Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Best books I read in 2013

Last year I complied a list of the best books I read in 2012, and it is time to do the same for 2013.

In January, I set a goal to read 52 books by year's end.  I know the number of books read is an incredibly arbitrary measure.  Some books take a few hours, others take weeks to finish.  The point of setting the goal wasn't about the number, but more of a way to encourage me to make reading for fun a priority.  I have always loved to read, but if I'm not careful, I'll use my free time to read blogs, check Facebook, and catch up on my favorite shows.  There is nothing wrong with those pastimes, but balance is key and I know I am a happier person when reading is a regular part of my life.

I achieved my goal and ended up reading 54 in total.  I had a long lull in June and July where I only read one book over that two month span, but in November and December I was averaging two a week.  Here are my top ten, listed in the order I read them:

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
I was getting tired of reading uninteresting, poorly written memoirs, but Taylor restored my faith in the genre.  Leaving Church follows her move from leading a large Episcopal congregation in Atlanta to a small church in the countryside, and her eventual decision to leave the ministry altogether.  I could relate to her musings on the role of church in the life of both the community and the individual.  As someone who is taking a break from organized religion, this was perfect dose of spiritual stimulation.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Strout's prose is simple and at times sparse, but her characters come to life.  This book is a series of short stories, each of which features Olive Kitteridge.  In some stories she is the main character, in others she only appears briefly.  We learn more about Olive--the good, the bad, and the human--with each chapter.  A beautiful portrayal of life in a small Maine community, it's obvious why she won the Pulitzer.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
This year I read Kaling's book, Tiny Fey's Bossypants, and Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman--all of which are compilations of autobiographical humorous essays.  Kaling's was by the far the funniest and most relatable and had me laughing out loud.  It far exceeded my expectations.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
This is a reread, but it was a different experience now that I have a child.  Bronson reviews the research--and debunks common myths--on topics such as language acquisition, lying, praise, and racism. 

The Call by Yannick Murphy
A novel that follows the life of a Vermont veterinarian as he tries to find the person responsible for the hunting accident that injured his son.  Yannick tells the story entirely through his notes on the visits (or "calls") he makes as a vet.  Unique, and effective, way to tell the story.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Non-fiction that reads like fiction.  I am still trying to make sense of my time in The Gambia and what it means to be an American in a world filled with staggering inequality.  Boo's work gave me a new opportunity to engage in those questions.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
By the end of the year I was burnt out on contemporary fiction that left me depressed about love, life, and marriage, but this one still made the cut.  Wolitzer follows the lives of six friends who met at a summer camp as a teenagers.  This one was of those books that I could not stop reading once I started. 

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
A compilation of advice columns written by "Sugar."  Once I got over Strayed's pseudonym (Sugar?  Really?), I was sold.  I was moved to tears multiple times by her compassionate, funny, and insightful advice. 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
A well-written young adult fantasy book (dragons!) with a strong, complex, female heroine.  I am looking forward to the next installment of the series.

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce
If I had to pick only one book to recommend, this would be it.  I loved Joyce's earlier work--Quiverfull--and she has managed to do it again.  Informative and well-researched, this book showed me how much I have bought into the cultural narrative of adoption as a "win-win" situation when the reality is so much more complex.  Fascinating.

Honorable Mention (also in the order read):

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Song of Ice and Fire (Books 1-5) by Geroge R.R. Martin
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose 
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

I have several books on the docket for the next few weeks, but am in need of good fiction recommendations.  As much as I love non-fiction, I get burned out if I don't regularly mix-in quality fiction.  I enjoy all kinds--contemporary, young adult, fantasy, and historical.  Basically anything but chick-lit (though I will indulge on rare occasions).

Here's to a year filled with good books!


  1. Love this list!

    I know we talked about it the other day, but Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was good. I am reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell right now (listening to it actually), and I like it so far. Also Hild by Nicola Griffith is one that I had to take back to the library, but I got it on my iPad and I am going to pick it up again soon.

  2. Thanks, Abby! Life After Life is on hold at the library, as is Little Princes that we talked about the other day. So many good books--pretty sure all I want to do right now is read!

  3. I recently read The Universe versus Alex Wood and quite enjoyed it. I think The Rosie Project is next on my fiction TBR pile.

    1. Thanks for those recs--I will add them to my list! (And sorry I took almost a month to reply... I've been a little MIA from blogland lately.)