decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
[personal profile] decemberthirty
Happy New Year, friends! I have to confess that I love this time of year on livejournal, as everyone posts their summaries and reflections, their resolutions and goals, their lists of books and movies and what have you... I've already shared my goals for the coming year, so now it's time for the annual reading list.

My reading seemed to go in phases this year: I had stretches of time where I loved every book I read, and other stretches where I spent ages slogging through two or three lackluster books in a row. In 2012, I narrowly missed my goal of reading 33 books so I set the same goal for 2013. I made it this time, but it was surprising to see that for the first half of the year I was on pace for a much higher total, and then slowed down significantly in the last three or four months. Interestingly, at the same time that my reading pace slowed, I decided I need to get a handle on my ever-growing pile of unread books and so forbade myself from checking anything out of the library. So that means I just couldn't get as excited about the books I own? Or I made the wrong choices from my shelf?

Enough talk! Here is the list (links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote):

01. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
02. Toby's Room by Pat Barker
03. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
04. Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
05. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
06. Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
07. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
08. Art and Fear by Ted Orland & David Bayles
09. The Last of the Handmade Dams by Bob Steuding (never posted a review--oops!)
10. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
11. The Real and the Unreal: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin
12. Tenth of December by George Saunders
13. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
14. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
15. Plainwater by Anne Carson
16. The Charioteer by Mary Renault
17. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
18. Inscriptions for Headstones by Matthew Vollmer
19. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
20. Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack by John Warren
21. Ireland by William Trevor
22. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
23. Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser
24. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
25. A Humument by Tom Phillips
26. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
27. The King Must Die by Mary Renault
28. We the Animals by Justin Torres
29. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
30. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
32. Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
33. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
34. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

Not a single re-read this year--how unusual! Only 12 of my 34 books were by women, which is also unusual--I usually come closer to a 50/50 split. Far more nonfiction than usual, and fewer short story collections. For my own interest, here is the list divided up a couple of different ways:


Novels (20)
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Toby's Room by Pat Barker
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Charioteer by Mary Renault
A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser
Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
The King Must Die by Mary Renault
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Short Story Collections (6)
Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood (sort of--two novellas)
Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
The Real and the Unreal by Ursula K. Le Guin
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Ireland by William Trevor

Nonfiction (6)
Art and Fear by Ted Orland & David Bayles
The Last of the Handmade Dams by Bob Steuding
Inscriptions for Headstones by Matthew Vollmer
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack by John Warren
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

Experimental, difficult-to-categorize works (2)
Plainwater by Anne Carson
The Humument by Tom Phillips



American (15)
Annie Proulx
Louise Erdrich
Ted Orland & David Bayles
Bob Steuding
Ursula K. Le Guin
George Saunders
Chad Harbach
Matthew Vollmer
John Warren
Michael Chabon
Steven Millhauser
Paul Bowles
Justin Torres
Wallace Stegner
Tamar Adler

British (9)
Pat Barker
Christopher Isherwood
Alan Hollinghurst
Graham Greene
Mary Renault
Jeanette Winterson
E.M. Forster
Tom Phillips
Hilary Mantel

German (2)
Hermann Hesse
Hans Fallada

Irish (1)
William Trevor

Russian (1)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Canadian (1)
Anne Carson

Korean (1)
Chang-rae Lee (emigrated to the US at age 3, though...)


My favorites this year:

Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood: Two closely linked novellas with narrators that are highly observant of others and intriguingly effaced themselves. Clever and compelling and full of beautiful prose. A pure pleasure to read!

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. A brilliant example of the novel-in-stories, this book provides a complicated portrait of two families over several generations. I loved Erdrich's variety of narrators and the way she subtly traced the long ripples of history through her characters' lives. Erdrich's use of language is so rich it feels decadent.

Tenth of December by George Saunders. Brilliant, brutal, heartbreaking, funny. This is on everybody's "Best Books of 2013" lists, and it belongs on all of them.

The Charioteer by Mary Renault. Fun, fun, fun. A soap opera, sure, but it grabbed hold of my emotions and made me feel like a teenager. It's a flawed book, but I loved it anyway.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I hated the first hundred pages, but now I'm ready to call it the best book I read all year. This book is so smart, so sharp, so gripping. It's full of fantastic characterizations and sly humor. I can't remember the last time I was so engrossed in a book.

Other titles I would recommend include Every Man Dies Alone, The Real and the Unreal, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and Bring Up the Bodies.

The biggest disappointments were Steppenwolf and A Gesture Life, which were just plain boring, and Gone Girl which was utterly, inexcusably moronic.

Here's to great reading to 2014 for all of us!
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