I was wondering why I didn’t write a year-end recap of the books I read last year, and then I remembered: oh yeah, I had a baby, and you don’t read books when you have a brand-new baby. How can you read when you don’t sleep, you barely eat, and any free time you do manage to carve out is usually at work? And reading on the subway is super difficult for me, given that the subway engineer on my evening commute makes a habit of loudly narrating pretty much every single inch of track with inane Subway 101 tips and tricks, making it impossible to concentrate on anything else unless I have headphones on.
That being said, I still kept track of what I read last year in a GoogleDoc spreadsheet because this is what I do, and, well, yeah: I only finished 6 books last year – 7 if you include my quasi-annual re-read of Infinite Jest (my 8th or 9th time through, but 1st time in e-book format, which is far preferable when you’re on the go). It was an embarrassingly low number for me, even if I had a pretty good excuse.
Still, in the interest of maintaining the historical record, these are the books that I read in 2013, in rough chronological order:
The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive 1), Brandon Sanderson
I’m not a big fantasy reader, but this had been recommended by enough people over the years that I felt compelled to give it a shot, and what do you know – I was immediately taken with it. Sanderson is absurdly prolific, as you’ll see below.
Tenth of December, George Saunders
I’m also not necessarily a reader of short stories; I generally prefer gigantic novels. But, again, Saunders had been recommended and highly reviewed, and this New York Times profile was an incredible read in and of itself, and I picked this up and quickly devoured it…
Pastoralia, George Saunders
…and then devoured this as well. I would’ve continued down the Saunders rabbit hole but I didn’t want to burn out on him, and so I stopped myself from buying his other books, but they’re most certainly on my to-do list.
The Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson
Like I said above, Sanderson is ridiculously prolific. This is but one of many gigantic trilogies he’s written, and part of what’s so astounding about him is that while these books are literally humongous, he’s still quite marvelous at world building and character work and making sure you never feel lost.
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
I’d read a few of the stories in 20th Century Ghosts and decided I wanted to read him in a longer format, and this happened to come out right when this urge was reaching a fevered pitch. I think the first 2 thirds of this book are quite stunning, and certainly reminiscent of his father’s work; unfortunately, it fell apart for me a little bit at the end.
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
I was a huge fan of her first book, Strange Topics in Calamity Physics, and had very high hopes for this one; perhaps my expectations were too high, though, because this one never came together for me, and I found the ending quite bland.
Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon
Curiously, I didn’t give this a grade in my spreadsheet. I’m not sure I enjoyed it very much, though I was certainly surprised at how super-aware and knowledgeable he is about popular culture. In any event, books about 9/11 are still tough for me to read, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to change.
I picked up the slack big-time in 2014, I’m happy to say; I finished 22 books, and I feel certain that I’m going to finish my 23rd by the end of next week.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Normally I read rather quickly, but not so here; this took me forever to get through. I started it in mid-December of ’13, and if Goodreads is to be believed, I didn’t finish it until March of ’14. That’s absurd. As for the book itself; there’s no denying that Tartt is astonishingly talented, and that her characters are memorable and real, but I found the pacing very slow and I feel a little bit like the main character got let off the hook at the end – even though I also felt that he’d suffered through some very bad luck.
Words of Radiance: Stormlight Archive 2, Brandon Sanderson
Another huge book, but I finished this in a matter of weeks, and I’m sure I’ll read the first two volumes again to get caught up for volume 3 (even though he does a terrific job of getting you up to speed).
Lexicon, Max Barry
I read this over the course of our first family vacation, and found it intoxicating. A sci-fi concept where language can be used as weaponry, and “poets” are trained by a highly secretive organization. Two converging narratives with an absolutely stunning and moving reveal.
Pioneer Detectives, Konstantin Kakaes
Spoiler alert: “one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time” is not, in fact, all that mysterious after all. An entertaining read, to be sure, but also a bit of a let down.
The Homecoming (Niceville 2), Carsten Stroud
I was in the mood for a pulpy supernatural thriller, and these two fit the bill quite well. Part 3 is slated to come out next summer; I’m not sure it’ll be on my list, but these were interesting.
Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
Boy oh boy, this was absolutely one of the creepiest ghost stories I’ve ever read.
Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards 1)
Red Seas under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards 2)
Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards 3), Scott Lynch
I wish I could remember who it was on Twitter that first brought these to my attention – whoever you are, you have my eternal thanks. The easiest way to explain these books is as Ocean’s Eleven set in a vaguely steampunk world, except where everything turns to shit pretty much all the time, and where “success” doesn’t always mean “a big score”, but rather “not dying horribly.”
Declare, Tim Powers
I am and have always been fascinated with secret societies and hidden, occult-ish mysteries, and putting that sort of ethos inside of a Cold War spy novel is pretty much a win-win.
The Secret Place, Tana French
I’ve been a fan of the Dublin Murder Squad since the very first one, though each subsequent novel has been a little more disappointing than the previous one. I’m happy to say, then, that this one was a lot more enjoyable than the last few, and I’m curious to know where she goes in further volumes now that she’s introduced a subtle element of the supernatural into the proceedings. The earlier books never had it, and instead their hook was really just about how hard the ending could punch you in the stomach. This was not a gut-puncher to that sort of degree, but it was still a good read.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer
Having just finished watching all six episodes of Black Mirror, I feel very much like this book could exist in that sort of universe, a universe where one private corporation is attempting to become the uber-Facebook with serious sinister implications and an underground resistance is attempting to hack their way into destroying it.
Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle
I’m not at all familiar with Darnielle’s band, Mountain Goats, but I’d certainly read a volume of his collected lyrics; the man clearly has a way with words. This is a deeply beautiful meditation on loneliness, with an ending that left me speechless.
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
This is my book of the year, without question. I wrote up a thing about it here. I want to read it again, but I also want to read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet first.
Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy 1)
Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy 2)
Acceptance (Southern Reach Trilogy 3), Jeff VanderMeer
The first book is a knockout; the second is somewhat of a letdown, though it expands on the first book’s backstory in rather significant ways; the third book is an attempt to reconcile the first two, answering certain questions while raising even more. I’m not entirely sure that the trilogy is a successful one, but the first book is so incredibly good that you might as well give it a go.
Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
This is a small side-story to the larger Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy, and it feels very much like an experiment in tone and structure and character development, but it’s also a rather beautiful read. Rothfuss himself warns you that you might not like it in the preface, and I suppose that’s true if this is your first introduction to his work; but if you’ve read the first two proper books and are eager for anything more, this is more or less mandatory.
The Confabulist, Steven Galloway
A historical mystery novel that is somewhat reminiscent of Carter Beats the Devil, though not nearly as much fun as that book. Still, it’s an intriguing premise – the memoirs of the man who killed Houdini (twice), and the ending is surprisingly affecting.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy this as much as everyone else seems to be; perhaps I’d just had my fill of post-apocalypse dystopia (especially since the final chapter of Bone Clocks is so shockingly devastating on that particular front). It’s very well written, and the various threads in both present and past are woven quite delicately; I’m just not sure they worked for me.
Teatro Grottesco, Thomas Ligotti
I’m still in the middle of this one, and I’m enjoying it quite thoroughly. Ligotti’s reputation is that of a modern-day Lovecraft or Poe; all of his stories take place in the fog in desolate towns, and which are shadowed by unsettling… things, and there’s a philosophical weariness and uneasiness in his narrators that creates a powerful and quite nerve-rattling sense of dread. I’ll be looking forward to reading more of him, though I’ll definitely need a palate cleanser before I do.