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.
Where’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
The 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.
Life 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.
House 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?