Best of 2013: Books

It was a great year for books. I’ve been working on the 50 Books challenge and am coming close to reaching my goal of reading fifty books over the span of 2013. In this post, I’ll talk about my favorite books of the year and the ones I haven’t found the time for, but am eager to read as soon as possible. I will be forthcoming and say that some of my top six books of the year were not published in 2013, but were simply books that I had the pleasure of reading this year.

Note: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch would absolutely be on my top books of the year list if I had not already written a little feature on it.

Top 6 Books I’ve Read This Year

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
This was a really interesting book about a man and woman from Nigeria who were in love as teenagers. The love story aspect is good, but what I really loved were the main character Ifemelu’s blog posts about race in America. It was really cool to read a story from a completely different perspective than my own and to see the U.S. through the eyes of someone with a vastly different background than mine.

2. The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk (2013)
If you don’t follow Dagmara Dominczyk on Twitter, do so now! This book is loosely inspired by Dominczyk’s Polish family and follows three young women from Kielce, Poland over the span of a decade. Dominczyk’s writing style is quite poetic and the story is a unique take on the traditional coming-of-age tale. Also, Dagmara is married to Patrick Wilson which is pretty cool.

3. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008)
This is absolutely my favorite book read this year. I’ve read each of Curtis Sittenfeld’s books, save for Sisterland (which, as you will see below, is on my most anticipated list) and, while I enjoyed them all, I fell in love with American Wife within the first few chapters. The book is organized into four parts which take place over the span of Alice Blackwell’s life—from her teenaged years in Wisconsin to her eventual residence in the White House as First Lady. The characters are complex and the pace of the novel is perfect. While the book is very loosely based on Laura Bush, I found that Sittenfeld managed to create a wholly unique character in Alice.

4. I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (2004)
I read this book just before transferring to a new college and I have to say that it absolutely terrified me. It’s a total departure from Tom Wolfe’s other novels in that it follows a young girl, the eponymous hero of the novel Charlotte Simmons, from a small rural town in North Carolina during her first year at a fictional Ivy League university. If you notice the reviews on Goodreads, a lot of people disliked this book and I, too, have my qualms about it but, in the end, it was an enjoyable, fluffy read (and the latter is not often said of Tom Wolfe’s work).

5. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay (2012)
This is one of those books that you read and are still thinking about years later. I feel like most people in Jay’s targeted demographic have probably read this book, but, unfortunately, the people who need this book the most probably never will. Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist who specializes in twenty-somethings and has given a popular TED talk on the subjects covered in her book. She writes about the importance of your 20s and how the decisions you make during that decade can, and most likely will, affect the rest of your life dramatically. This is a must-read for any person in or approaching their 20s.

6. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (2008)
Ok, let me start off by saying that, while I truly enjoy Miles Teller as an actor, I highly suggest that you either read this book before seeing the movie or do not see the movie at all. This book really left an impact on me. The ending was heavy and tragic, but in a remarkably subtle way. The story is about Sutter Keely, a high-school student, the life of every party, and an alcoholic. The way Tim Tharp portrays teen alcoholism is really poignant and I think that every young person who reads this book will see someone they know in Sutter. My issue with the movie was that they completely altered the ending, turning it into this banal, Hollywood happy ending which is not at all how the book concluded.

Most Anticipated
These are the books which were on my list this year that I have not gotten around to reading just yet. 

1. The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)
Honestly, I want to read everything by Dave Eggers. This particular book is set on the campus of a Google-esque tech company in California where the lines of privacy and identity are blurred. It sounds as though this book provides an interesting commentary on the current social media zeitgeist. One reviewer calls this book “The Fountainhead for big data” which just makes me want to read it even more.

2. The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon (2013)
I heard about this one in an NPR interview with the author, who also wrote The Golden Mean. The novel is about Aristotle’s daughter, Pythias, who navigates the intellectual scene of Ancient Greece with prowess and provides insight into what it was like to be a woman, and an intellectual woman at that, in the incredibly patriarchal society that was Ancient Greece.

3. Mud Season by Ellen Stimson (2013)
You may or may not know that my dream is to one day live on a farm, either in the Swiss Alps or somewhere on the upper East Coast of the U.S. So, naturally, this book is appealing to me. In this memoir, Ellen Stimson tells the story of her move from St. Louis to a farm in Dorset, Vermont where she takes over the town’s country store. Seems like the perfect read for a dreary afternoon.

4. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (2013)
Set in Paris in the 1800s, this book follows the Van Goethem sisters who have just lost their father. One of the sisters goes on to dance for the Paris Opera Ballet and ends up posing for Degas, while another enters into a love affair with a man while acting in a stage adaptation of one of the books in Emile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series. I don’t know too much about the book, but I’ve heard great reviews.

5. Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk (2013)
I’ve been a Palahniuk fan for years now and thought that Damned, the book that preceded this one, was hysterical. The previous book was about a girl named Madison Spencer who died and was sent to Hell. The story follows her adventures down there and, eventually, she ascends into Purgatory, where this book picks up. We’ve been discussing Dante’s Inferno in my history course recently, so it will be interesting to delve into a modern interpretation.

6. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey (2013)
This book appeals to me on so many levels. I am all about rituals and find it so interesting to learn about the different techniques artists and, especially, writers use in order to efficiently place themselves in a mindset which arouses creativity and innovation. This book looks at a huge variety of artists—such as Anthony Trollope, Woody Allen, Tolstoy, Picasso, Dickens, Austen, Benjamin Franklin and more—and discusses the rituals they used to create their best work.

Most Anticipated (Honourable Mentions)
I do not have nearly enough time or space to write down my thoughts of every book published in 2013 that I look forward to reading. Here are some more titles from the list, which are linked to their respective pages on Goodreads for your discovery. I’ve included just a few words to describe each book.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (Twins, Psychic visions, Identity)
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Rowing, History, Inspiration)
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg (Illustrated, Whimsical, Mythology)
A Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley (Books, Witty, Guide)
You Knew Me When by Emily Liebert (New England, Friendship, Mansions)
The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman (Art, Summer, Love)
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Thomas Kelley
Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia Volk (Fashion, Glamour, Coming-of-Age)
A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik (Greece/Africa, Island, Struggle)
Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Mystery, Film, Riveting)
The Infatuations by Javier Marias (Murder, Existential, Noir)
Lexicon by Max Barry (Academia, Language, Thriller)


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