2013 Reading Year in Review

I always enjoy looking back at the end of the year on the books I read and thinking ahead to what next year’s reading life will bring.  I read less books overall than last year and blogged much less about what I did read. I read more non-fiction, especially as a Cybils panelist. Being a Cybils panelist gave me new enthusiasm for writing about books and one of my bookish resolutions for the New Year is to to be more active in the kid-litosphere. I also was part of a real-life book club this year which has been a great experience.

The full-list of books I read this year is here, what follows are a few highlights.

Most memorable books I read this year:

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and its sequel Children of God win this category hands-down. I’m not sure they are my best books of the year. They certainly weren’t the most purely enjoyable as they are both fairly disturbing, both in subject matter and the over-arching themes. However, they are clearly the books that I thought about the most and I think will continue to stick with me for a long time. 

I continued to listen to audiobooks this year on my morning rounds to the hospital and on my drive to work. The other two most memorable books for me happened to be audiobooks. One was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I didn’t attempt to sum up this supremely strange, yet beautiful book when I listened to it the first time and I’m not going to try now. This is one that might have been enhanced by listening to it for me as it was read by the incomparable Jim Dale. The other audiobook deserving mention was 11/22/63 by Stephen King. It reminded me what a good writer he is and kept me enthralled for all 31 CDs.

Most puzzling book of the year:

I kept trying to get people in real-life to read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson so I could discuss it with someone. The problem was my sell was something like “there’s this book that I’m not sure I understand and I’m not sure how I feel about it so I want someone else to read it.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  I liked it while I was reading it but at the end it left me feeling kind of cold and empty. I think it was the combination of an unlikeable protagonist and a story that lacked any kind of moral center. See. Still not a ringing endorsement. However, I’m not sorry I read it and I’m still looking for someone to discuss it with, so if you’ve read it let me know. I’d love to hear others thoughts on this one.
Author I was glad I read but I really have no desire to eat dinner with:

Salman Rushdie. I found Joseph Anton, his memoir of his time under the fatwa, immensely readable. But, wow, does he come across as an unlikeable guy. Between the name-dropping and whining I almost lost all sympathy for what he had to endure. He is also secular to the point of being extremely anti-religion. I suppose this is understandable, having been denied freedom for 13 years due to a religious decree. However, the “all religion is bad” message got a little old after awhile.

As one of those bookish coincidences, my book club decided to read something by Rushdie over the summer. We all admitted to having had him on our “should read” list for many years so we chose Midnight’s Children as one of our selections. Interestingly, the people in the group who had been the most resistant to reading Rushdie loved the book. The rest of us were glad to say we’d read something by him but for the most part didn’t enjoy it.

Mystery that pleasantly surprise me:

I tried Alan Bradley’s first Flavia deLuce mystery about three years ago and didn’t really like it and had been resistant to reading any others. But repeated mentions from bloggers that typically have similar tastes as me made me try again. I thoroughly enjoyed the second edition in the series: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag and plan on reading more.

Mystery series that I’m enjoying all over again:

I’ve spent most of my audiobook time this year listening to the Mary Russell series by Laurie King. It’s been a Sherlockian kind of year in fact, as H. and I recently re-watched Seasons 1 and 2 of the BBC series Sherlock in preparation for Season 3 airing in January. John is also taking a Sherlock class at our co-op and I’ve been reading the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle along with him. It may be blasphemy but I admit to liking King’s version better than the original.

New-to-Me Writers I’m Glad I Discovered:

Thanks to some prodding by our assistant pastor at church I finally read and thoroughly enjoyed Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand. One of the things I appreciated the most is that while the author is a Christian and the book has some Christian themes, it’s a great crime-fiction novel that happens to have some Christian themes rather than a “Christian book”.

The other is William Kent Krueger, author of Ordinary Grace, which was perhaps the book I enjoyed the most this year. Krueger is also a mystery writer, although I’ve never read anything else by him. Ordinary Grace is not a mystery in the true sense although there is a small mystery component to it. What it is, is a beautifully written book about redemption and grace.

Best Non-Fiction of the Year:

Swim:Why We Love the Water by Lynn Sherr and Eats, Shoots and Leaves  by Lynne Truss may seem quite different but have two important things in common (other than being written by women named Lynn). Both are well-written and suprisingly entertaining. Especially Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which is laugh out loud funny at times. And both have authors who convey a passion for their subjects (swimming and grammar respectively) that make the reader passionate about them as well.

If you like looking at booklists, stop by Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books this week. It promises to be a smorgasbord of end-of-the-year book lists. Just in time to make that TBR list for 2014!

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