I usually post this before Christmas — just in case people want to use it to make their Christmas lists. But this year, with children growing up and making things around Christmas even busier, I didn’t get it done. But now you can use this list to make New Year’s Resolutions.
Below are my ten favorite reads from 2013, listed in the order in which I reviewed them.
Testing the Current, by William McPherson (original review from January 15, 2013): “The routine, ritual, the eternal cycle of the last line — it will all end for us, and Tommy begins to realize it’s probably for the better.”
Death in Summer, by William Trevor (original review from January 31, 2013): “To be honest, the plot here is actually very simple. The complexity comes with the multiple characters and the complexity of their feelings and thoughts as chance overtakes them and they have to wonder about whether defilement leaves a trace.”
Dance of the Happy Shades, by Alice Munro (anchor post from February 1, 2013): Betsy and I posted our thoughts on each of the stories included in Alice Munro’s debut story collection.
Diary of a Man in Despair, by Friedrich Reck (original review from February 21, 2013): “A fascinating historical document, it is also a great piece of literary, declamatory art.”
Hickory, by Palmer Brown (original review from May 14, 2013): “I tell you, I thought I knew how this story was going to end – Brown doesn’t keep it secret and, indeed, as father mouse says, it’s there in the first lines — but it doesn’t quite end the way I expected. Rather, it all comes together to become a beautiful rendering of friendship, hope, and the beautiful yet tragic passage of time that left me incapable of speaking.”
Turtle Diary, by Russell Hoban (original review from June 11, 2013): “It’s a sad book, there’s no getting around that. The happiest character is the man who takes care of the turtles at the zoo, and his reasoning is that he doesn’t mind being alive. [. . .] And yet, somehow — I haven’t put my finger on it yet — this book is warm, even uplifting. Yes, I’ll say it: this book, this book that ends with a suicide, is inspiring. These characters may not think life is anything grand, and they certainly have good reasons for their beliefs, but they are putting up a fight. The unsentimental, unflinching look at this fight is beautiful to behold.”
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon (original review from July 9, 2013): “[I]t did just what I hoped one of these science fiction books would do: revive my youthful interest in the unknown.”
In Love, by Alfred Hayes (original review from July 16, 2013): “Though it now seems obvious, I’m not sure if I’ve ever considered the termination of a relationship as an existential crisis. Oh, sure, when it happens we all question the direction of life, perhaps even whether it’s worth living, but to really dig deeply and see the relationship itself as something unreal, of being incapable of being real, to feel that one is suddenly stripped of the external forces and now sits alone with one’s true self, and why is that self so sad to have lost something that perhaps wasn’t even deeply enjoyed, or is it even sadness it’s feeling? – that’s an interesting avenue.”
The Infatuations, by Javier Marías (original review from September 13, 2013): “As is often the case in a Marías novel, certainty breaks down. Characters can barely make a statement without going back and reiterating it again, circling around elusive certainty. Even things once known, given the right amount of time and thinking, slip away until we barely have any idea of the past.”
A Treatise on Shelling Beans, by Wieslaw Mysliwski (original review from December 10, 2013): “The theme of change, of the present covering the past, is consistently brought up. Everything is transitory. [. . .] And yet, there is something permanent — at least it seems. There was a deep place in the river where people went to drown themselves, mostly the young who had some romantic notions. The names of these people are essentially lost, yet they haunt this book. We, the readers, feel them, nameless as they are.”