Reading – My Year in Review

I can’t believe it’s already time for end-of-year reviews! 2013 was the fastest year of my life to date – when I was paying bills last weekend I told Ian I had just become used to writing 2013 in the dateline. I’m looking forward to 2014 mightily, however – with it comes the birth of our baby boy and the completion of our family. As his birthday draws closer I am growing more and more eager to meet him, so bring on the end of year bloggage!

This year I felt like I was ALWAYS engrossed in a great book, so I was surprised to find, looking back, that I’ve only read nineteen books this year – my lowest by far since I started blogging and, I imagine, my lowest probably in my lifetime. It’s a good thing I’m not solely a book blogger! The year began with Justin Cronin’s trilogy and hours of time on the couch in January as Ian, Grace and I all convalesced from bad winter colds, and I’m ending it fully immersed in Anne Patchett’s Bel Canto, although it’s probable I’ll finish it and move on to something else prior to the start of 2014. At any rate, here is my 2013 Year in Reading Review:

Book That Kept me up Far too Late At Night – The Passage, Justin Cronin
I’ve been glad to see Justin Cronin remain fairly silent on twitter – I hope that means he’s writing away, completing the final novel in his post-Apocalypse, vampiresque trilogy. I read the first two books at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and am now eagerly awaiting the conclusion. While his vampire-like creations that have taken over most of humanity are the stuff of nightmares, the underlying heart of Cronin’s books carries them forward, and the characters he has created stay with the reader. I’m so anxious to find out what happens to Amy and Peter and Sarah, and all the rest. I imagine a quick skimming of the first two books will be necessary in order to prep for the final read!

Novel that Made Me Realize How Little I Know – Book of the People, Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks continues to amaze me with her ability to combine historical research with a powerful, fictional narrative. I was constantly making notes about subjects I need to learn more about as I read, including Judaism and the Bosnian War (which I thought I was fairly well-versed in until I read this book!). The narrative structure was perhaps a little pat (a criticism I’ve read in other places) but I didn’t care because each story that combined to create the larger narrative was so exquisitely written.

Books That Left Me Wanting More – The Girl Who…Stieg Larsson

I read the final two books in this trilogy earlier this year and found myself so disappointed that they concluded the way they did. Well, not actually sad at the actual ending, but I could have easily followed these characters for another book or two, at least. I want to know what happens with Erika Berger and Mikael and Lisbeth. I suppose their stories could have gone on ad infinitum, and I think it’s really sad Mr.Larsson died so prematurely, never able to enjoy becoming a successful novelist as well as journalist!

Best Book for Better Understanding Obsession – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling

Unlike Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which was a veritable hit among so many of my friends and family, Kaling’s book was hit or miss. I, however, loved it, and while at first I thought maybe it was because she and I are closer in age than Tina Fey and I are, in actuality I think I enjoyed it so much because of the way it delves into her obsession with comedy from the time she was a young girl. I think I can say I’ve been truly obsessed by two things in my life – theater and writing – but my level of obsession never reached the level of Kaling’s with comedy. The way she began examining how comedy works, from a young age, and followed that obsession through years at Dartmouth and then New York City, is really incredible. She always, always managed to follow what she thought was funny and that obsession has turned into a brilliant career. I’m absolutely in love with her television program “The Mindy Project” which I’ll write about in my next post.

Biggest Surprise of the Year – Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

I have Andi from Estella’s Revenge entirely to thank for discovering this series (although I have yet to get my hands on the second in the trilogy!)- I never would have picked up this time-traveling adventure that BEGINS immediately after WWII and then goes BACK in time if it weren’t for her, but I have to admit this is one of the greatest love and adventure stories I have ever read. I don’t really know how to talk about this book without giving away key details, but if you like historical fiction and/or time travel I think I can guarantee you will love this book. I intend to read the next one very soon

Oh Wait I Take it Back – THIS Might Have Been the Biggest Surprise of the Year – The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
My brother gave me both this book and Freedom during my last pregnancy. He was worried I was “losing my smarts” – as it turns out, if you fall down the morass that is Teen Mom 2 on MTV, nobody cuts you any slack, pregnant or not. I can’t explain why it took me so long to start it but once I did I was blown away by this portrait of the Lambert family. I found this novel terribly funny in spots – heartbreaking in others – but most of all I fell into the lives of Franzen’s characters utterly and completely. Essentially one overriding question drives the entire narrative – will all of the Lambert children make it home for “one last Christmas”? But within that narrative, so much is contained – I am greatly looking forward to reading Freedomin the new year.

Best First Novel – The Dog Stars, Jonathan Heller
I think this novel is a wonderful example of what more first novels should strive to be – thematic, straight-forward story, beautifully written…about halfway in I wanted to quit the book, not because it wasn’t gorgeous or suspenseful, but because of a very specific thing that happens…but it HAD to happen for the narrative to move forward and I quickly came to peace with it. In many ways, I dread a post-Apocalyptic world like the one Heller creates more than I dread the kind Cronin creates, simply because the idea of humanity turning so drastically on one another almost doesn’t feel realistic to me – or maybe it just scares me, who knows – but ultimately this book is a powerful story about what keeps us living against all reason, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a great way to start their reading off in 2014.

As I noted, I read several other books and magazine articles over the course of the year, but these are the books that really stood out to me in 2013. I’ve long since ceased making any sort of reading resolutions since I rarely am able to keep them – I am looking forward to the quietude of January and the time it allows for reading, and I hope after the first several months with my son I’ll hit my reading stride again! I also should have thought to include some of the most successful books G and I have read together over the last year – if I can find time before the year is out I’ll make a top-ten toddler book as well! (Upon re-reading this, it has become terribly clear why I don’t do a ton of book blogging – I basically use the word “love” and an exclamation point and that’s about it. Literary criticism has never been my juggernaut.)

2 thoughts on “Reading – My Year in Review

  1. Isn’t it amazing that the year’s nearly gone? Honestly – it just seems impossible. All those goals, down the tubes. At least I don’t need to worry about a list of resolutions for 2014. I can recycle 2013’s.

    “Book of the People” sounds very interesting to non-fiction-creative-non-fiction-historical-fiction loving me. It’s gone on the list for next year. Heaven knows I’ve got a big enough list, but another dozen won’t hurt.

  2. I adore Best Of lists and am taking notes from yours. I loved Freedom, and have The Corrections to read, so maybe I can get around to that next year. I enjoyed the first of the Stieg Larsson trilogy but have felt tentative about the next two, afraid they won’t be as good. I’m delighted to know you enjoyed them all. And Geraldine Brooks I must read.

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