Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year-End Book Wrapup '13

This year I read 34 books, 20 of them by women and 14 by men. (I guess that counterbalances last year, when my reading list was super testosteroney.)

Top five books of the year:

1. Building Stories by Chris Ware
I'm still peeved at the way this one got knocked out of the Tournament of Books, because it's wonderful. Deceptively simple, but dealing with profound themes of loneliness and isolation and interconnectedness. A somewhat unlikeable, yet ultimately sympathetic, heroine. A unique presentation (a combination of comic books, boards, pamphlets, and booklets that can be read in any order). Overall a tour de force and the best book I read this year.

2. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
Another ToB book. I really loved the unique voice of this novel, and its mix of humor and profundity. When I originally blogged about it, I suggested it might edge out Building Stories for my favorite book of the year. I would have to re-read both of them to see if that still holds, but I do know that I thought this was also awesome.

3. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
The ultimate winner of the ToB, and a deserving one. This book about North Korea has really stuck with me, and recent news coming out of that country just makes this feel more authentic. A seriously excellent book. See why I'm planning to read as many 2014 ToB novels as I can? There's lots of great stuff to unearth!

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I loved Fangirl too, but ultimately I appreciated the depth and emotion of Eleanor & Park even more. My favorite YA of the year.

5. Kingbird Highway by Kenneth Kaufman
Just slipped in under the wire, but it's such a great book. It goes far beyond just recounting birds and birding and is a wonderful example of how memoirs can transcend their subjects. You probably need to have at least a nominal interest in birding to really enjoy it as much as I did, but man, I really did.

Runners up: Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, American Pastoral, The Strnger Beside Me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Liar, Bring Up the Bodies, A Death in the Family, The Rosie Project

Bottom three books:

1. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
Fairly depressing, fairly unrealistic, kind of a letdown after the rest of the series. Didn't love it.

2. The Recognitions by William Gaddis
I really wanted to like this novel a lot more than I actually did. Not a favorite.

3. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
You've already heard me explain this one a bunch of times, but, didn't dig it.

No runners up; in fact, I couldn't even find five, and none of these was truly terrible. I guess it was a good year for books! And also a year where I read fewer books than usual...

This coming year, I'm focusing on some books that are lingering on my "to read" shelf as well as some re-reads. I have a nice symmetrical list of 10 each. (In the former category: Swann's Way, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Oryx and Crake, Telegraph Avenue, The Brothers K, The Emperor's Children, Nocturnes, Slam, Sanditon, Middlesex, Shades of Grey, Waiter Rant. In the latter category: Brideshead Revisited, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Wives of Henry VIII, Catch-22, All the King's Men, Cloud Atlas, The Corrections, Appointment in Samarra, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and the river chapter of Finnegans Wake.) [ETA: I forgot Henry James. I'm going to add The Wings of the Dove for sure, and Portrait of a Lady if I have time...]

(I had Rebecca on the list too, but I just re-read it because I taught it this semester. It was great fun to re-read, and I'm teaching it again next semester because it was also fun to teach.)

The actual list of 20 books is flexible; I reserve the right to abandon any of these books midway through and replace them. [ETA: Indicated by a strikeout.] This is more about clearing off my shelves and reading books that I've been meaning to read or re-read for ages. I'm not much of a book abandoner, so I doubt that will happen much if at all, but there's not going to be a Gravity's Rainbow situation here, if you know what I mean. Oh, and I don't usually blog re-reads, but enough time has passed with most of these that I'm going to revisit them and see how I feel the second time around.



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