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Happy New Year from Goodreads! Here's our monthly newsletter—giving you the latest and greatest in our quest to connect people through reading.

Top Books 2008 | Azar Nafisi | First Reads | Movers & Shakers | Trivia | Josh Bazell | Events Near You | New Features | Poetry Contest

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Goodreads Announces the Top Books of 2008!

Don't let anyone tell you that people don't read anymore. Goodreads members added nearly 30 million books to their shelves in 2008. Our team pored over your ratings and reviews, analyzed which books you read and discussed most, and ran several magical algorithms to determine the top books on Goodreads in 2008. Is your favorite discovery of 2008 missing from this list? Tell us by voting on the Best Books of 2008 list!

Top Fiction

Lush Life
A Mercy
People of the Book
Rabidly Popular

Breaking Dawn
Unaccustomed Earth
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Hunger Games

Top Nonfiction

The Last Lecture
In Defense of Food
The Post-American World
Hot, Flat, and Crowded
The Dark Side
Genre Favorites

The Graveyard Book (fantasy)
Anathem (science fiction)
The Likeness (mystery)
Sharp Teeth (poetry)
The Underneath (young readers)

2008's Memorable Moments in Reading
April: After 30 years of indecision, Vladimir Nabokov's son announces that he will publish his father's final novel, The Original of Laura, an incomplete work that the writer wanted destroyed.
October: French writer J.M.G. Le Clézio wins the Nobel Prize for literature amid controversy that the Nobel committee is allegedly anti-American.
November: Twilight fandemonium at a San Francisco mall leads to a near riot. The film goes on to gross $35 million on opening day.
December: Amazon's Kindle completely sells out before the holidays. Let the digital book revolution begin!
Notable deaths: Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Crichton, Tony Hillerman, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Tasha Tudor, and David Foster Wallace.

Interview with Azar Nafisi—Goodreads Exclusive

More than 25 years ago, the University of Tehran expelled teacher and writer Azar Nafisi for refusing to wear the Islamic veil. Undeterred, Nafisi continued to speak out in her country, advocating women's rights and urging people to use literature as a bridge to cultural understanding and tolerance. When she came to the United States, Nafisi wrote and published her memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, which stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 100 weeks and became book club fodder worldwide. Nafisi's second and possibly more personal memoir comes out this month. Things I've Been Silent About is a story predominantly about her relationship with her mother and father, both prominent public figures in Iran. Currently a resident of Washington, D.C., and an exile from her homeland, Nafisi shares her intense love of literature.

Goodreads: What was the genesis for this book? What inspired you to look back into your family history?

Azar Nafisi: To tell you the truth, I wasn't going to write this book. After Reading Lolita, I was going to write the book that I call Republic of the Imagination. I wanted to pursue this idea of the importance of reading and literature in our lives. But I had always been obsessed with my parents, and I had always felt very guilty about leaving Iran, because I didn't know when I would see them. When my mother died, that completely diverted my attention. I became absolutely obsessed with her photographs. I would spend hours looking at them with a magnifying glass. I thought, "How can I retrieve her?" That was the start. But as I began this book, I think I was a little scared of making it too personal. So I was trying to talk about the historical context, and it didn't work. Then my father died in 2004, almost a year after my mother, and I started reading his diaries and memoirs, and I was completely engrossed. I realized that my interest is always in these intersections. Like between reality and fiction. Between the personal and the public. I wanted to write a book that was very personal, but it was placed within a context that was cultural and historical.

GR: Do you have any predictions for how your new book, Things I've Been Silent About, will be received in Iran?

AN: Of course, I think every book is a risk. If you want to get at the truth, you take a risk. But this book is the riskiest because it is so personal. Iran is not a culture that lays open the personal. But after the revolution, people have come to realize the importance of the individual and the personal. The regime has been so repressive in terms of people's personal lives and individual rights. So I hope that people in Iran understand that this is not about dirty secrets. I hope they will read it as a desire to discover some truth and as a celebration of individual lives. I hope that it will connect to the younger generation, because I see them as so much more open than my generation and so much more aware of individual rights. My generation was very ideological. I hope that it will open a dialogue in Iran. I could not write this book in Iran. By writing here, I connect to people over there in a way that I couldn't connect if I lived in Iran. That is my hope, but we'll see.

GR: Reading Lolita in Tehran found a very international audience. When you write, do you consider your audience, whether American or Iranian?

AN: This is an interesting question, because one of the amazing things I've discovered about literature is how without boundaries it is. It is a place where your entry permit is not ethnicity, language, religion, nationality, race, or class. The domain of literature is universal. A poet named Rumi can become a bestseller in America. Or a man named Saul Bellow can become popular with some of my students who have never left Iran. I might imagine a reader, but I don't imagine them by their nationality, religion, or sex. I imagine the reader with whom I can have a communion and share this world. They can be Persian or American, or even French. I think that is the wonder of reading and writing. That is how I was taught to read. When my father would tell me stories, he began with Persian stories, but he never told me that Hans Christian Andersen's stories came from this place or The Little Prince was French. I read them and listened to them as stories. That's how I want my children to react—to belong to the community of mankind.

Read the full interview »

First Reads—win prerelease books from Goodreads!

Be the first to read new books! Goodreads has tons of prerelease books and reading-themed goodies available for our members. All you have to do is sign up and cross your fingers! View all prerelease books on First Reads »

Movers & Shakers

Goodreads knows what you secretly yearn for. These books have been racing up our most popular charts in the last month.

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun (Goodreads author!)
A story of a teenage Korean immigrant named Joon who leaves her broken family and fends for herself on the streets of the Bronx in the 1980s. Elsie calls it "an unsentimental and unapologetic look at life on the streets," and Wisteria says, "Memorable and moving with remarkable sensitivity, this writer has a distinct talent that has made her book one of my top ten for 2008. This is a sensitive, heart-wrenching story, sometimes amusing, sometimes dispiriting, yet carrying a message of hope."

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
O'Nan explores what happens to a family and a small Midwestern community in the aftermath of a young woman's disappearance. Linda says, "Ultimately, this somber, powerful novel leaves more questions unanswered than resolved...but Songs is a beautifully expressed journey." And Carey says, "The author's smooth and comfortable style allows the reader to sink into the story. Stewart O'Nan is a talented writer who has written a book that will resonate long after you finish it."

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham
Using newly discovered documents, the editor of Newsweek delves into "Old Hickory's" ascent and legacy. Cynthia says, "Not just the uneducated frontiersman we often read about, Jackson was a complex man and evidently one of great charm as well." Steven adds, "His expansion of the power of the presidency can be both lamented and welcomed, depending on one's view." And Gillian simply asks, "Did you know Andrew Jackson was a huge badass?"

Paper Towns by John Green
It's a classic young adult story: Smart but nerdy Quentin is in love with Margo, the unattainable girl-next-door. When Margo vanishes just weeks before their high school graduation, Quentin must follow the clues she left behind in a highlighted copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass to solve the mystery. Tasha recommends it for teens, "who will love the jokes, the characters, the literature, and the quest." And Susanne says, "As gripping as it is funny, this book is a genre on its own."

The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson
Wondering what on earth happened to the global economy? Harvard historian Ferguson walks the reader through the history of finance, all the way from ancient Mesopotamia, through the Italian Renaissance, and finally to our current financial crisis. Chris calls Ferguson "a world-class academic," and Tao admits, "Like most of the general public, generally I have no interest in financial history, considering it complicated and dry. However, this is a very readable and enjoyable financial history for a layman."

The Never-Ending Book Quiz

Think you have a mind like a steel trap? Play the The Never-Ending Book Quiz and see how you stack up against your friends!

Featured Trivia Question

In which book did Sherlock Holmes first say, "Elementary, my dear Watson!"?

Play the never-ending book quiz »

Interview with Josh Bazell—Goodreads Exclusive

Doctors in training don't get a lot of sleep. The newly minted M.D. and debut author Josh Bazell must not sleep at all. While finishing his medical degree, Bazell also found the time to complete his first novel, a crime thriller called Beat the Reaper (enter now to win a copy ») about a mob hitman turned doctor. A medical mafioso? Sounds suspiciously autobiographical, but Bazell insists that he's not running from the Cosa Nostra like his protagonist. Still a medical resident in San Francisco, Bazell is now working on his second book. He chatted with Goodreads about his reverence for Arthur Conan Doyle, the original doctor-cum-writer, and his penchant for footnotes.

Goodreads: Your protagonist is a man of two extremes—a killer-for-hire named Pietro Brnwa who transforms himself into a doctor named Peter Brown with help from the Witness Protection Program. What was your inspiration for this unusual character? Can two such extremes exist in a person?

Josh Bazell: I wanted to explore the extent to which people can change themselves. So I needed extremes, and since I wanted the character to end up as a doctor, it seemed reasonable to have him start out as a killer. As to whether a change of that magnitude is possible in reality, I think it is, at least to the extent that Pietro accomplishes it. He never gets to the point where it's easy—just to the point where, with enough ongoing effort, it's possible.

GR: Despite Pietro's sometimes cynical inner monologue, his actions demonstrate devotion to his patients. Are your own feelings on the state of the health care system similarly conflicted?

JB: Pietro is paying off a moral debt, which as far as I know I am not, but we both get a lot out of practicing medicine. Clearly many of the issues I describe in the book, such as the fact that private insurance and pharmaceutical companies are deeply involved in patient care but don't have patient health as their primary motive, are real. And anything that takes as much time from you as medicine does probably causes moments of doubt. But I've been fairly happy with my choices.

GR: Written in the first person, Beat the Reaper is Pietro's narrative, and it also includes his footnotes, which he uses to define medical terminology (location of the celiac plexus), offer running commentary (the perpetual influence of The Godfather on mobsters), and even insult the reader's attention span. How did you develop these footnotes in his voice?

JB: The tolerability of that kind of ornamentation comes down to how entertaining it is. Footnotes seemed like a plausible thing to try because the book touches on science and medicine, and they ended up adding a kind of additional time frame, since they seem to "take place" later than any other voice in the book, but I still tried to make sure you could ignore them if you wanted to and still understand the book.

Read the full interview »

New Features

We love hearing your suggestions! Tell us what you would like to see happen on Goodreads by visiting the Goodreads Feedback Group.

Videos, Videos, and More Videos!
Did you know that Stephenie Meyer first saw Edward and Bella in a dream? Have you heard about Arthur Conan Doyle's psychic experiences? Goodreads has expanded its library of author videos. Now you can watch authors reading and discussing their work, book trailers for upcoming releases, and all sorts of bookish clips. Start browsing now! »

Book Clubs Just Got Better!
What is your book club reading next? Now you can track your reading schedule more easily. All Goodreads groups can set start and finish dates for books and link each book to its discussion folder. Also, group homepages now proudly display what the group is currently reading and any upcoming books. Get a jump on next month's book!

Goodreads Poetry Contest!

Want your words to reach nearly two million people? Goodreads and the ¡ POETRY ! group have partnered to host an ongoing poetry contest. Each month the winning poem will appear in our newsletter. Join the ¡ POETRY ! group to vote each month to pick a winner from among the finalists. You can also submit a poem each month for consideration. Here is our first winning poem of 2009!

Gender Question #2: Butch, Femme, Androgynous, or All Over the Map?
by Jennifer Perrine

Marking the small check in the small box,
I think: there is no appropriate answer here,
except perhaps Artichoke, impenetrable, thick-petaled
flower, sharp edge and ragged root. Inside,
velvet opal translucent tongues, and inside,
further still, the choke, silky threads who want
to hold in the heart, to raise a spired fortress
for the tender green. This, though, is not an option,

so I choose, All over the map, all over Barbados,
Siam, Constantinople, all over Ireland and Israel,
all over the sierra of my stomach, down the straits
of my legs, to the archipelago of toes.
Somewhere on the circuit, I stop

to visit whatever terrain bears the name Femme,
some scenic dream atop a mountain or nestled
deep within a delta. I watch tourists teem
around the attractions. I snap some shots, too,
so I'll remember what Femme looks like
once I leave. Perhaps, from there, I'll bike

to Butch, a city that sparkles like hubcaps
spun from a swift machine. Some say that there
the stars are drilled through sheets of obsidian,
pressed like grommets into hides of darkest leather.
If the iron gates to town are barred, I'll fly
first-class to Androgynous, where blades of grass glow
silver, the shade of Joan of Arc's sword,
and the sky at sunset runs red as the rouge
on Bowie's cheeks. The land shifts,
rolls and recedes like the tide, carries me out

and out, to my home, my artichoke home,
my platypus home, my webbed feet
and beak and fur. I trace again my small mark
in my small box, my small window
from which I watch landscapes reach
like frail fingers into space,
into the places we have not named.

Read more poetry »

With love,

Jessica, Elizabeth, and the Goodreads Team

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