Recently I looked back over 2008 and chose the most memorable titles I read and reviewed throughout the year (a short list was published 12.28.08 in the Advertiser). Of course many will be familiar to LL readers, but they also might be the perfect answer to your burning question: what should I get with my amazon gift card?

Atmospheric Disturbances
By Rivka Galchen
FSG; 256 pages; $24

In this striking debut, psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein discovers his beloved wife Rema has been replaced by a cunning simulacrum, leading him to join forces with a former patient convinced he’s conducting secret meteorology experiments, and travel throughout Argentina searching for his lost wife. Galchen’s formidable family background and professional experience is the spine of this hauntingly seductive story questioning the complex and often obfuscated bounds of reality, science and love.

The Painter from Shanghai
By Jennifer Cody Epstein
W.W. Norton; 416 pages; $14.95

What is known about the life of 20th Century Shanghai painter Pan Yuliang seems the stuff of fiction, so it’s unsurprising that the plot of Epstein’s debut novel about Yuliang’s life is utterly engrossing. The book’s spellbinding intimacy is rooted not in the romance of this courtesan era but Epstein’s true achievement in resurrecting such a passionate woman who pursued a life of her own despite intrinsic barriers.

Salmonella Men on Planet Porno
By Yasutaka Tsutsui; translated by Andrew Driver
Pantheon; 252 pages; $21.95

The title of popular Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui’s short-fiction collection presents an irresistible temptation to skip to the final, title story and seek out the scandal. The entire collection unabashedly romps in the sexual facets of modern humanity and culture, but these stories do so much more, sometimes brilliantly, often hilariously, always fantastically, never bound by reality or convention. This collection is not for the faint of heart; instead you must be open and truly progressive to receive its infinite joys.

Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai’i?
By Jon M. Van Dyke
UH Press; 485 pages; $28

In support of his assertion that the “Crown Lands should once again be managed by and for the Native Hawaiian People,” Van Dyke details their intricate history and legal status, laying a remarkably clear and completely captivating path of understanding. He effortlessly navigates such complex intersections as Hawaiian concepts of land tenure and smartly steers past such disputes as the role of ali`i in a new Hawaiian Nation to pointedly elucidate and persuasively affirm the Crown Lands’ unique status so they can be more effectively restored to their intended purpose and beneficiaries.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar
By Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin; 496 pages; $28

Thirty-three years ago, Paul Theroux undertook an ambitious 28,000-mile train journey across Asia and wrote about it in “The Great Railway Bazaar.” Then in 2006, he embarked on the same journey to discover what had changed. Though Theroux may feel older and act tamer, and the journey covers the same geography, this story is as fresh as a brand-new adventure. And because he is at home in the world, reading “Ghost Train” makes you feel that way, too.

The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (Bison Original)
Edited by John Turnbull, Thom Saterlee, Alon Raab
Bison Books; 296 pages; $19.95

The world’s most popular sport has inspired literature across the globe, just not often in English. To educate and enlighten us, Turnbull and his fellow editors collected and translated more than 50 pieces of poetry and prose from such masters as Eduardo Galeano, Ted Hughes, Elvis Costello and Mario Vargas Llosa, alighting in such diverse locales as Kosovo, Montana, Iran, and Greenland. These missives offer an uninterrupted view into the unexpected myriad ways soccer and the human experience connect.

What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers
By Amy Sutherland
Random House; 168 pages; $12

While researching an article on exotic animal trainers, journalist Amy Sutherland started using their targeted techniques to transform her husband into a more live-with-able cage mate, a life-altering experience detailed in her new book, an expansion of her hit 2006 New York Times article. The results of her experiment were so remarkable, at first Sutherland didn’t realize she was also training herself—to be more patient and accepting, of everyone. The anti-self help book, “Shamu” is a fresh, candid story about changing our outlook for the better.

Shining City
By Seth Greenland
Bloomsbury; 307 pages; $15

After losing his factory job to China, middle-aged everyman Marcus Ripps, the protagonist of Greenland’s hilarious satirical novel, faces defaulting on his L.A. home and living a sexless marriage, until his estranged brother bequeaths him an eponymous dry cleaning business. This solution is quickly soiled when he learns the only thing being laundered there is money earned by a suite of prostitutes. So, what to do but rationally consider the irrational—becoming a pimp? It’s the perfect novel for a time when compromising ethics or forgoing survival just might be everyone’s dilemma.

The Library at Night
By Alberto Manguel
Yale; 373 pages; $17

Alberto Manguel’s newest book is a vivaciously erudite justification for society’s inexorable efforts to collect, order and store information. Inspired by the library he built in his French home, he explores the myriad levels on which a library functions and how readers interact with and in them. It unfailingly underscores the viability and sustainability of reading, writing and ideas, and the sheer impracticality of dismissing books and libraries as obsolete relics.

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