Tuesday, December 24, 2013

They may not be famous, but these are my best reads of the year

It's just about a week away from the end of 2013, and I must say, it was a fine year for reading. If you're at all curious, you can click here for the entire list of books read in 2013.  Like everyone else, I had my favorites, some I liked okay and some that just didn't work for me. Unlike a lot of people,  I read very few books that ever make it to the NY Times bestseller list, but that's okay. I just do my thing and it makes me very happy.

The most outstanding book for me this year is David Finkel's  Thank You For Your Service, (FSG) which shook me to the core.  It is a very well-crafted and intense work of journalism, where the author has embedded himself within the families of soldiers whose deployments in the middle east were over.  It focuses on the vets' mental health after their sometimes horrific experiences during the war, the effects on themselves and their families; it also turns the spotlight on the people who've dedicated themselves to trying to fix the people underneath the soldier.  It is, in a word, superb.

now on to the others:

-- fiction/literature

I can't pick just one favorite in this category, because I read so many books that have stuck with me. So, books published this year that I loved most this year were

Dissident Gardens, by Jonathan Lethem
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid 

At Night We Walk in Circles, by Daniel Alarcon
We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
The Black Spider, by Jeremias Gotthelf
Night of the Rambler, by Montague Kobbe
followed by the previously-published

 Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
Oil on Water, by Helon Habila
American Rust, by 
The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa 
A Friend of the Earth, by T.C. Boyle
Going After Cacciato, by Tim O'Brien 
The Origin of the Brunists, by Robert Coover 
Messiah, by Gore Vidal
-- crime fiction --  

Published this year in the world of crime fiction,  The Killing of Emma Gross by Damien Seaman (Five Leaves) was my favorite novel, proving that there are good crime books to be found outside of the mainstream publishers and authors. In fact, this year, my top three favorites came from indie publishers, the other two being

21:37 by Mariusz Czubaj (Stork Press)
A Crack in the Wall, by Claudia PiƱeiro (Bitter Lemon Press)

Other favorites published in 2013 are

The Dance of the Seagull, by Andrea Camilleri
 Evil and the Mask, by Fuminori Nakamura
Treasure Hunt, by Andrea Camilleri
Strange Shores, by Arnaldur Indridason
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, by Fred Vargas
Holy Orders, by Benjamin Black
Two Soldiers, by Roslund and Hellstrom
The Fame Thief, by Timothy Hallinan

followed by the previously-published 

 Crashed, by Timothy Hallinan and
Little Elvises, by Timothy Hallinan
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, by Horace McCoy

--weird fiction/fantasy/sci-fi--

In the realm of the strange, speculative and weird, my favorite book wasn't published this year, but in 2012-- Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, is just filled with some of the weirdest stories I've ever read. Right up my weirdness alley. 

Of the books published this year in this category, I really enjoyed

Revenge, by Yoko Ogawa
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, by Laird Barron
NOS4A2, by Joe Hill
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

followed by the previously-published 

Occultation, by Laird Barron
The Imago Sequence, by Laird Barron
Last Days, by Adam Nevill
To Charles Fort, With Love, by Caitlin Kiernan
The Shining, by Stephen King

I also want to mention The Circle, by Dave Eggers, which although it wasn't the best example of writing in this category, really got under my skin because of the potential and caused me to buy a brand new copy of Orwell's 1984 after I finished it.

And last, but definitely not least, there's the nonfiction category, of which this year,

-- nonfiction -- 

The Brothers, by Stephen Kinzer,  turned out to be my favorite (after Thank You For Your Service).   It's an eye-opening, well-researched and intelligently-constructed examination of  the Dulles brothers,  both of whom had a huge role in America's politics and foreign policy for decades and  helped shaped the geopolitical world we live in.

Published in 2013 and worthy of highest praise and accolades are

Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff
Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright
Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker
Midnight in Mexico, by Alfredo Corchado
The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan
The Price of Justice, by Laurence Leamer
So that's it -- another year gone, although next year's lineup is already looking really fine and promising.  Happiest of holidays, and a peaceful, prosperous and healthy new year to all.

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