It's tempting to make lists of how much has changed since this time last year. But that would be boring for those of you who know me in real life, for you've seen and heard most of it, and would be gloaty for any other readers. Because the changes have all been good and glorious, full of work, adventure, and quiet fantastic fun. 2013 was a year of transition, as I've rambled already to most of you. And 2014 will be the year of wholeness.
So this post will just be a list of ten books I read this year that amazed me. And I'm going to pass over the predictable suspects of Transatlantic, Life After Life, Night Film, The Goldfinch, that are getting enough love from every other Best-of list. Here are the books with spilled thoughts, in order as I read them.
- Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer is one of the first 2013 books I read and I knew right away that it would be in this blog post eleven months later. Nothing unseated it. I discovered Flannery O'Connor when my mom gave me her collected letters, A Habit of Being, so I was both interested and apprehensive when Alisa invited me to Carlene's launch at Greenlight. Apprehension vanished at once: Bauer's novel borrows Flannery for its main character and does a beautiful, respectful, provocative job with her voice.
- The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker has a terrible cover, a chick lit opening, a sci-fi/fantasy premise, yet was one of my funnest reading experiences of the year. Despite a handful of first-novel limps, it completely engrossed me on a plane and in two airports. I am very lucky that I ignored all the usual flags that send a book into my discards stack, so you should give it a try, too.
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is the most hilarious book I read this year, and also very sweet. I read it basically in one sitting, which has also been the experience of pretty much everyone I recommended it to. If you have a personality disorder or have tried online dating, you will especially love it.
- My Education by Susan Choi holds the distinction of being the only book that I burst into tears when I met the author after her reading at Greenlight. For reasons that I decline to explain to you. It is beautifully written, full of compassion, and unexpected. So you should read it for itself, not just out of a morbid desire to figure out why I publicly cried.
- Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin had the unenviable task of following My Education during my summer reading, and more-than-enviably distinguished itself. Brave, moving, and thoughtfully considers issues of personhood and parenthood alongside its hot-button gender topic.
- & Sons by David Gilbert not only has an ampersand in the title, but also features a book-within-a-book plus explorations of art itself and daddy issues. So obviously I loved this book, so much that I read it for hours alone in a bar in an evening that ended with my debit card being given away to a stranger. & I had the privilege of meeting the author at an event at Center for Fiction at which I was inexplicably the only attendee who visited the signing table afterwards. Then I made him, myself, and the other authors at the table uncomfortable and confused by mixing the debit card story in with my praise for the book. And have now probably made you confused and uncomfortable as well. Disregard that and read the book, for it is beautiful and funny.
- The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth is possibly the first book I've bought solely on the basis of the author's Twitter account. I expected it to be smart, current, and funny, and it is; it's also moving and profound in sneaky ways, and I wanted to live in its pages long after they ended.
- A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout is definitely the first book I ordered via Twitter from my new local indie bookstore. A piece in Vogue caught my attention - a news cycle memoir published three years later because neither the author nor coauthor actually wanted to write it? Sign me up! The book itself is a beautiful object, the writing within just as lovely, and the painful story begins long before the beginning and unfolds with out sensationalism as a contemplation of desire, ambition, and courage.
- Longbourn by Jo Baker finds a new story in hidden corners of Pride and Prejudice. Blending a book both idolized and hated with what smacks of Downton-ambulance chasing could have been a catastrophe, but Baker tells a beautiful human story in gorgeous, living prose. I loved it.
- Careless People by Sarah Churchwell snuck on at the last minute - I started reading it on the first day of Christmas break and will probably finish on the last day of the year. It's a mosaic of the Jazz Age - the NYC-centric world that produced Scott Fitzgerald and his great Gatsby. It is anecdotal and philosophic and I scribbled its edges more than any book this year. Probably more than any book since college - it stirred the same questions about reality and art, art and life, life and fiction, fiction and its creators, as we all loved to ponder when we thought we knew lots but life had not even begun.
If this is not enough for you, a few others I read and loved this year are A Hundred Summers, Iris Has Free Time, Ready Player One, The Fry Chronicles (thanks Hannah!), and the oldie-but-sexy Fear of Flying (thanks Ilana!). And if this is too much for you, don't worry - I probably won't blog again until April.