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.

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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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Albums of 2013

Earlier this week, I posted my favorite songs of 2013. Today, I’m posting my favorite albums. My choices shouldn’t really surprise you if you saw my list of favorite songs. (I really, really liked the albums that my most-listened-to songs were on!) Honestly, my choices shouldn’t surprise you in general, I guess, since I think everyone liked these albums?

This wasn’t a HUGE album-listening year for me. I was definitely more singles-focused. But there were a bunch of things I spent quite a bit of time with, enough that I feel pretty good calling them my ‘favorites’. I’m organizing them alphabetically because, well, I could rank them but honestly, it’s not as fun as ranking songs and I’m only posting 15 16 albums here anyway.

Here we go:

Ariana Grande, Yours Truly

So, I have not liked a straight up pop album this much in a really long time. I heard “The Way” this summer on the radio while driving somewhere with my siblings, who are much more pop music-savvy than I. “She sounds like Mariah Carey!” I said. My siblings were like, “Yeah, duh.” And then I listened to “Honeymoon Avenue” and “Baby I” shortly after her album came out and couldn’t stop listening to them and was like, “Oh my God, I have to listen to the whole album.” So I did and it was a very, very good decision because it has many more good songs.

A$AP Rocky, LONG.LIVE.A$AP

I almost forgot that this album came out this year. But then I remembered! I listened to this a lot at a certain point earlier in the year when I decided that I wasn’t listening to enough hip-hop in general. This is something I do every year, I guess, and then I end up going through a “hip-hop phase”. Anyway, this album stuck with me more than a lot of others.

Autre Ne Veut, Anxiety

Oh man. This was my big album of the first half of the year, for sure. (Duh, I related to an album titled ANXIETY.) It definitely makes me think of the winter, which means I’ve been rocking it a lot again now that it’s cold and snowing off and on here in New York.

Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

I saw Chance the Rapper perform in June and it was one of the most fun concert experiences I had all year, even if the venue was full of underage bros. I actually didn’t listen to his mixtape, Acid Rap, until right before the show. I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the whole thing. (You can download it here.)

CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe

Late last year, I heard “The Mother We Share”, just in time to put it on my favorite songs of 2012 list. This album was one of my most anticipated of the year. I was held over by the singles “Recover” and “Gun”, but ended up being kind of late getting into the actual album because it came out around the same time as a bunch of other stuff. Anyway, it’s great!

Danny Brown, Old

Even though I’d been hearing a lot about him for a while, I never really listened to Danny Brown until this year because I assumed that I wouldn’t like him? That was dumb. I love Danny Brown.

Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record

Full disclosure: I am a person who had a Fiery Furnaces poster over their bed in college*. I’ve loved both of the solo albums Eleanor Friedberger has put out so far and I really did connect to the, ahem, personal nature of this record and, of course, her storytelling, which is really top-notch.

*Actually, it’s still hanging in my room – in a frame now – five years after graduation.

Haim, Days Are Gone

This ended up being my most-listened-to record of the year. I was never not listening to Haim at any point this year, especially in the weeks after this album came out, when they were the only music I listened to at all. So yeah, I really loved this one. I love every single song, even “My Song 5”, which I really hated for a while. That song is like an acquaintance who you see often enough at parties and they kind of annoy you from a far but then finally you chat and really connect and you’re like,

Julia Holter, Loud City Song

I listen to Julia Holter’s music the most during my mornings and weekends. I was surprised at how much I loved her last album, Ekstasis, and equally as surprised when I loved this year’s Loud City Song. While it didn’t have a song I liked as much as “In the Same Room” or “Moni Mon Amie”, I ended up listening to the record on repeat, almost not realizing that I was falling in love with the mood of the whole thing.

Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze

I didn’t listen to Kurt Vile until two years ago, sometime around the release of his last album. Since then, I’ve become a pretty enormous fan. I was actually nervous that this album wouldn’t be good and I only ever feel like that when I really, really like an artist. (This means that no one can even talk to me about Joanna Newsom until she releases another album and I’ve listened to it a few times because I’ve been anxious about it for years, at this point.) ANYWAY, this album. I liked it very much. I also saw Kurt Vile twice this year and enjoyed those experiences very much, even though the first show made me so tired that it led me to post this weird like, rant about going to concerts on weeknights.

Laura Marling, Once I Was An Eagle

As a mostly lazy person, I don’t understand Laura Marling. At 25, she’s already made several mature, beautiful albums and I’m more than a little bit jealous of how smart and accomplished she is. Once I Was An Eagle is easily my favorite album of hers so far.

Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia

Even if I didn’t like this album it would still be on this list because of its title. Lucky for all of us, it’s actually good. Well, lucky for me, really, since this was another one I was kinda nervous about not being good? I don’t know why. I’ve been a Marnie fan for a long, long time and she has never disappointed me.

My Bloody Valentine, mbv

I won’t be one of those people who’s like, “This album was worth waiting twenty years for.” A) I didn’t wait twenty years for it because I did not listen to MBV until maybe ten years ago and B) I will always, always like Loveless better than almost anything. HOWEVER, I listened to this a lot after it came out in February and I liked it a lot.

 

Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time

I saw Sky Ferreira on a subway platform this fall. (It was the Bedford L stop, natch.) I wanted to say something to her but I was too nervous slash I was pretty afraid it wasn’t her? I played “Everything Is Embarrassing” on repeat for the better part of a year, soooo I am kind of fan girl. This was shortly after Night Time, My Time came out, which has become one of my favorite-favorite things-in-general of this year. I love almost every song and am sure I’ll be playing this for…a while.

 

Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

This album made me feel things. Like, a lot of things. I guess it reminded me of the experience of connecting with an album as a teenager.

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

Oh, boy. I want to write a lot about this one, but maybe I’ll do that another time. I put off (closely) listening to this album until this summer, after the initial buzz had died down, and I’m glad I did. Somehow, it made the experience of listening more intimate? Anyway, I just think (most) everything about Modern Vampires of the City was really well done. Not that those dudes need me to tell them that. 😉

Songs of 2013

Songs of 2013

A few years ago, I decided to get in on the whole year end music list game. I mean “in on the game” in the sense that I wanted to make a list of my favorite songs, not that I wanted to compete with all of your favorite/least favorite music publications to name the “best” songs of the year.

So, here’s the list of my favorite songs of 2013. I had a lot of fun making the list this year. I ranked my top 50, even though I feel ranking gets kind of arbitrary, and linked to videos where possible. I also included 25 “Honorable Mention” songs because after #50 it got really hard for me to decide if I liked one song better than another.

I included all of the songs I could on this Spotify playlist: Haley’s Songs of 2013

*****

50. Courtney Barnett: ‘Avant Gardener’
49. The Knife: ‘A Tooth For An Eye’
48. Wavves: ‘Demon to Lean On’
47. Neko Case: ‘Night Still Comes’
46. Bleached: ‘Outta My Mind’
45. Fear of Men: ‘Seer’
44. Toro Y Moi: ‘Rose Quartz’
43. A$AP Ferg: ‘Hood Pope’
42. Blood Orange: ‘Chamakay’
41. Classixx feat. Nancy Whang: ‘All You’re Waiting For’

40. White Denim: ‘New Blue Feeling’
39. The Preatures: ‘Is This How You Feel?’
38. Lorde: ‘The Love Club’
37. Grouper: ‘Vital’
36. Colleen Green: ‘Only One’
35. Speedy Ortiz: ‘No Below’
34. Jessie Ware: ‘Imagine It Was Us’
33. Ciara: ‘Body Party’
32. Toxie: ‘Newgate’
31. Miley Cyrus: ‘We Can’t Stop’

30. 2 Chainz feat. Pharell: ‘Feds Watching’
29. Julia Holter: ‘Maxim’s I’
28. Mount Kimbie: ‘Made to Stray’
27. Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge: ‘White Noise’
26. Chance the Rapper: ‘Chain Smoker’
25. Mariah Carey & Miguel: ‘#Beautiful’
24. Torres: ‘Honey’
23. Sophie: ‘Bipp’
22. A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T: ‘1 Train’
21. Liquor Store: ‘Vodka Beach’

20. Rich Homie Quan: ‘Type of Way’
19. Rhye: ‘The Fall’
18. Danny Brown feat. Purity Ring: ‘25 Bucks’
17. Kacey Musgraves: ‘Silver Lining’
16. My Bloody Valentine: ‘Only Tomorrow’
15. Eleanor Friedberger: ‘My Own World’
14. Angel Olsen: ‘Sweet Dreams’
13. Giraffage: ‘All That Matters’
12. Marnie Stern: ‘Nothing Is Easy’
11. Young Galaxy: ‘Pretty Boy’

10. Waxahatchee: ‘Coast to Coast’
9. ScHoolboy Q: ‘Man of the Year’
8. Laura Marling: ‘Master Hunter’
7. Ariana Grande: ‘Honeymoon Avenue’
6. CHVRCHES: ‘Recover’
5. Sky Ferreira: ‘I Blame Myself’
4. Kurt Vile: ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’
3. Haim: ‘The Wire’
2. Autre Ne Veut: ‘Play by Play’
1. Vampire Weekend: ‘Don’t Lie’ / ‘Hannah Hunt’

Honorable Mention:
Ariel Pink feat. Jorge Elbrecht: ‘Hang On to Life’
The Belle Game: ‘River’
Charli XCX: ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’
Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear: ‘Doin’ It Right’
Drake feat. Majid Jordan: ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’
J.Cole feat. Miguel: ‘Power Trip’
Justin Timberlake: ‘Mirrors’
Kanye West: ‘Blood On the Leaves’
Kevin Gates: ‘4:30 AM’
Little Boots: ‘Motorway’
Majical Cloudz: ‘Bugs Don’t Buzz’
Mas Ysa: ‘Why’
Mikal Cronin: ‘Weight’
Mutual Benefit: ‘Advanced Falconry’
The Range: ‘Metal Swing’
Rihanna: ‘Stay (Branchez Bootleg)’
Roosevelt: ‘Elliot’
Parquet Courts: ‘Stoned and Starving’
Pure Bathing Culture: ‘Pendulum’
Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar: ‘Nosetalgia’
Solange: ‘Cash In’
Swearin’: ‘Watered Down’
Washed Out: ‘It All Feels Right’
Willow Smith: ‘Sugar and Spice’
Zola Jesus: ‘Fall Back’

All I Want For Christmas Is Everything

This year, I only asked for a few things for Christmas. Practical things. New boots (I’ve worn out a few pairs in the last year), new sheets, a new hat/gloves combo, new sneakers. I think that’s it. You know, things I NEED. I mean, I definitely want all of them. But only because I need them, I think. I really wish I could have asked for things I just plain want, but with the crushing guilt complex that I acquired somewhere in between nine years of Catholic school and growing up as the oldest in a large family, that was impossible. Also, my mom – the primary Christmas shopper in our family – never really bought me anything that I wanted unless I could get her on board with it. (Like, if I asked for most of the shit below she would say “Um, okay” but would silently be thinking “WHAT?” and then would pretend I never asked her for any of it.)  Anyway, here is a list of ten seven things I would ask for if I had no shame and I thought people would buy them for me.

Please note: I grew up extremely privileged and really have no right to complain about anything and feel so weird and guilty even writing this but I honestly couldn’t think of what else to write today.

Christmas Gift

1. A subscription to the NYRB Classics Book Club

Those of you who read my book reviews may have noticed that I read a lot of NYRB Classics. Not only are their jacket designs amazing, but very few of their books that I’ve picked up have been less than amazing.

2. Berlin Alexanderplatz (The Criterion Collection)

I still have never seen this and I often think about buying it for myself but, for some reason, have never broken down and done it.

3. Everything from Madewell

I was going to link to just the sweaters but then I realized that although I want all of the sweaters, what I really want is all of the everything. (I really, really want this metallic t-shirt dress, though.)

4. The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

I’m a big Wes Anderson fan. But this seems like a silly thing to ask for. Also, I would like all of Wes Anderson’s Criterion Collection films.

5. An actual nice stereo system

And someone – an audiophile – to help me identify the things I would need to make that happen and then set it up for me.

6. A sizable trust fund

7. All of the weird crafting stuff I could buy at Paper Source

And here is where my ideas run out. I mean, I want like a TON of super fancy clothes but I would have to do a lot of thinking on what my top items would be. And makeup, too. (But honestly, with makeup at least, I would go out and buy an item I really wanted. The clothes, not so much.) But do I really want it? Probably not. If I did, wouldn’t I buy it for myself? Maybe there is a reason I didn’t ask for the stuff above (minus the trust fund). All of it is more stuff that I have to have in my life AND in my relatively small apartment. What’s the value of stuff, really, when it just ends up sitting around unused for most of your lifetime?

Just writing that last sentence gave me a small panic attack as I considered the worth of my book collection, which is my most prized and underused possession. Going to look at all of the items I posted above online, consider buying them to the point I put them in the shopping cart and then chicken out for the eight billionth time.

Questions I May Have Asked Myself Yesterday

Ugh, is it the daytime?

What time do I have to leave the house in order to be just 10 minutes late rather than 20 minutes late?

Do I wear a light coat today or like, a heavy coat but leave it unzipped?

How sweaty am I going to be on the subway if I carry hot coffee?

But is it an acceptable time of year to get iced coffee?

Did I just accidentally play patty cake with that barista when I was trying to hand him my money with one hand and my frequent customer card with the other?

Should I take this scarf off?

How do I turn on “Private Session” in this updated Spotify app?

Why isn’t my MetroCard working?

No, seriously, why isn’t my MetroCard working?

What’s this dude on this very crowded subway maniacally laughing to himself about?

Um, is this Hasidic man allowed to be on this very crowded subway sandwiched between all of these ladies right now?

How long is it going to take for the elevator to come?

No, seriously, HOW LONG?

Should I get Rosetta Stone to brush up on my French to impress the hot French dude who is sometimes waiting for the elevator at the same time as me?

How am I going to make it to the end of the work day?

Why doesn’t anyone ever read their email?

Is everyone an idiot?

When can I eat lunch?

What made you think I didn’t want that hard-boiled egg in my salad chopped up like the rest of it?

When can I eat my snack?

Am I actually hungry or am I just bored?

How can I get creative inspiration without leaving my desk?

What if I just quit everything?

Why am I reading the Wikipedia page for ‘Dogs Playing Poker’?

Can I leave now?

Where is my beer?

Do I ask someone where the bathroom is in this place or just wander around until I find it?

Should I have another beer?

Was this restaurant on Girls?

Do I order the polenta?

How many Weight Watchers points is polenta?

Does this mason jar hold the same amount of liquid as a pint glass?

Can I show my face at Trash Bar again?

Where is the closest bar to this restaurant that is not Trash Bar?

Is it weird to sit at this bar by myself after my friend leaves?

Should I just walk home?

How am I still walking right now?

Is working on my story when I get home really a good idea?

Would my family be mad at me if I wrote about them?

Why did I decide that writing was going to be my “thing”?

What if I never actually publish anything?

Does it matter?

Does anything matter?

Why am I alive right now?

What really happens after you die?

Am I having an existential crisis?

How have I not watched the new Louis C.K. special yet?

Do I want a second cookie?

Should I buy the second season of Adventure Time on Amazon Prime?

In how many hours do I need to wake up?