Best books 2008: a look back at our favorite books.

 
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Each issue of Bookmarks features our Selections--staff favorites from among the books reviewed. Below is a round-up of our Selections from earlier in 2008.

The Two Best-Reviewed Books of 2008

These two books received the highest praise from reviewers during the past year, and they're quite different from each other. While The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is long, it is relatively straightforward, and the language is lovely but unencumbered. Netherland, on the other hand, was commended for its stylistic flourishes, allegory, and contemplative nature. Readers eager for a straight, page-turning narrative should look elsewhere.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

By David Wroblewski

Critics loved this book, and it was just selected as the next chocie for Oprah's Book Club. Some readers, however, balked at the book's length and its digressions. In the woods of Wisconsin, the Sawtelle family breeds a (fictional) variety of dog. Remarkably intuitive and clever, these dogs make the perfect companions for 14-year-old Edgar Sawtelle, a mute boy who communicates through sign language. (Sept/Oct 2008)

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Netherland

By Joseph O'Neill

Joseph O'Neill, the author of two novels (This Is the Life and The Breezes) and a family history (Blood-Dark Track), draws on The Great Gatsby to reimagine the American dream in an era when that vision has lost much of its allure. A Dutch banker looks back on his time in New York just after 9/11, when his friendship with a Trinidadian entrepreneur offered him a new lease on life. (July/Aug 2008)

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Contemporary Life FICTION

Lush Life

By Richard Price

Compared to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities for its adept intertwining of the crime and social novel, Lush Life just might be "the greater achievement" (Wall Street Journal). While offering a panoramic view of class and social tensions in Manhattan, Price also draws deep, rich characters, and his dialogue and interior monologues are stunning. (May/June 2008)

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Dear American Airlines

By Jonathan Miles

After his flight is cancelled, recovering alcoholic and failed poet Bennie Ford pens a scathing letter to the airline responsible. This affecting and laugh-out-loud-funny tirade is short enough to read during a lengthy layover but should stay with readers long after they've reached their final destinations. (Sept/Oct 2008)

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Last Night at the Lobster

By Stewart O'Nan

Red Lobster manager Manny DeLeon, 35, has just found out that his restaurant is not meeting expectations and will close its doors on December 20. This novel follows the apathetic crew as they go through the motions of serving shrimp scampi for the very last time. (Mar/Apr 2008)

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Now You See Him

By Eli Gottlieb

Rob Castor, a New York City literary darling, shoots himself and his girlfriend. His childhood friend, Nick, is hit hard with the news, failing to show up for work, ignoring his family, and embarking on an affair with Rob's equally disturbed sister. Nick's grief and confusion are genuinely moving, and readers will easily sympathize with his long-suffering wife and family. (May/ June 2008)

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The Monsters of Templeton

By Lauren Groff

After a grievous affair with a married professor, grad student Wilhemina "Willie" Upton returns home to Templeton, New York, only to learn that her biological father, long considered a stranger, is, in fact, an unnamed prominent resident of the town. Using her research skills, Willie sorts through letters, journals, and newspaper articles to piece together her family tree while unearthing Templeton's unsavory history. (May/June 2008)

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The House on Fortune Street

By Margot Livesey

In four interconnected novellas, the residents of a London house struggle with seemingly ordinary lives. As each is forced to confront the sins and secrets of the past, their lives intersect and tragedy looms ahead. (July/Aug 2008)

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Artists at Work FICTION

Zeroville

By Steve Erickson

An underappreciated writer who has been compared to Vladimir Nabokov, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon, Steve Erickson often writes challenging and sometimes impenetrably surreal fiction. In this novel, more accessible than his previous ones, a divinity school dropout enters the surreal world of Hollywood. With its countless cinema references, the novel will appeal most strongly to film enthusiasts. (Mar/Apr 2008)

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Sway

By Zachary Lazar

Three interconnected stories emerge from the shadows of the 1960s counterculture as Zachary Lazar imagines the lives of musicians and artists, including the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger. (May/ June 2008)

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American West FICTION

The Hearts of Horses

By Molly Gloss

Molly Gloss's affecting and sentimenal fourth novel turns the Western genre on its head with a woman as the mysterious stranger appearing on horseback. In 1917, at a time when many young men have left for war, 19-year-old Martha Lessen is an itinerant bronco buster who "gentles" horses instead of breaking them. (Mar/Apr...

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