Which books were really the best of 2008? That’s a very subjective question, but to make it a little less so, I’ve compiled a unified list of the best books of the year as named by 70 different review sources and award nomination lists. The unified list shows the number of votes received by each book and contains tables for general fiction; mysteries, thrillers, and action novels; speculative fiction; historical fiction; romance; inspirational fiction; young adult fiction; poetry; graphic novels; narrative nonfiction; biographies and memoirs; and how-to nonfiction. To see the full list, download the Excel spreadsheet at http://www.wrl.org/bookweb/best2008.xls.
A bit about the unified list: which category I placed a book in was my decision and may not agree with yours. I only included books first published in the US in 2008 (although I may have inadvertently included a few reprints, 2007 books, or books published only in Britain.) The Dewey numbers listed in the nonfiction lists are based on where Williamsburg Regional Library chose to catalog the book. Books we don’t currently have in our collection don’t show a call number (I may add these later from WorldCat, but for now, you’re on your own!) The tables are sorted first by number of votes and second by title, but if you download the spreadsheet, you can re-sort them as you wish. The sources are listed in the last table of the spreadsheet. For the most part a mention in a list or a nomination for award counted as one vote, although I’ve noted a few spots where I handled the votes differently.
Such lists are never entirely fair: Any reviewer can only read a few of the thousand of books publishsed each year. Some books just receive more publicity than others or are more likely to be read by the kind of people who review books. If you’re a fan of lighter fiction, genres like romance, inspirational, or urban fiction, it’s hard to find lists of a year’s best works. The same is true for many nonfiction categories: political works, biographies, essays, memoirs, and histories are well-represented and cookbook lists aren’t hard to find, but subjects such as self-help, religion, sports, and entertainment rarely make it onto the year-end lists.
But by adding up the number of votes from as many diverse review sources as I could find (and I praise the folks at the Readers’ Advisor Online Blog and Largehearted Boy for compiling lists of the lists), I hope I’ve given a slightly more fair look at the most-praised books published last year.
Which books were the big winners? I may still add a few more sources to the list as they come out or as I find them, but here are the top vote-getters so far, which I’ll list without commentary. For the full list in all categories, download the spreadsheet.
Jhumpa Lahiri The Unaccustomed Earth 35 votes
Joseph O’Neill Netherland 27 votes
David Wroblewski The Story of Edgar Sawtelle 25 votes
Roberto Bolano 2666: A Novel 23 votes
Mysteries, Thrillers, and Action Novels
Richard Price Lush Life 31 votes
Kate Atkinson When Will There Be Good News? 17 votes
Steig Larsson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 16 votes
Tom Rob Smith Child 44 15 votes
Neal Stephenson Anathem 14 votes
Toby Barlow Sharp Teeth 10 votes
Jo Graham Black Ships 7 votes
Toni Morrison A Mercy 25 votes
Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Burrows The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society 23 votes
Dennis Lehane The Given Day 19 votes
Aleksandr Hemon The Lazarus Project 14 votes
Sherry Thomas Private Arrangements 5 votes
Young Adult Fiction
Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games 24 votes
Cory Doctorow Little Brother 18 votes
Kristin Cashore Graceling 11 votes
August Kleinzhaler Sleeping It Off in Rapid City 4 votes
Lynda Barry What It Is 6 votes
Jane Mayer The Dark Side 19 votes
Dexter Filkins The Forever War 19 votes
Mark Harris Pictures at a Revolution 17 votes
Biographies and Memoirs
Annette Gordon-Reed The Hemingses of Monticello 13 votes
Patrick French The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul 12 votes
How-To and Art Books
Stephen G. Bloom The Oxford Project 4 votes
Kenny Shopsin Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin 4 votes
Andrew Carmellini Urban Italian 4 votes
Do you agree with the critics, literary hoi polloi, and blogerati? There’s only one way to find out: Go read some of the books. Enjoy the list!