Sadly, I’m not much of a long-term goal-setter. I’m great at making plans and organizing for them, but terrible at following through with those artfully laid out efforts. That doesn’t mean I’m not moving forward and experiencing awesome new things in life (this last has allowed me to see some awesome new parts of the globe, including my new favorite place on earth- the Maldives, so I’m doing stuff, just not stuff I wrote down on paper!), it just means I’m lazy about the whole resolution thing. (Maybe this isn’t the best time of year to admit to a lack of resolution when it comes to resolutions!) Needless to say, I don’t enter a number in the Good Reads goal box (which constantly pops up when I log into my account) and I don’t have a magic number of the scale (as long as my pants still fit, I’m good!).
But, with the end of the year quickly approaching, I did take a moment to scan over my read books list on Good Reads this last week and realized I was just a couple books short of 100 for the year! Suddenly, I had a goal- I had ten days to read three books. Easy-peasy! (Maybe I should go with ten-day resolutions this year. I seem to be able to stick to them.)
Now that I have hit that nice round 1-0-0 (okay, I’m at 101 and may or may not finish 102 before next week), I thought it would be fun to do a quick round up of my best and worst when it came to books in 2013. So, with no further ado, below are my five favorite and five least favorite books of the year, in no particular order.
BEST OF 2013
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – Beautifully written, as always with Hosseini‘s fiction. I excitedly bought a hardback copy of this book the weekend we were in Taiwan (yay for no censorship!) and read it cover to cover in just a few days. The spinning of various tales into a larger story was done with grace and ease. The fairy tale with which the book commences not only sets the tone and themes for the rest of the book, but has stuck with me for months now. Life is all about the decisions we make, hoping that what seems right in the moment turns out to be good in the long-run.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick- Amazing and heartbreaking. Those are the two best words I can come up with to describe this young adult novel. I couldn’t bear to walk away from Leonard, the protagonist, as he stumbled his way towards a heart wrenching decision. While definitely not an easy read, it is an important one, dealing with some very real issues faced by many teenagers.
Wool by Hugh Howey– Always a fan of the post-apocalyptic novel, I was drawn into this one very quickly. The idea of living in a silo, segregated by position and ability is a different take on the survival genre than I’ve read before. I was also intrigued by the idea that everyone who was banished happily completed their final task, even though it meant certain death. I’ve heard there are now more stories out in this series, which may just be the top of my list for Christmas gift card purchases!
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown- I’m a huge fan of narrative non-fiction. History told through the stories of people, rather than a list of facts and dates has so much more meaning and depth to it and this book definitely did that. I also love when authors entwine various subjects into a single running narrative. (This author very much reminds me of Erik Larson.) While rowing holds no particular interest for me, the Northwest setting was a draw, and then combine in the building of the Coulee Dam and the Nazi-era Olympics and I was hooked.
The Circle by Dave Eggers- We all know technology and surveillance can quickly spin out of control, but just how willing are we to feed into the various data collection of various companies? Set in the not-so-distant future, this novel is a real eye-opener about just how much personal information we provide to the world through our Tweets, status updates, weekly blogs, etc. While the book takes these ideas to the extremes, it definitely made me stop and ponder my own digital footprint.
WORST OF 2013
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan – I love memoir/short essay books, as I see my own writing as being in a similar vein, but I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for this one. Maybe it was the constant complaining about his million children (okay, not million, maybe four or five, but that must feel like a million some days) and then a page later his mooning over those same kiddos. I get that you love your kids even though they drive you nuts, but I felt like I was riding Miley Cyrus’ wrecking ball, back and forth, page to page. Because I do like this genre so much, I think I was more disappointed in this book than is fair, but when I turned the last page, I must admit to a bit of relief that it was finally over.
Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story by J. Maarten Troost- Again, another genre that I love (travel writing), but it didn’t stir an ounce of desire to pack my bags and follow in his footsteps. I’ve really enjoyed Troost’s previous books, but this one seemed hugely self-indulgent and was really just literary tangent after literary tangent. Maybe a recovering alcoholic would find solace in Troost’s travels and musings, but I was annoyed and wanted more adventure and less mental meandering.
Flu: The Story OfThe Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata – Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of creepy pandemic gore on occasion? Over the last several years, I’ve read a few books about the spread of disease from animal to human and the science behind pandemics, so I was excited or this one about the 1918 flu, but in the end, could barely make it from page to page. Maybe that was the author’s intentions- make me achy and weary and exhausted so that I commiserated more fully with the victims of the book- if so, she was a success. While the book attempted to go the route of narrative non-fiction, the characters were not well-crafted, the stories weren’t interesting and the links between them were tenuous, as best. I’m afraid there is no remedy for all that is wrong with this one.
Checkout Girl: A Life Behind the Register by Anna Sam– Again, my love of the memoir/essay genre drew me to this book and as someone who worked retail all through high school and college, I thought I’d definitely relate to her stories, but instead, I was just annoyed. Each essay was short and lacked the details needed to create a full-bodied tale. I didn’t realize it until after I finished the book and did a bit of research, but apparently the original book was in French, so I think some of the problems could possibly be linked to translation (both literal and cultural) difficulties. I wouldn’t buy this one again, even if it were in the $1.99 bin at the bookstore.
Silver Orphan by Martine Lacombe- I wanted to like this one, as it was the first galley copy I ever reviewed, but I just couldn’t get on board with it. The premise is a good one, but the whole book felt like an early draft, not a novel ready to go to publishing. Without giving the ending away, I did feel like it came a bit out of left-field and has me closing the book with some lingering questions, not about the main plot line of the book, but about new twists that were introduced on the final page. While not a terrible book, I just felt like it was still in the revision process, not one people are paying money to read quite yet.
So there you have it. The good and the bad (no ugly) of my 2013 reading list. I can’t wait to see what comes out in the new year, as I will once again be jobless by June, I should have lot of time to find new stand-outs (and those that should hide in the shadows) for 2014.
(Notice there is no parallel story to go along with the number on the scale reference in the introduction. My shiny treadmill sits in the other room, awaiting the same spark of inspiration. It will come…someday!)