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Best Books of 2008: Day One


It seems like the end of the year gets closer every year. It's only early November, but somewhere, somebody has already put the Xmas music track on the PA sound system. And we're no better: we always like to get a jump on things by announcing our best books of the year on the first Monday in November. And so today you can visit our new Best Books of 2008 store, featuring our Top 100 Editors' Picks, our Customer Favorites list of the year's top 100 bestsellers, dozens more top 10s in categories from Audiobooks to Teens, and--for the first time this year--our top 10 book covers and videos. We announce the lists today, but we've been thinking about them all year (with every new book I open, the question in the back of my mind is: is this best-of-the-year material?), and we spent much of October putting our lists together, in consultation with an entire books team full of rabid readers. This year we're also going to be blogging about them for the rest of the year, with a post each day about a book, or a list of books, that in one way or another were among the best of 2008. (Some of these blog bests will be ones you can find on the Best of 2008 page, but many of them will be just for Omni.)

But today let's start at the top, with our top editors' top 10:

  1. The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
  2. Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg
  3. Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
  4. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
  5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  6. The Likeness by Tana French
  7. Serena by Ron Rash
  8. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger
  9. The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
  10. The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu

It's a list that snuck up on us, especially our #1 pick, The Northern Clemency: I'm fairly sure we've never chosen a book as our favorite of the year that hadn't even been released when we chose it (it did just come out last week, after Knopf moved it up from a November 11 pub date, after moving it up once before from the Spring '09 list after it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize). But a few of us were smitten as soon as we could get advance copies, and we managed to spread our enthusiasm to the rest of the team just in time to make our final list. My colleague Anne Bartholomew (like me, one of our early enthusiasts) has written a lovely review of The Northern Clemency on our Best of November page that's eloquent about much of what made me love it too, and I'll blog my ardor further in a separate post soon. And in the days to come my colleagues will champion their own favorites.

And, for comparison, here's our customer favorites top 10 (the books published for the first time this year that sold the most on our site through October):

  1. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  2. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  3. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  4. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (the only book in both top 10s)
  5. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling (our exclusive collector's edition is a little further down the list, at #17)
  6. The Appeal by John Grisham
  7. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  8. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  9. The Revolution by Ron Paul
  10. The Host by Stephenie Meyer

If we were listing our overall bestsellers (not just the new releases), Stephenie Meyer would have added three more books in our top 20, as many readers discovered the rest of the Twilight series with the release of the finale. Speaking of which, who says those kids today don't read? After Harry Potter topped our bestsellers last year yet again, this year three of our top five books were written for young readers (and have been embraced by grownups too). Are kids reading more than adults? Or are adults reading like kids? It may be that they are taking the advice of our #2 bestseller: hold onto our childhood dreams...

One other thing that sticks out for me on these lists is how hard it is to tell that we were having a presidential election this year. Four years ago, both top 10s were dominated by political books, with the 9/11 Report, America: The Book, Bill Clinton's memoir, and Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies appearing on both lists, and current events books taking four of the top five spots in the bestseller list. But this year? The only political books in our top 10s were a manifesto from a candidate who appealed to people fed up with both parties, a book about Iraq and Afghanistan that focused, for a change, on the experience of war rather than the politics of it, and a history of a recent political era even more chaotic than our own (and one that tomorrow's election might finally put to rest). (I should mention, though, that political books did appear a little further down our bestseller list, at #11, #13, #15, and #16).

So are we fed up with politics? I'd argue that we are, and we aren't. On one hand our favorites do show some desire to read about something other than the endless campaign. But I think all other evidence shows a great enthusiasm for politics this election year (especially among young people, many of whom are voting in record numbers at the same time they are reading Meyer and Paolini)--so maybe this year much of that excitement is being channeled directly into politics (or at least political blogs, if I'm any indication!), rather than political books. Or it might be that what we are exhausted by is reading about the last decade or two: we've read about the Clinton years and the Bush years now, and we're ready to look forward. We'll see... --Tom



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I've been away too long...

Great list, Tom, and all Amazon editors. I was especially happy to see you rank Michael Greenberg's book (Hurry Down Sunshine) so high - # 2! That was my favorite book of 2008. So brave and honest. An emotional punch to the gut that really leaves you caring about this girl and her family long after you have finished it. Amazing stuff.

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