Best Books of 2013: 10 More Not to Miss
In previous weeks I chose my top five nonfiction and fiction reads of 2013, but out of the 234 books I’ve read so far this year, there are many more that are also worth recommending. Here I have settled on ten more of the best books of 2013 that you should miss on no account.
1. The Son by Philipp Meyer
(See my full review at The Bookbag.)
This epic, multi-generational saga of Texas life traces the McCullough family from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day and encompasses every conflict from the Civil War through Iraq. With echoes of the work of Cormac McCarthy and a scope as broad as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Meyer presents a cycle of violence as old as the fossils and arrowheads buried in the Texan soil. A momentous American story, among the best of the last decade.
(My full review will appear in the January 2014 issue of Third Way magazine.)
A debut novelist, Marra earned universal acclaim for his complex reflection on the Chechen wars, which was on the longlist for the 2013 National Book Award. He matches America’s best contemporary novelists with his defense of the human spirit in the face of wartime atrocities that threaten to reduce people – literally and metaphorically – to their constituent body parts.
(See my full review and interview with Elizabeth here.)
To the privileged Porters, Ashaunt Point, Massachusetts, is far more than a summer home; it is the place where the family has retreated for five generations to find sanctuary from the harsh realities of life. In an astonishing historical sweep – from the first colonial settlers through the cultural upheavals of the twentieth century – Graver’s family saga with a difference questions parent-child ties, environmental responsibility, and the dictates of wealth and class.
4. Goat Mountain by David Vann
(My full review appeared in the November 6th issue of BookBrowse newsletter.)
In this bleak but brilliant allegory about human instincts toward violence and morality, three generations set out on a deer hunting trip to Goat Mountain in northern California. The narrator is a man looking back on his eleven-year-old self, so eager to kill his first buck – except the men’s first victim will be human, a poacher they catch on their land. The rest of this gripping, biblically resonant novel is the psychological aftermath, with the men weighing their complicity and deciding whether to cover up the crime.
5. Harvest by Jim Crace
(My full review appeared in the October 2013 issue of Third Way magazine.)
This timeless fable of transgression and community breakdown, set against the backdrop of England’s countryside Enclosures, was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Widower Walter Thirsk gives an elegiac account of The Village’s disintegration. As another harvest approaches, Walter rhapsodizes about the beauty of rural autumn. Yet the villagers’ pastoral idyll is destined to be short-lived, with masters and strangers – and their own prejudice – threatening their way of life.
1. Spillover by David Quammen
(See my full review at Nudge.)
This exposé of zoonoses (diseases passed from animals to humans) is a book of top-notch scientific journalism: pacey, well-structured and entirely gripping. Quammen travels throughout the United States and to Australia, Bangladesh, China and Congo in search of the key stories of zoonotic outbreak. The strongest pieces here are on Ebola and SARS – with the latter chapter in particular reading like a film screenplay, if this were a far superior version of Contagion.
2. O My America! by Sara Wheeler
(See my full review at For Books’ Sake.)
In this delightful composite of travel, memoir, social history and biography, Wheeler highlights six very different British women who traveled to America in midlife, including Fanny Trollope and Harriet Martineau. Retracing their journeys, she also documents the rapid changes of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Her six subjects are less role models than spirit guides, encouraging her – and readers – that personal reinvention is always possible, even as middle age approaches.
3. Careless People by Sarah Churchwell
(See my full review at We Love This Book.)
Jazz-Age New York dazzles in this tour through F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s lives and the inspirations behind The Great Gatsby. Careless People proceeds chronologically through the 1920s-30s, and chapter by chapter through Gatsby itself, highlighting themes and historical context. As entertaining as true crime, this is an essential guide to understanding this great work of “nostalgic glamour: lost hope, lost possibility, lost paradise.”
4. By the Book by Ramona Koval
(See my full review at Nudge.)
This memoir from one of Australia’s most beloved radio broadcasters celebrates the unexpected effects that a wide variety of books have had on her life and literary career. Koval’s enthusiasm for the books she loves is contagious. Whether on a screen or on paper, she still feels the same excitement she did as a child opening a new book to the first page, ready to “plunge in, head first, heart deep.” A terrific read for any bibliophile.
5. Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
(See my full review at Goodreads.)
This year’s Dear Lupin or Dear Lumpy (see my article on letter writing): a hilarious collection of letters home from a northwest London nanny in the 1980s. Though hopeless at cooking and cleaning, Nina sought to improve and became an indispensable member of a sophisticated literary family. Stibbe is terrific at reporting dialogue, and has a special gift for the witty aside. “Nothing’s sacred (in this madhouse),” she concludes, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.