The OF Blog: 2008 in Review: The Conversation begins with a Confession

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 in Review: The Conversation begins with a Confession

This past year has seen a huge increase in reading time for me. Due to a series of circumstances I will not elaborate upon, I was either unemployed or underemployed for four months. That left me with a lot more time to read than I normally would have, thus explaining in part why to date I have completed 376 books. One of those books I read during work breaks at a job I had this spring working as a general education teacher in a local residential treatment facility for teens with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. It was the introduction to a series from the 1950s designed at introducing readers to classic texts (similar to Penguin's Great Ideas series, but with unabridged works by over 50 authors). Written by Robert Hitchen, this introductory book was called simply, The Great Conversation.

Hitchen deplored the increasingly decrepit state of American public education (ever the cry of those who look back at the past before projecting towards the future?) and how the true sense of the classics was lost on most Americans, because they had come to view education as a tool and never as a dialogue or conversation with those writers and poets from the past who had tried to capture and tame in word or verse the struggles, anguish, triumph, and joys of humanity. Just as much is lost when a child fails to converse with his/her grandparents about the past, just as when a link is broken on the chain, Hitchen is arguing that if we fail to take up that dialogue, that "Great Conversation," then so much of worth and of beauty would be lost to us. We would be holding the code to a great wealth, but would lack the cipher.

Hitchen's metaphor for learning, conversation, suits the purpose of my year-end series of essays. Although I am relatively well-read and have read dozens and dozens of 2008 releases, I do not proclaim my upcoming essays to be those of an unchallengable master. Instead, I propose to enter into a dialogue, a conversation s'il vous plait, with the readers here. Let's not just go "Hey, good book!", but rather let's talk briefly about what made that book and others good ones, but not others still. Furthermore, there are several books that I confess I have not had the chance yet to read which doubtless would have appeared on others' lists, if not mine if I had only read them. Sometimes, the quality of a Best of Year list is judged by what its author has left out, rather than by what it contains. Below is the list of 2008 releases on my bookshelves that I wished I could have read before now:

Neal Stephenson, Anathem

George Mann (ed.), The Solaris Book of Science Fiction 2

Daryl Gregory, Pandemonium

Walter John Williams, Implied Spaces

Tim Waggoner, Cross Country

Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, The Last Theorem

Eric Brown, Kéthani

Peter F. Hamilton, The Dreaming Void

Kage Baker, The House of the Stag

Rob Rogers, Devil's Cape

Paul Melko, Singularity's Ring

Stuart Archer Cohen, The Army of the Republic

Galen Beckett, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

Nicole Kornher-Stace, Desideria

Michael Shea, The Autopsy and Other Tales

John Shirley, Black Glass

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

Elizabeth Bear, All the Windwracked Stars

John Scalzi, Zoe's Tale

James P. Blaylock, The Knights of the Cornerstone

What books do you feel you neglected reading this year that perhaps might have made it on your own personal Best of 2008 lists if you only had the time to read them?


Charles said...

Eclipse 2 edited by Jonathan Strahan

Best American Fantasy 2 edited by Jeff/Ann Vandermeer & Matt Cheney

Couch by Ben Parzybok

At least that's off the top of my head.

Lsrry said...

I have the first two on order, but they haven't shipped yet from Amazon and apparently won't until after New Year's, else I would have added those to my list (or would have read them by now). Will have to look into the Parzybok sometime.

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