My FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013
2013 was a time of great binge-watching and great binge-reading. Here are some of the books I couldn’t put down this year. All are highly recommended.
THE ONE THAT DESTROYED ME (IN A GOOD WAY)
Meet Reno, the most intriguing heroine of the year: she’s a motorcycle thrill seeker, an interloper in the downtown New York art scene of the mid-1970s, part-time model, a naive American who gets embroiled in radical Italian politics. She also has terrible taste in men. The Flamethrowers weaves together these interconnecting threads of Reno’s life, the excitement and glamour, but also Reno’s vulnerability, her abject unworldliness. Page by page, sentence by sentence, word by word, the best book of 2013.
TWO SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS YOU SHOULDN’T MISS
With all respect to George Saunders, Tenth of December doesn’t need a plug from me. Here are two collections from 2013 that didn’t get as much love as they should have. Let’s change that.
I’m gonna use the word “experimental” now. Shhh. Don’t be scared. Trust that I’m using the word to describe a style of writing that feels exciting and new and different, not pretentious or unnecessarily complicated. The linked stories in Spectacle feel like they’re breaking new ground even as they zero in on universal emotions.
I would like to live inside the title story in this collection, in which a dinner party gets all kinds of awkward. All of the stories in Bobcat contain worlds that feel perfectly self-contained and satisfying, and yet each and every one could be expanded into a novel that I would hungrily read.
MOST ANTI-YOLO NOVEL
Life After Life explores the biggest of Big Questions: What would you do if you could live your life over and over again until you get it right? What does “right” even mean? Does it mean avoiding heartache, defying death, meeting a soulmate, having a family? Maybe not! Probably not! It takes a writer of great vision and discipline to create a story that has so many disparate threads, but feels so compact and elegant. Get through the first 50 pages and you’ll be hooked—I promise.
MOST LITERARY TAKE ON DATING JERKS, BROOKLYN-STYLE
AKA The One That Hits Too Close To Home. Adelle Waldman’s title character is a nice, smart, sensitive writer-type who happens to have no emotional intelligence whatsoever. What happens when the kinda-nerdy guy your parents would positively adore turns out to be kinda a dick? The fact that Waldman can make Nate P.’s personal life both so relatable and so deplorable is a testament to her critical eye.
My resolution for 2013 was to savor more of what I read, rather than racing through in a panic to get to the next one. Necessary Errors was a novel that forced me to take it slow—to get caught up in all of the wonderfully imagined details of Caleb Crain’s debut about a recent college grad who travels to Prague in 1990, just as Czechoslovakia bid adieu to socialism. Hard not to see parallels between the nation’s attempt to find itself and a young man’s attempt to find himself, but the novel is so much bigger—world-expanding—than that.
From the very first pages of At Night We Walk in Circles, we know that something terrible is going to happen. We learn about a young, ambitious actor who tours through a nameless Latin American country with an experimental theater group, and we know that he meets some sort of tragic end. Despite the outcome, it’s a joy to take the journey with him, to ponder what it means to be a performer and what kinds of roles we play even when we aren’t on stage.
THE LITERARY THRILLER YOU SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT
I argued that Cartwheel should be the new Gone Girl (I even used GIFs!) and I stand by it—if you’re looking for a totally addictive and thought-provoking thriller that’s both masterfully written and fun to read, look no further.
Read the first few pages of The Woman Upstairs and revel in the anger of Claire Messud’s protagonist, an elementary school teacher in her late 30s who is still waiting for her life to begin. Love her or think she’s lacking in likability, the woman upstairs vents a level of frustration with daily life with which I couldn’t help but sympathize, even as she grapples with the distinction between how much of life is real, as opposed to the stories we tell ourselves.
Most of the time when I read a mystery, I don’t really care too much about descriptions of where it’s set—I just want a fast-paced plot to push the narrative along. The Facades is the exception, a novel in which a decrepit Midwestern city is as much a moody, complicated character as it is the setting. When a beloved opera singer goes missing, her hapless husband attempts to track her down through the crumbling streets of Trude, a city that feels bizarre and surreal and also more than a little familiar.
BOOK I WISH I’D READ WHEN I WAS 20
OK, so the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award of 2013 will be awarded within hours, and I happened to have fallen in love with one of the shortlist contestants. I am not ashamed. Don’t let the dubious nomination fool you—My Education is hot as hell 99% of the time. Susan Choi’s novel about the complicated love life of a graduate student details all the shit we have to learn about in life that doesn’t take place in a classroom or lecture hall.
Note: If you haven’t yet read The Secret History, you should probably do that before you read The Goldfinch. But if you already have, then call in sick to work and prepare to get swept away in a narrative that more than one critic has called “Dickensian.”
Thanks to Meaty I was the deranged lady on the subway who couldn’t stop giggling. Samantha Irby, of Bitches Gotta Eat fame, just keeps on telling it like it is, essay by essay, rapid-fire blogger-style. A joyous mixture of bad language, bad behavior, and bad relationships.
MOST HORRIFYING (AND FUNNY!) NONFICTION
I had to stop underlining the sentences in Going Clear that made me gasp in horror because I would’ve ended up underlining the whole book. Lawrence Wright’s clear-eyed, phenomenally researched takedown of Scientology is straight-up terrifying. And also undeniably funny. I made a list of some of the most astounding/awful/hilarious quotes from the book, presented by Wright with very little editorializing. The bat-shitness of the whole enterprise speaks for itself.
Adding every single one to my ‘must-read’ list!
December 1st was a sneaky devil this year. It snuck up on me out of nowhere while I was still enjoying the last of the Thanksgiving holiday. So I found myself an hour before the children’s bedtime madly wrapping the 24 Christmas books that will be our Book Advent Calendar (it was such a hit with Charlotte last year).
I had grand plans to do a blog post listing out all the books but nope….I was just happy to get them all up on the mantel and one pic snapped before the first book was unwrapped.
I used the same 24 books from last year (I had hidden all of them away shortly after Christmas).
Morgan just asked me to send her a list of books I’ve recently read and would recommend, so I thought I’d share it for those of you looking for something to curl up with by the fireplace.
- The Good House, by Ann Leary: About an alcoholic real-estate agent, written by Denis Leary’s wife Ann Leary and one of my favorite books I’ve read in years.
- The Age Of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker: About what happens when the earth stops spinning; heartbreaking and wonderful and unforgettable.
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple: A beautifully crafted story about a daughter’s relationship with her eccentric and extraordinary mother; funny and compelling and lovely.
- Wild, by Cheryl Strayed: One of the most beautiful books I’ve read in my life, and I went into it thinking “a book about hiking? Ehhhhhhhgh.”
- Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson: I have no idea how to describe this one other than that it can be a little tough to get through (it’s about an English woman who dies time after time – and then comes back to life – as the country marches towards war), but is very much worth the effort. I didn’t want it to ever end.
- Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead: Sort of Great Gatsby-esque, about a family’s misbehaviors at a ritzy weekend wedding.
At the moment, I’m re-reading Russell Brand’s My Booky-Wook(not nearly as silly as it sounds; he’s an incredible writer and it’s worth a second read) and am wading through The Returned (the subject matter – long-dead people suddenly come back to life and reconnect with the families they left behind – is just a little too upsetting for me to get into at night, which is when I do most of my reading).
But I’m almost done with those…so anyone have more suggestions? I need an excuse to not come out from under the covers next weekend.
Looks like some solid book recommendations here!
So I’ve been reading voraciously recently. It helps that I have quiet train time a few days a week. I really make a concerted effort to put the phone down and pick up the Kindle.
Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand - this is what I would call a beach read. A family gathers on Nantucket for a wedding. Drama ensues….obviously. I loved it and couldn’t put it down. It was a fluffy but not overly so.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty - Set in the 20s, a woman acts as the chaperone for a wild teenager who spends the Summer in NYC at a dance school. BOOM. Enough said. I loved this book. (Get ready to read that over and over again because I’ve read a lot of good books recently). Don’t believe me? How about the 555 reviews on Amazon that average 4.5 stars!
Night Film by Marisha Pessl - So I picked up this book and started reading without knowing what it was about. Not a clue. Just dove in based on a recommendation. And I literally could. not. stop. turning. the. page. Or you know, clicking on the side of my Kindle. It’s about an investigative journalist who becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the daughter of a legendary filmmaker who by all accounts is super weird. This book is creepy. Read it with the light on. But read it.
In My Skin by Kate Holden - a memoir about a middle class Australian girl who becomes heavily addicted to heroin. After I finished reading this book (which….spoiler alert…..I loved!) I was poking around on the internet reading various websites about the author. I forget where I read it but I saw a comment by someone who desperately wanted to try heroin after reading all about the author’s experience, tried it and became addicted. The author responded to the comment absolutely horrified that her book had resulted in another addiction. All I could think is that after reading this memoir I wouldn’t touch heroin with a 10 foot pole. I have no idea who in their right mind would want to try it. But anyway….good book.
Parisan Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de La Fressange - I know, I know, a style book by yet another super stylish French person because the French do everything better. Insert eye roll. But I thought it was chock full of good tips about how to build out your closet with key good quality chic pieces. I borrowed it from the library but might actually invest in my own copy.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler - Did you love The Paris Wife? Then you’ll love this too.
The Supreme’s at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore - I wasn’t sure about this one when I started reading it but I persevered and ending up falling in love with all the characters. Click on the link above to read about it.
I normally summarize a whole bunch of books into one post but this recommendation can’t wait. A House in the Sky is excellent - a solid 5 stars from me.
It’s a memoir about a Canadian (wannabe) journalist who gets kidnapped in Somalia. I won’t say anything else but it is gripping. I had to get up at 5am today for SoulCycle and I still found myself reading at 11pm last night well past my bedtime. I just couldn’t put it down.
Books, books, books!!
It’s been a really long time since I did a book post. They are always short and sweet but this one will be the shortest yet. Basically, a list of books that I loved and would recommend. I record all the books that I read on Goodreads (my username is georgiegirlnyc) but only include the books that I rate a minimum of 4 stars on my blog. If you are interested in seeing what I hated then find me on Goodreads!
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Such a different book from everything else that’s out there. So good.
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes - a psychological thriller.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - couldn’t put this one down.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh - LOVE LOVE LOVED THIS ONE! I can’t buy flowers now without first checking for their meaning.
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Cheryl Sandberg - I wanted nothing to do with this book when it first came out. But I gave in and read it recently. Oh boy, do I have my opinions about this one but I’ll keep them to myself. It’s worth a read.
Currently reading and currently enjoying - By Invitation Only.
This book was written by two of Gilt Groupe’s founders. It documents the journey from the initial idea to the successful company that Gilt is today.
I love all things start-up so am really enjoying it.
Books Books Books
I’ve read a ton of books since my last book post. Some really good ones! So here’s what I have for you.
The Expats by Chris Pavone - Hmmm, so how to tell you what this book is about without completely giving it away. OK, so this family moves to Luxembourg and while the wife is getting used to being an expat the husband is growing increasingly secretive about her job. And various other things happen, including befriending some other american expats who are just a bit odd, to make her very suspicious of their circumstances. Blah blah blah. It basically turns into a page turning mystery. I really enjoyed it and couldn’t put it down although when I was done I looked back and found a lot of it farfetched. But still, worth a read.
The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack - I am kind of obsessed with memoirs. This one is written by the daughter-in-law of Bernie Madoff, the widow of the son that killed himself on the 2 year anniversary of his father’s arrest. It becomes clear very quickly that she has written this book to defend her late husband’s honor and constantly talks about how he knew nothing about the scandal prior to Bernie admitting what he was up to. It was definitely an interesting read but Stephanie got on my nerves a bit. She really tries to make herself out to be a nice down to earth girl but she is far from that. She’s a bit of a rich girl trying to play the pity card. But whatever, I enjoyed getting an inside glimpse into her life.
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown - I had often seen this book recommended by other bloggers and finally got around to reading it myself. Um, so good. It’s about 3 sisters in their late 20s/early 30s who end up living at home while their Mom deals with cancer. The entire family is a touch eccentric and each sister is dealing with her own issues. I love books like this - it’s kind of like the book version of The Family Stone.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed - This book is everywhere. Everyone is reading it and even Oprah Winfrey has resurrected her Book Club and picked this book. Even though I had zero interest in reading a memoir about hiking (major yawns) I bought the book. I read the book. I loved the book. So apparently not only am I not meant to judge a book by it’s cover but now I can’t even judge a book based on what it’s about. Some people just write really well and even if the topic may not interest you, they do a damn fine job of keeping you rather enthralled in their story.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - This is another book that everyone says is awesome. And everyone says it’s about baseball but don’t let that put you off. Well, sorry folks. I couldn’t get past the fact that it’s about baseball and I do not like baseball. Not even a little bit. But then Laney recommended it. And quite frankly, if Laney told me to read the the Oxford Dictionary from cover to cover I would do it because girlfriend NEVER gets it wrong when it comes to book recommendations. I remember she said that when she wasn’t reading the book she found herself thinking about the characters and what would become of them. So true. The characters in the book are quite brilliant. So just go read it. Not because I said so. But because Laney said so.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Every man and his dog has been reading this book lately and blogging about it. I first saw the recommendation on Ashley’s blog. A very simple JUST READ IT type of recommendation. So I did. And my god, I couldn’t put the damn thing down. And neither can anyone else judging from the number of recommendations I saw on other blogs just in the last week.
And an honorable mention to the WORST BOOK EVER Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James aka mommy-porn. Every second woman was reading it by the pool in Puerto Rico. And it came up in conversation multiple times during the the vacation. So I was a bit if you can’t beat em join em and downloaded the damn thing. Anyway, it’s terrible on every level. And I can never get those hours of my life back.