect the, ahem, changed circumstances. My beef with The Ascent of Money is more that it’s nothing he hasn’t already covered elsewhere, for example in The Cash Nexus. As a corrective, I reread Empire and War of the World, which absolutely stand up – so all’s once again well in my Niall Ferguson world.
Polemic Of The Year
The Fall Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence by Andrew Anthony
It was a close run thing between this and Christopher Hitchen’s coruscating God Is Not Great, but in the end Andrew Anthony picks up the mantle of last year’s most thought provoking book, Nick Cohen’s What’s Left. In such hands the spirit of the classic political polemic is once again alive and well. That Cohen and Anthony’s arguments are logical, entertaining, convincing and remain largely unanswered, is to me, thrilling.
Historical Thriller Of the Year
The ambassador is spoiling us. Any category that features new works by CJ Sansom, Alan Furst, Boris Akunin and Andrew Martin among a myriad others must be a close run thing. This is my comfy slippers category and what I would chose to read in a comfy chair with a glass of something smooth and red in my comfy slippers has to be Boris Akunin. Akunin is a supreme stylist and either The State Councellor or Pelagia And The Black Monk were as enjoyable as anything this year.
Reissues Of The Year
Manuel Vazquez Montalban
If I could persuade fans of crime novels, or of Europe, or of food, or of laconic characters, or of Barcelona to read one author new to them this year, then I would not hesitate to point them toward Montalban. From the early 70s to the turn of the century his run of Pepe Carvalho novels covers the rise of a new Barcelona through the eyes of a disappointed foodie detective and his “family” of waifs and strays. Thanks be to Serpent’s Tail and especially for The Buenos Aires Quintet, not the place to start with Montalban but a great place to end up.
Euro Thriller Of The Year
Nemesis - Jo Nesbo
While we’re on comfy slipper categories…
This Night’s Foul Work by Fred Vargas was something right out of left field but this category has to belong to something Scandinavian. Now Kenneth Branagh is doing Wallander-lite on TV I feel the need to reluctantly move on from Henning Mankell. Easily the most enjoyable Scandi-thriller was for me Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, the latest in a great Harry Hole series, my enjoyment of which was only slightly ruined by it being published out of sequence. He has a new one out in the spring and I can’t wait.
Useful Book of the Year
1080 Spanish Recipes – Simone Ortega, Ines Ortega and Javier Mariscal
It’s gastro porn but not as we know it. 1080 Spanish Recipes is a comprehensive book of cookable recipes that seems like it must have been passed through families for generations and therefore has more in common with another Phaidon book, The Silver Spoon than with the latest Nigella/Delia/Jamie. This is a beautiful book but one that is as useful as it is inspiring. I’m not sure if I’m more inspired to visit Spain than to cook suckling pig, but I am nonetheless inspired to do something.
Book Of The Year (Or Any Other Year Come To That)
The Code of the Woosters – PG Wodehouse
A world without Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, the Reverend Stinker Pinker, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Tuppy Glossop, Stiffy Byng, Sir Roderick Spode and the rest is not one in which I would choose to live. I take his lightly subversive entertainments over anything self-consciously weighty every single day of the week and in these uncertain times a small dose of The Greatest Writer of Comic Fiction’s Greatest Work is the most effective salve for a troubled mind I know of. The Master.