2013 Favorite Books

Not that you’d know it from the appalling lack of book reviews here (or any other posts, really), but I had a good “book year” in 2013. Several excellent ones, mostly good ones, with only a few clunkers or disappointments. I even succeeded in my Goodreads Challenge of reading 45 books — though it was a close one. I finished my last book on December 30th. Whew.

Note: My Favorites are books that I read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year.

13526165Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. This book really caught me by surprise. It tells the story of a reclusive former wunderkind architect (Bernadette) and her daughter Bee trying to navigate the social strata of upper middle class (or maybe lower upper class) life in Seattle. Semple skewers the Whole-Foods-Private School-Liberal Tech elite (her husband has the fourth most watched TED talk ever!) so well that it made me a little self-conscious. The story (a brouhaha started by Bernadette and her subsequent disappearance) is related by reading emails, journal entries, police forms and other documents, but never loses focus on the storytelling. Great fun, but also insightful about how people with psychiatric needs struggle to be “normal” — whatever that is. 4 stars

13330370The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. I like reading mysteries often as a palate cleanser between “meatier” books, but this whodunit was a real step up. The story is set on the backdrop of a society that’s learned that an “extinction-level” asteroid impact is approaching — within months. Now, this has been a favorite sub-genre of mine for a long time, but Winters effectively captures not the panic so often attributed in movies, but the ennui of a world knowing it’s all over but the shouting. A man is found dead, and it looks like a suicide, but might not be. In this almost-finished world, who cares? Why does it matter if someone’s caught? We’re all dead anyway, right? Winters manages to get the tone just right — not depressing, but strangely uplifting and affirmative at times. First in a trilogy. 4 stars.

15790842Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. A novel that is this much of a “gimmick” book, shouldn’t really work as well as this story (well, stories) does. Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in 1910 — and she dies. She is born again on the same night and survives. The threads of many versions of Ursula’s lives play out, taking different paths, some similar, some distinct, occasionally coming together at key times (which are usually chances to die) — birth, the Flu of 1918, a swimming accident, The Blitz of London. Somehow a cross between a time-travel book and a Choose Your Own Adventure story, Atkinson doesn’t spell out a philosophy of fate versus free will, but forces the reader to consider it as they go along, and of course, wonder about the intersecting paths of what would have been their own set of lives. Remarkably well done. 4 stars.

337907House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. In a recent New York Times Magazine article about him and his family, Stephen King called House of Leaves “The Moby Dick of Horror”. In the 1990s a photojournalist makes the simple-but-disturbing determination that his family’s house is larger (by a couple of inches) on the inside than the outside. This impossible-yet-demonstrable fact causes the family to investigate the nature of their house. What follows is a book that is presented as the (and let me see if I get this right) commentary on a commentary of a collection written about a series of underground viral videos of that investigation. Danielewski is a master of words and form and the various stories within the story veer in and out of focus, with rambling footnotes and over-written sections. This is a book that can only be read as a physical book (not an ebook, not an audiobook). Truly disturbing (not gory, just disturbing) on many levels. I know a lot of people won’t like this book, but it completely creeped me out and broke all conventions. I still think about it all the time, not necessarily in a good way. 5 stars.

Those were some of my favorites. What were some of yours?

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31 thoughts on “2013 Favorite Books

  1. I read House of Leaves over a decade ago and it’s still the only book I’ve ever read that actually scared me (sorry, Stephen King). I had trouble sleeping for awhile after reading it and scenes still pop up every now and then and creep me out.

  2. I had a subpar book year I think in 2013. It started out on probably the best note, Michelle (former Voxer michellemybelle) loaned me Stone’s Fall, by Iain Pears, which I really liked, it was a meaty book that spanned decades, and countries and it was a bit of a mystery, which I figured out some of, which made me feel smart, but it was good enough that there was a lot more to it than what I figured out. And I never know if I figure out these things if that makes it obvious or if I may actually be a little bit smart sometimes
    (I figured out the movie The Others so quickly that I was not even sure if there was that twist or not.) because there are other times I am completely dense and don’t figure out something that is much more obvious. ANYWAY, it was very good and very interesting, and is set partly in Venice.
    Most of the other books I read were good to meh. I plan to have a better 2014 reading-wise, anyway! Congrats on making your goal, I fell 5 short. But I still did better than last year!

    • Cranky — I will have to look up Stone’s Fall. I find most mysteries aren’t really all that mysterious, but I like them maybe for their formularity. I like it when one surprises me, either in plot, or character, or surprise.

  3. Oh I hated Life after Life! It just went on too long – too many come backs. It was a shame because her Jackson Brodie series is one of my favourites.

    • Jane — ha — well, we can’t all like the same thing. I actually listened to the audiobook of Life After Life, which was really well performed. I wonder if I would have liked it less if I’d had the print copy,

  4. I was missing your presence on WordPress—glad you’ve had time to write a new post. I will also add House of Leaves and The Last Policeman to my reading list. For a variety of reasons, this was a meh reading year for me. (I think I’m done with David Sedaris. While his Holidays on Ice was funny, his snarky commentary is better on the radio than in print.) I’ve been looking for a good mystery to distract me on these long winter nights, but haven’t found one yet. The Dante Club is taking too long to get going, and the author is clearly a fan of Victorian prose, for better or worse. So I’d like to try something different. The Last Policeman may fit the bill. Happy New Year of reading, Steve.

    • Happy New Year, HG!

      One of my resolution-ish things is to prioritize writing here more than I did this past year. So far I’m off to a good start — 2 posts in 3 days! :)

      I enjoyed “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls” from Sedaris, but maybe because I listened to the audiobook, which he performed himself, so it came with his nearly-perfect-timing deadpan delivery.

  5. I read all 5 available (he hasn’t finished the last 2 promised) George R. R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire books this year. A few are about 1500 pages long and one of those, I read in 1 week — whilst working! I can’t do audiobooks my LD can’t handle it. Obviously, I liked those novels and it was a huge surprise. I usually can’t take fantasy and with the promise of dragons? I stay far, far away. The books are far more gory than the tv show, which fiddles around (as they must) to simplify characters or makes things different that I see no reason for doing! Anyway, I absolutely loved them and still can’t believe that I did.

    • I stopped after Feast For Crows figuring I’m going to have to go back and re-read the whole series anyway, so I’ll pick up again when the end is in sight. I might run into trouble with the HBO adaptation if it ends up catching up to the end of book 4.

  6. Wonderful favourites list, Steve! ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’ and ‘The Last Policeman’ sound quite fascinating. I want to read ‘The Last Policeman’. I have had ‘House of Leaves’ with me for a while, but haven’t got around to reading it. But your thoughts on it and M—–l’s thoughts on it make me want to read it. But if both of you found it creepy (both of you being Stephen King’s fans and so being immune to such things), I don’t know whether I can take it – don’t want to have nightmares every night :) But maybe I will dip my toe and try reading a few pages from the book and see how it goes. Thanks for this wonderful post.

    Happy New Year, Steve! Hope you have a wonderful reading year filled with lots of wonderful books and beautiful reading moments!

  7. My favorite reads of 2013 were Jane Smiley’s “Ten Days in the Hills” and “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman. Neither new but both new for me. Happy 2014 Steve.

    • Happy New Year, Thorsaurus — I haven’t read either of those, but I’ve like the books by Jane Smiley that I’ve read in the past — here’s to more good recommendations!

    • Michelle — there were times when I wished Life After Life went in a different direction, but that book made me think and reflect a lot. I give it extra points for that.

  8. Great post. We shared a couple of favorites this year. I’m adding The Last Policeman to my queue. Congrats on reaching your goal. I missed mine by seven books, I think. I could tell by October I’d never make it, but I gave it a shot.

  9. I picked up Where’d You Go, Bernadette based on your review, and am getting our book club to read it! So, good job. ;) I’m only about 90 pages in, but am thoroughly enjoying it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  10. Pingback: Shine On | Stevil

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