The Best Books I Read in 2013

Did you think year-end lists were over? Well, they’re not. At least not here. I wanted to wait until the year closed out to bestow my favorite books that I read in 2013 on you, mostly because I was still reading one until the very end. (Actually, I’m not quite finished with it.) Here they are, without too much commentary because I still have one more roundup to do and if the books aren’t covered there, then they certainly were covered in one of these three other roundups I did of 2013 reads: January-March, April-June, July-September. Also, they’re sort of in an order. The ones toward the top are the ones I liked the most, I think.


How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

This book caused a lot of anxiety for me this year. I felt very strongly that it was great, one of the best I’ve ever read. Many of my friends and fellow readers felt…opposed. I hate disagreeing with anyone – except for people I dislike, that’s fine – but I will defend this book probably forever. You can read my thoughts on reading this book last January here.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I went crazy for this book. I recommended it to everyone, except I think I told my mom not to read it but I forget why. It certainly wasn’t perfect but I loved it for its overstuffed-ness and repetition and all that Dickensian stuff that turns some people off. (Not surprisingly, I am a huge Dickens fan. Bleak House is one of my favorite books of all time.) I think this will be a great book to cozy up with this winter. Here is what I wrote about The Goldfinch after finishing it a few weeks ago.

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford

The Mountain Lion is intense, especially for a book about children. It’s a brilliant tragedy and the story of siblings Ralph and Molly affected me very much. Honestly, I’m still not sure how Stafford pulled it off, but I’m very glad she did.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I feel like I’d been avoiding this book for years. Despite my awareness of all of the praise heaped on Bel Canto, something about the premise seemed really unappealing to me. A group of notable people from around the world – including a famous opera singer – are held hostage in an unnamed South American country. I never should have let that get in my way. This book is wonderful.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I had never read Donna Tartt before this year. I think everybody ever has read this book at some point, but I didn’t read it until this summer and man, I am glad I finally got to it.

The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes

This book is INSANE. I loved it. But it’s insane. The first volume in almost-trilogy “The Human Predicament” – Hughes died before he could finish the final book – The Fox in the Attic is suspenseful and horrifying and wonderfully captures the changing tides in 1920s Europe.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I fell hard for this book, which I think I literally did not put down, when I read it last month. It’s Y.A. for sure, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy it. And not in the guilty pleasure kind of way.

Dear Life by Alice Munro

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Do I really have to write anything about this book?

The Likeness by Tana French

This book is basically The Secret History but written as a police/detective novel set in modern Ireland. After reading The Likeness, I became a big Tana French fan. I look forward to reading more of her this year.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

This one had been sitting on my shelf for years and I finally picked it up when I realized I didn’t have anything to read on a flight to Chicago. As a person who is anxious about many things, especially those things considered to be dangerous or life-threatening, it was amazing to get to experience Amazonian adventure through Grann’s superb narrative and portrait of the lost explorer Percy Fawcett.

The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy

I’m so, so happy that working my way through so many NYRB Classics led me to Elaine Dundy last year. Her first novel, The Dud Avocado, became one of my most beloved books ever after I read it. The Old Man and Me, her second novel, is I think slightly more absurd with a darker tone and a less likeable heroine. I don’t mean any of that negatively. It’s just as enjoyable, just a bit less comfortable.

Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor

I’ve recommended Patrick Leigh Fermor on this blog about a million times at this point. I’ve been tearing through his writing for the last year or so. This second book about his trip on foot from Holland to Constantinople in the years before World War II is simply awesome. (But definitely start with the first book in this intended trilogy, A Time of Gifts, if you want to read him.)

Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford

This is definitely one of my favorite memoirs I’ve read. I wished Decca had gone deeper at times, but considering the generation and the family she grew up in, I’m glad she shared all of the entertaining – and often tragic – personal details she did.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

History nerds! You should definitely read this one. The storytelling is wonderful and the abundance of little-known (well, at least by me), sometimes hilarious facts alone makes the time spent reading this worthwhile.

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Before I read this book I told everyone that I just didn’t get George Saunders. Then I read it. And I’m still not sure that I get George Saunders, but I know that I really loved many of the short stories in Tenth of December.

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