Top Ten Books I Read in 2013

This is from The Broke and the Bookish: Tuesday Top Ten. Today is “Rewind,” so I picked “Top Ten Books I Read in 2013.”

These are in alphabetical order, not ranked. I’ve included excerpts from my Goodreads reviews for each one.

MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

Absolutely loved it. I’m so sorry the trilogy is over; I may just have to start at the beginning again. If you haven’t read the others that came before it (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood), read those first. If you’ve read the others, do read this one. I think it provides the necessary closure to the story. The ending really moved me.

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

If I could give this book more than 5 stars, I would. I read the whole thing in less than two hours (it’s very short, a novella really) and was filled with delight the entire time. The action starts when the Queen is walking her corgis on the grounds of the palace and stumbles upon the local library’s bookmobile. To be polite, she borrows a book and thus begins her new life as an avid reader. Unfortunately, no one else in the palace thinks this is a good idea–she starts some annoying habits like pressing her favourite books on the palace staff and her family, and then checking up later to see if they’ve read them. She also starts sneaking books with her everywhere to help pass the time at boring public events. Anyone who finds these behaviours suspiciously familiar will probably enjoy this book.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon

I loved the vision of a world where the post WWII Jewish nation is placed (temporarily) in Sitka, Alaska rather than Israel. Chabon did a good job of paying homage to the hard-boiled detective novel in his prose–it’s terse most of the time and yet contains some lyrical imagery. The characters were realistic and more than a little heartbreaking. Inventive, energetic, and thought-provoking.

Come, Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant

I am so glad I read this book. I started out liking it, and ended up loving it. It reminded me quite a bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, because it’s narrated by someone who is considered not very smart by people who don’t know her well, but is actually very intelligent. She just sees and experiences things in a different way. It’s never stated outright, but I thought Audrey might be on the autism spectrum. The book isn’t a quick read, mostly because of the dense wordplay of the two narrators (Audrey and her tortoise, Winifred). I found myself reading slowly so I would catch all the puns and plays on words. It’s essentially a story about family in its many forms, and it is handled lovingly and with humour, but doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects like grief and loss.

Arcadia, by Lauren Groff

…I was glad that the author didn’t follow the easy, well-trod route of showing the idealized commune and then stripping away the sunshiny surface to show terrible dysfunction underneath. Yes, there’s dysfunction, but there is also genuine goodness, and many of the original Arcadian hippies never stop being good, kind, loving, capable, competent people….Ultimately, I found this novel poetic and beautifully written–there are some wonderful descriptive passages–and for me the spell remained until I turned the last page.

Home, by Toni Morrison

Home is the story of Frank Money, a young Black Korean War veteran who returns to the US with PTSD. He receives news that his younger sister, Ycidra (Cee), is very ill, and he embarks on a trip to save her, navigating racist discrimination on his way back home. Whenever I read Toni Morrison’s writing, I am always impressed anew at her prodigious talent. She is so good at achieving that perfect balance of well crafted prose, terrific pacing, fascinating storyline, well-rounded characters, and subtle but strong social commentary. Home is no exception. It’s a short read, but a powerful one. Highly recommended.

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

I really enjoyed this–the characters are interesting and the weird petty machinations of the small village are fascinating. It’s true there are very few completely sympathetic characters, but there are also only a couple who are really truly irredeemable (Simon, Shirley and Howard are unlikable from beginning of the book to the end) and more than a few who are just kind of pathetic, or are sometimes unpleasant but in a realistic, everyone-is-flawed, human and understandable way. We might not LIKE what the characters do, but we understand completely WHY they do it….if you like big sprawling novels with sharp social commentary (and it is extremely sharp–you’re not left wondering about Rowling’s social views) and you don’t mind reading about humans behaving abominably to each other, I do recommend The Casual Vacancy.

Passage, by Connie Willis

I liked the characters and the writing, and I found the subject matter quite thought-provoking. There’s just enough humour to leaven the seriousness of the situations (the main character is researching the neuropsychology of near-death experiences)….In turns, the story is funny, scary, uplifting and sad–it covers a lot of emotional territory. I really appreciated that Connie Willis isn’t in the business of giving us easy answers, but doesn’t make everything bleak, either.

Days of the Bagnold Summer, by Joff Winterhart

This graphic novel is made up of small vignettes over the course of a summer, from the point of view of a single mother and her son. It really portrays the subtleties of a relationship where parent and child do love each other but don’t always know how to connect. They’re both smart, likeable people who have had some hard knocks, and it’s easy to get drawn in to their lives and root for things to get better for them. I really loved it. Just a perfect little book, the illustrations and writing both. Poignant but funny too. Highly, highly recommended.

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

If you like novels that follow a close-knit friend group through the arc of their lives, you will like this. There’s enough action and excitement to prevent it from seeming like a boring blow-by-blow of everyday life, but there is also enough of the quotidian to help an ordinary person relate to the characters.

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