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I didn’t expect to read many books this year. There was no particular reason for this outlook—just a general feeling I had last January. I was a little pessimistic. I set a goal of 50. And then I surprised myself! I read over 70. Some were Kindle Singles (is that cheating?), but I included them anyway.
This turned out to be a good year for reading. I had multiple moments where I thought I would never be able to top my last read and then the next book would blow me away. There are a few books that I know will go down as all-time, life-changing favorites for me.
2013 as a whole was not my favorite year, but I will look back fondly on the very excellent books that came into my life in the past twelve months.
The Best Books:
Best Fiction: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Best Nonfiction: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Best Memoir: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Best Parenting Book: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon
Best Short Read: Murder in the Yoga Store by Peter Ross Range
And here are the rest:
- Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
- Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
- All That Is by James Salter
- Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
- Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality by John Schwartz
- Joyland by Stephen King
- Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
- 236 Pounds of Class Vice President by Jason Mulgrew
- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
- Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
- The Attacking Ocean by Brian Fagan
- Expecting Better by Emily Oster
- True Refuge by Tara Brach
- The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
- Guns by Stephen King
- Half a Life by Darin Strauss
- A Certain Chemistry by Mil Millington
- Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh
- Lay the Favorite by Beth Raymer
- One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea by Dana Becker
- The Scientists by Marco Roth
- Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum
- Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
- Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington
- Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr
- The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber
- Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs) by Wendy Plump
- Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton
- This Town by Mark Leibovich
- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
- The Astor Orphan by Alexandra Aldrich
- The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
- Shorecliff by Ursula DeYoung
- The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison
- She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brockes
- Lanced: The Shaming of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh
- The Sinking of the Bounty by Matthew Shaer
- The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg
- The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
- Descent by David Guterson
- Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood by Anne Enright
- Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
- Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi
- Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
- Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
- French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
- Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
- The Circle by Dave Eggers
- Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn
- No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey
- She Matters by Susanna Sonnenberg
- Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest
- The Good Father by Noah Hawley
- Poser by Claire Dederer
- Friendkeeping by Julie Klam
- The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore
- Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
- Anonymous Sources by Mary Louise Kelly
- Drinking and Tweeting by Brandi Glanville
- This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson
- The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
- The Broken Places by Ace Atkins
- Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly
- Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Dana
- Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich
- My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper by Gabrielle Reece
What are your best and worst books of the year?
Anonymous Sources by Mary Louise Kelly
I first heard about this book in an NPR interview (Kelly is a former NPR reporter). This is Kelly’s first book. It kind of shows.
Here’s the thing. It was a really enjoyable read, but in the way that Pierce Brosnan-era Bond movies were really enjoyable to watch. If you are willing to suspend reality and just go along for the ride, it’s the perfect book. It’s a fast-paced thriller about a Boston reporter who stumbles upon a story much bigger than the Harvard campus murder she was originally assigned to cover. The story gets ludicrously unbelievable and out-sized, but it was a quick, fun book and I’m not sorry I read it.
Have you read it?
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
This is the most fun book I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s so decadent and over-the-top that it puts similarly constructed chick lit (The Devil Wears Prada or Bergdorf Blondes or the like) to complete and utter shame.
Crazy Rich Asians is about Rachel Chu, a professor of economics in NYC, and her boyfriend Nicholas Young. Nicholas manages to keep his extraordinarily wealthy origins under wraps until he invites Rachel to come with him to Singapore so they can attend the wedding of his best friend and also meet Nicholas’ family. The news spreads like wildfire in Singapore (“Nicholas is bringing home a girl, it must be serious!”) The family drama is absurd (and often funny) and you can probably guess how the story progresses.
This review really comes down to one thing: I couldn’t stop reading it. I know it’s cliche to say that, but in this particular case, it was like a disease. A disease of book addiction. The book was in my hand while I was brushing my teeth. Drinking my coffee. I was carrying it around the house with me in my hoodie pouch JUST IN CASE a spare moment presented itself. I read it in a day.
The dialogue between characters is forced sometimes (it can get distractingly bad), but the story has enough winding subplots and crazy characters to make it mostly painless to breeze through the occasional awkwardly-worded conversation. It also suffers from mild Designer Laundry List syndrome—a common issue found in books of this ilk. It’s tough to write descriptions of private jets, designer clothes and various other luxury brands/locations/items without it coming off like the horrible descriptive copy of the Lucky magazine variety. It’s as if they need to drill the wealth into your head by listing everything. No showing, ALL telling. Pay attention! They’re wearing couture! There are a few stupid passages (one section that has a few guys debating the pros and cons of various private jets is so obnoxious/fake/forced), but overall, Crazy Rich Asians does a good job of bringing the reader in on the joke.
One of the most fascinating things about Crazy Rich Asians is that as far-fetched as it might seem, Kwan (a Singapore native) admitted that he’s seen far more extravagance in real life than what he put in the book. He said his publishers asked him to tone it down occasionally because readers wouldn’t believe that actual people lived the way he described.
Have you read it yet?