Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2013

In 2013 I read 30 books, beating my goal of 25. I'm pretty impressed with myself because the first couple months of the year were almost completely absorbed by moving across the country and settling into a new job.

One major difference from past years is that at Thanksgiving I decided to make the leap and buy a Kindle, which I said I'd never do. I was one of those insufferable people who said things like "I love the feel of turning pages of an actual book." One of my favorite things to do is to wander around one of the few bookstores that still exist and discover new books I've never heard of. I can still do that, and then download the Kindle version later. It's also just so convenient - no more last second book buying decisions at the airport when I'm about to board a long flight with nothing to read. And I can actually read new releases instead of waiting for the paperback to come out. I always carry a book in my purse and an 800 page hardback doesn't exactly travel well.

This year I read some new (to me) authors. Gillian Flynn was by far my favorite - I knocked out all three of hers early on in the year, and I'd like her to hurry up and publish a new one soon. All three of her books made my top 10 list.

I've also read some stuff by authors I'm already quite familiar with. Bill Bryson is the snarkiest asshole you'd ever hope to meet, which means we have a lot in common.

There were some disappointments. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan (one of the only stand-up comedians I can tolerate and not only because his last name is almost the same as mine) is basically a boring treaty on why having tons of children is awesome and totally NOT contributing to overpopulation. I also read some trash that I knew was trash going in. The Sweet Life, which catches us up on the lives of twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley University fame, was just a flaming bag of shit. This is an example of a time when the anonymity of an e-reader would have been nice.

So here's my list of the 10 best books I read this year, in no particular order:

1. Gone Girl
2. Sharp Objects
3. Dark Places - All by Gillian Flynn, and all starring messed up but strong female lead characters. The plots are creepy at best and downright gruesome at worst. I loved just about everything, even though the end of Gone Girl was kind of a head-scratcher.

4. The Paris Wife - A story about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife. Don't read this if you're bothered by fictional accounts of real people.

5. Live From New York - This is the oral history of Saturday Night Live, as told by Lorne Michaels, network executives, cast members and writers. Some things are glossed over a bit in my opinion, but when you've got nearly 40 years to cover, that's bound to happen. I preferred last year's book by these two authors about ESPN, These Guys Have All the Fun.

6. A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson writes about his hike along (almost) the entire Appalachian trail. Having grown up very close to the part of the trail that runs through Southcentral Pennsylvania, I felt close to this story. My favorite Bryson book, in case you're wondering, is The Lost Continent - Travels in Small-Town America.

7. The Financial Lives of Poets - This is the book that Jonathan Tropper should have written this year, not One Last Thing Before I Go, which goes on my list of 2013 disappointments. I put Financial Lives on my list but not Beautiful Ruins, also by Jess Walter, but I enjoyed that one as well.

8. The Marriage Plot - This one got some bad reviews from friends whose opinions I trust, but I'm glad I read it anyway. Some call this book pretentious, but I thought it was a well-written coming-of-age story about three college students in the 80's.

9. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - A book I spontaneously picked up at Target one day after hearing lots of good buzz. It's a fast, fun, quirky story told in a unique format of emails, government documents and letters, which some readers may find distracting, but I liked.

10. The Husband's Secret - The pink flowers on the cover say "chick lit" but the book is well-written and smart. So what if females are the main characters? It's a book even a man can love. It takes place in Australia which is a nice change up from all of the New York and London settings in similar books.

What did you read this year? I'd love to hear about what you liked and what you hated. Let's face it, scathing reviews are more fun to read than good ones.