It’s that time of year again: everyone is picking their “Best of 2013” lists. From Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble to Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, the members of the books industry are all selecting their top reads of the year. So I had two thoughts: 1) Hey, I’ve read more than 10 new books this year and 2) Hey, making lists of my favorite things is usually pretty fun. Thus, here it is: the best books that I read that were released in 2013.
- The Golem and the Jinni — I can’t say enough good things about Helene Wecker’s debut novel. Her style reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Kostova in The Historian (which I loved) — impeccably elegant writing and seamless integration of mythical and fantastical elements into realistic settings. Chava is a golem, Ahmad is a jinni, and they meet by chance in New York at the end of the 19th century. They cultivate an odd friendship as they both struggle to integrate into human society.
- Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell was on a roll this year. Eleanor & Park was released in late February and Fangirl in September. I couldn’t resist the urge to call out Eleanor & Park even though I only put Fangirl on the list. But really, I wanted to put them both on the list (it just seemed a little greedy to put two Rainbow Rowell novels on the list when there are so many fabulous books). Both books are wonderful and brilliant – the one thing I would say, however, is that Eleanor & Park is a bit heavier than the fluffier (though still sufficiently deep) Fangirl. I highly recommend both.
- The Cuckoo’s Calling — Obviously this book got a lot of hype when Robert Galbraith was unveiled as none other than our beloved JK Rowling. While her initial post-Harry Potter attempt, The Casual Vacancy, received severe critique, this book was better received. And for good reason. Check out my earlier blog post for further gushing on the matter.
- The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – I was skeptical about this book. I don’t typically do the “fad genre” thing – zombies, werewolves, vampires. But when three anti-vampire colleagues of my mine told me this book was aaaaaaa-mazing, I decided to give it a try. They were right. So my advice to you: drop your prejudices and read this wild, gripping, and wholly unique novel.
- Burial Rites – I had the pleasure of interviewing the very eloquent, very young Hannah Kent regarding this novel, her debut. Burial Rites is historical fiction at its finest – a historical Icelandic murder trial, to be exact. Check out my interview with Ms. Kent for more.
- The Circle – This was my first Dave Eggers book, and I definitely see what all of the fuss is about. His writing is truly captivating. I will certainly be checking out his other books. See “The Eggers Epidemic” for more of my thoughts on The Circle.
- The Universe Versus Alex Woods – This book did not seem like the type I would normally go for. Honestly, I can’t even remember what inspired me to pick it up in the first place. But I’m glad this unlikely scenario occurred, because this book is truly wonderful. At its heart, this book is the tale of the friendship between a misfit boy who is impressively (though not obnoxiously) optimistic and a crotchety old man. The book tackles some major philosophical and moral questions about life and death in a smart and engrossing way.
- The Girls of Atomic City – Girl power! No, but really, this book is wonderful. As the subtitles suggests, this book is about “The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II.” Denise Kiernan captures the voices of women who were recruited to go to a secret city (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) to help with an undisclosed mission to win the war. Amid the stories from women who are now in their eighties and nineties, Kiernan inserts chapters about other intelligent women who played central roles in scientific developments in WWII.
- Humans of New York – This beautiful new book originated as a photoblog in 2010, when Brandon Stanton started wandering the streets of New York, making portraits of strangers and conversing with them (he adds quotes from his conversations as captions to his photos). The photos are stunning and vibrant and alive. I actually met a girl who was featured in the blog when I visited New York – she is a waitress with gorgeous rainbow hair and radiates a joy that is arguably brighter than her hair. This book is so much more than a coffee table book.
- St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – Okay, this one might seem like cheating — this short story did not come out in 2013. But I have recently started reading a lot of short stories (heretofore a shortcoming of mine), and this is the best short story that I have read this year. And I feel like I can get away with it because Karen Russell released a book of short stories this year: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, I’ve also seen and/or read a lot of interviews with Karen Russell and think she’s awesome.
On my night stand:
Between classic novels that I’m itching to read and contemporary works that are stirring up the lit scene, my reading list has really gotten out of hand recently. Two 2013 novels that are on my nightstand waiting to be picked up (hopefully over the holidays) are The Goldfinch and The Interestings. There are so many great books and so little time, which brings me to my disclaimer: my list might look a little different if I had as much time to read as I desired. But, as it was, this is my list — make of it what you will. Happy reading!