Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The most notable books of 2008: Critics' choice

At the end of every year, I look at three sources for ideas on the best books published in the year. This tends to form the starting point for my reading the following year. The three sources I follow are The Economist, The New York Times and The Washington Post. All three have now released their 'Best Of' lists for the year. I have been spending a good deal of time pouring through the lists to look for interesting reading ideas. This post is my summary for Brick and Rope readers.

The Economist has the shortest of the three lists. This year, they offered 33 non-fiction and 10 books of fiction. The Washington Post tends to be the most pop-oriented of the three lists. This leaves them little in common with the Economist list. It also tends to offer the longest of the three lists. This year, the Post list had 86 titles in non-fiction and 84 fiction titles. The New York Times has an annual '100 Notable Books' list, which has a nice round number of titles. The NYT 100 also tends to be the most popular 'Best Of' list among bibliophiles, with many book clubs dedicated exclusively to reading titles from this list over the years.

Here are the three lists for the year 2009:

So that's a list of 313 book recommendations for you! One could well spend the next ten years of one's life getting through this list! I don't know about you, but I am usually looking for something a bit more ... manageable. Books in my areas of interest that appear on multiple lists are a pretty good starting point. I then add in some more that appear on only one of these lists but have received great reviews there.

Here we have it then - the 25 books from 2009 that I plan on reading over the next few years, if I haven't done so yet -


1. Lords of Finance - Liaquat Ahamed
2. In Fed We Trust - David Wessel
3. Too Big to Fail - Andre Ross Sorkin
4. How Markets Fail - John Cassidy
5. The Idea of Justice - Amartya Sen
6. The Art of Making Money - Jason Kersten
7. The Evolution of God - Robert Wright
8. Is God a Mathematician - Mario Livio
9. Direct Red: A Surgeon's Story - Gabriel Weston
10. When Brute Force Fails - Mark Kleimann
11. Born Round - Frank Bruni
12. Lit: A Memoir - Mary Karr
13. My Paper Chase - Harold Evans
14. Open: An Autobiography - Andre Agassi
15. Pink Brain, Blue Brain - Lise Eliot

1. In other rooms, other wonders - Daniyal Mueenuddin
2. Love and Summer - William Trevor
3. Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro
4. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi - Geoff Dyer
5. Await your Reply - Dan Chaon
6. The Song is You - Arthur Phillips
7. The Museum of Innocence - Orhan Pamuk
8. The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt
9. The Girl Who Played with Fire - Steig Larsson
10.How I became a Famous Novelist - Steve Hely

By the way, completely useless piece of trivia - Only two books featured on the Best of 2009 lists of The Washington Post, NYT and The Economist. Both were books of fiction. The Pakistani author Daniyal Mueenuddin's debut book In Other Rooms, Other Wonders; and William Trevor's Love and Summer.

Happy reading in 2010!


  1. "The Art of Making Money" - Jason Kersten...really?


  2. :) I have not read the book, maybe you have. If you have not, the emphasis in the title is on the word 'making'. The book is about a counterfeiter. It is supposed to be a very unsentimental look at his life and 'works'. The book was only on the Wash Post list, not on the other two. But it still caught my view, primarily because the very positive review for the Post was delivered by Liaquat Ahamed, the author of the universally acknowledged great book of this year - Lords of Finance. Thought there might be something here. Have you read it?