My goodness, it has been a fine year of reading. My ambition was to read 50 fiction books this year, and I slid across the finish line with How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents last weekend. Sure I might manage to squeeze in a few more in the next fortnight… But with the requisite 50 books under my belt (no, I will not feel shame that my lovely wife is just about to pass 100!!), the window demanding more books for Christmas still open, and after great deliberation, for your reading delight, here are my 2013 winners…
Top 10 books of the year (in no particular order)
Heft by Liz Moore
The very first book I read in 2013 was also one of the best. Heft is a beautifully written book – the study of a man marooned by his weight and regrets in a Brooklyn house til unlikely new relationships disrupt the status quo. The characters in this book are an absolute delight. It is subtle. It is charming. It made me cry and laugh. It was a treat to read.
The Maddaddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam simply have to be considered and consumed as a whole, epic, glorious work of speculative dystopian/utopian fiction. Atwood builds a convincing, complex world teeming with brilliant characters and inventions. The writing is at times dazzling. Atwood’s imagination and skill at bringing so many pieces together is superb.
I know this much is true by Wally Lamb
I am increasingly excited by Wally Lamb’s extravagant, sprawling, rich, captivating prose, and his sensitive, complex character portraits. This study of two brothers, one with schizophrenia and a penchant for the dramatic, is complicated, compelling and says a lot about family relationships, responsibilities and love in the context of modern-day America. Can’t wait to read his new one.
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
Another Brooklyn-set book about a man who had resigned himself to life trickling to a tedious close til unexpected events and a cast of charismatic characters breathe new life into him. And it features a lovely bookshop. A charming, sparkling book.
Where’d you go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Set in Seattle and Antarctica, in a dilapidated house juxtaposed by her husband’s job in sleek Silicone Valley, an agoraphobic, rebellious design guru loves her family, rails against private school mothers and conformity, and then inexplicably vanishes. This novel has brilliant characters, a quirky set-up, an intriguing premise, comedy, pathos, an ambitious, complex narrative voice, and moments of brilliance. I was compelled.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
I unexpectedly loved this historical semi-fiction novel based on the early years of space flight in America. Unusually for me, this was despite the characters playing a backseat role to the enormously exciting, suspenseful plot. The book absolutely captures the bravado, the adventure, the zeitgeist, the romance of space flight while having loads of fascinating, apparently quite accurate technical detail. I couldn’t put it down.
The 100 year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I adored this extremely quirky, fantastical book with its intriguing, charming protagonist and the unfolding of the history of his improbable life influencing the key historical events of the 20th century as he picks up a merry band of randoms (and an elephant) in his latest escapade. It weirdly makes perfect sense if you can suspend belief. I found it a hilarious delight, sort of in the tradition of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
This historical novel about a Quaker girl coming from England to America and making a life for herself with a background of the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape had delightful prose, beautiful characters, glorious setting, fascinating historical detail, and an excellent, compelling plot. I loved it – this is an important book from a very talented author.
May we be forgiven by AM Homes
A brilliant piece about the repercussions of family actions, the relationships we make, and finding yourself. It’s about a staid man who finds himself looking after his brother’s children after said brother kills the children’s mother. This fascinating book merges the credible and the incredible to paint a complex, exciting, alarming, and ultimately loving world at the cusp of the 21st century where anything can happen. It’s hard to explain. It’s very good.
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Well written, wry, compelling, and very English in feel, we follow our protagonist into a career in MI5 where her espionage activities gets complicated with romance. Brilliant characters leap off the page. The first spy-themed book I’ve ever loved.
Though I admit I struggled to decide whether to give the final place in the top ten to Sweet Tooth book or to The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford which was beautiful and brilliant and about the plight of Japanese people living in Seattle during WWII amongst other things. Loved the characters, plot, and writing!
Well, that was stressful! I feel guilty for all my other lovely reads, which didn’t quite make the top ten (or eleven). Thus, honorable mention goes to the seven more than I also particularly loved:
A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gayle
How it All Began by Penelope Lively
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
Maggie and Me by Damian Barr
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
2013 has been an excellent reading year. I suggest you annotate your Christmas list if you haven’t read some of these yet!