Friday, December 27, 2013

Books of the Year 2013

In recent years we've been compiling lists of the Books of the Year features in the press and on some blogs. And now here's the one for 2013. This list will be regularly updated throughout December. Some of the lists are specifically for children or young adults, but plenty aren't. Chicken Spaghetti has a comprehensive list specifically of children's literature.
Previous lists are here: 2010, 2011, 2012.

Here is our own selection, with Stephen Grosz's The Examined Life as the Book of the Year.
  • The Guardian: Writers' and Critics' Books of the Year: Roddy Doyle chooses George Saunders's book of short stories Tenth of December, calling it 'spectacularly good', while Richard Ford goes for James Salter's All That Is: "Not in my (admittedly failing) memory have I read a novel that, at its crucialest moment, made me just stand straight up out of my chair and have to walk around the room for several minutes". ('crucialist'?). Best Fiction mentions Rachel Kushner's well-received The Flamethrowers. Best Science Fiction reminds us of the deaths this year of Doris Lessing and Iain Banks. Best Crime and Thrillers starts with Derek B. Miller's quirky Norwegian by Night. There's also Best Sports Books, and Best Poetry (marking of course the 'incalculable loss' of Seamus Heaney). There's also Best Fiction for 8 to 12 year-olds, including Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell's Fortunately the Milk. Readers Books of the Year is always one of the more interesting lists - here is Part 1. Stephen Curry's blog looks at the 26 books he read this year, starting with John McGahern's superb Memoir.
  • A blizzard of lists and categories from the London Independent: fiction (including Richard House's interesting-looking four-book The Kills), children (including the Basque Bernardo Atxaga's 'totally charming' The Adventures of Shola), comedy, sport, war, politics, music, art, essays, food and more.
  • The Top Ten of the Library Journal has Entwidge Danticat's Claire of the Sea Light ('language that’s lyrical, affecting, and beautifully understated') and the list Best Books 2013 has More of the Best including Jim Crace's Harvest and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (we couldn't get going with the latter).
  • The Observer's Books of the Year include Careless People, Sarah Churchwell's interesting book on The Great Gatsby and its historical background (chosen by Philip French) and Tessa Hadley's Clever Girl ('so finely worked, like emotional needlepoint', says Rachel Cooke).
  • The Irish Times has lots of lists from writers, including Donal Ryan, author of the outstanding The Spinning Heart, Eimear McBride (the 'creeps-inducing' Magda by Meike Ziervogel, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels) as well as Best Music Books of 2013.
  • Washington Post: Top 10 Books of the Year includes the 9th in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamach series by Louise Penny, How the Light Gets In.
  • From Canada, The Globe and Mail has Best International Fiction (which therefore includes novels from the US such as Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch).
  • The Evening Standard's critics choosing their Books of the Year includes A.N. Wilson (apparently Charles Moore's acclaimed biography of Lady Thatcher has 'good descriptions of her underwear') and Richard Godwin on Emily Berry's debut collection of poems Dear Boy ('there's always a manic precision to her language'). Brian Sewell's Essential Art Books of 2013 is detailed and considered.
  • The Daily Telegraph has several lists: best fiction books of the year (not Man Booker winner The Luminaries, described as 'endless rambling', but certainly Donna Tartt's equally weighty The Goldfinch ; best politics books, including again Charles Moore's impressive Margaret Thatcher: the authorised biography) ; best biographies ; best classical music books ; older children. And here are Martin Chilton's choices of Best Children's Books of the year, and also his Young Adult choice, including Patrick Ness's More Than This.
  • The Christian Science Monitor is more enamoured with The Luminaries ('engrossing') in its selection of 15 best fiction books of 2013, along with Ruth Ozeki's A Tale from the Time Being and Jim Crace's Harvest.
  • The School Library Journal looks at 'Adult Books 4 Teens' and their fiction selection has plenty to interest young adults, including Abigail Tarttelin's Golden Boy.
  • The New York Times has its annual 100 Notable Books (Herman Koch's so-so The Dinner seems lucky to make this list) as well as Best Illustrated Children's Book. There's also Notable Children's Books of 2013. Three critics present their 10 favourites here, including Michiko Kakutani, another to go for George Saunders.
  • BookPage's list of Best Books of 2013 has Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch at number 1.
  • The Huffington Post's staff picks include The Circle by Dave Eggers, 'overlooked this year' but now appearing on several of these lists.
  • The Millions is releasing its 'Year of Reading 2013' gradually, with Claire Messud and Alice McDermott among the first to contribute.
  • Herald Scotland has two parts to its list; Part One includes a recommendation for the 2013 Nobel winner Alice Munro's Dear Life, and Part Two the surprise 'new' hit from 1965, the fine novel Stoner by John Williams.
  • The Chicago Tribune's Best Books of 2013 include Philipp Meyer's The Son; they also have a list of poetry collections.
  • GQ Magazine's literary editor Olivia Cole chooses Jess Walter's latest novel Beautiful Ruins : scroll through the rest of the selection here.
  • Canada's Quill and Quire magazine has Books of the Year for Young People, non-fiction, fiction (such as Lisa Moore's Caught) and more. Top Sci-Fi is here.
  • The reading social network GoodReads has lots of lists in many categories, voted on by its members. To chose one: in Young Adult fiction top of the list is Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park.
  • Slate magazine has staff picks, including The Yonahlosee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani, recommended by Katherine Goldstein ("don't let the fact that this novel is set in a boarding school and features a 15-year-old protagonist fool you into thinking it's for young adults".); 19 Overlooked Books of 2013; Dan Kois, books editor, has a choice of 15, including The Dark, by the stellar combination of Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen ; and best poetry books of 2013 ('a great year for poetry').
  • The essential and extraordinary Brain Pickings from Maria Popova has several lists, including Best Psychology and Philosophy, Best Biographies, Memoirs and History, Best Art and Design (some gorgeous ones here). And her 13 Best Books of the Year include Letters of Note (excellent material for English teaching here).
  • The Wall Street Journal has a 'cheat sheet' of the ten best books of 2013, including George Saunders again and another regular, Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers.
  • Scott Pack's interesting selection has a promising start - Will le Fleming's Central Reservation.
  • The Seattle Times go for 31 of the Best Titles of 2013, including Jo Baker's clever take on Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn, seen from the perspective of the Bennet servants.
  • NPR have a different take on the list format this year, with their 'Concierge' to help make your own selection. One to look out for is Elizabeth Strout's The Burgess Boys, selected by Michel Martin, who calls it 'a gentle but clear-eyed way of thinking'.
  • The excellent Sonofabook blog from CB editions has a very interesting list, full of books that don't get mentioned elsewhere. Andrew Eseimokumo Oki’s Bonfires of the Gods is one of these, recommended by Muna Khogali: "A debut novel by a very talented young Nigerian writer and refreshingly not yet another novel from the diaspora but one of the crop of homegrown Nigerian writers. This is a really raw story of war and love. What elevates it is the superb use of tone and diction. Highly recommended."
  • The Atlantic magazine has an interesting selection called 'The Best Book I Read This Year' from all years, including our own Book of the Year of 2012, Robert Caro's The Passage to Power.
  • USA Today critics' pick of Top Ten Must-Read Books includes some familiar titles. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Double Down, on the 2012 US Presidential election is another addictive gossipy read.
  • Part 1 of the New Yorker's Best Books includes Russell Banks's A Permanent Member of the Family - "wonderfully narrated short stories of loss, sorrow, accommodation, and compromise", says Joyce Carol Oates. Part 2 includes David Gilbert's & Sons, recommended by Ruth Frankling for 'sheer reading pleasure' (out here in January).
  • John Self in his Asylum blog presents his choice here, including one of our own favourites, Stephen Grosz's The Examined Life. Chloe Hooper's The Engagement also sounds intriuging.
  • Metro's Best Non-Fiction of the year includes Damien Barr's lovely Maggie and Me and Wave: A Memoir of Life After the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala (also recommended by Teju Cole in the New Yorker - though it sounds emotionally unbearable). And Grosz, of course.
  • The Baltimore Sun has some librarians' choices, including Frank Bidart's latest collection of poems, Metaphysical Dog
  • Darcy Moore's excellent list includes Susan Cain's Quiet (also on ours), and we're particularly looking forward to Tim Winton's Eyrie (not out here for a few months yet).
  • The Huffington Post has 10 Favourite Books - some of the usual suspects, but also Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here by Karima Bennoune, subtitled 'Untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism.' 
  • The Providence Journal has a list from their own reviewers
  • Best Books of 2013 from Highbrow Magazine starts with Colum McCann's Transatlantic, calling it 'one of the most beautiful and lyrical novels of the year' (McCann tends to divide readers on just those grounds).
  • The Week aggregates 'votes' from several British newspapers and magazines, with Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher coming top with 16 votes. 
  • The Austin Chronicle has plenty of interesting recommendations. Kimberley Jones goes for Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, a 'gorgeous gorge of a novel'. 
  • The Verge has best books for your new Kindle, including Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

SCC English Books of the Year

Term has now ended. Regular posting will resume after January 6th, but our Books of the Year lists will continue to be updated leading up to Christmas. Meanwhile, here are some personal choices:

  • John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen? Don't be put off by the silly (and inaccurate) subtitle, 'Twenty crucial puzzles solved': this is top-notch literary criticism a la Tony Tanner. 
  • Sarah Churchwell: Careless People:  Murder, Mayhem and the invention of The Great Gatsby. Essential reading for all English teachers, like us, teaching the novel.
  • Richard Ford: Canada. A calm, wise and powerful narrative with a superb short final section.
  • Donal Ryan: The Spinning Heart. A piece of fiction spinning around a multiplicity of voices, with a real heart.
  • Javier Marias: The Infatuations. Everything the Spaniard writes is worth reading, especially in Margaret Jull Costa's immaculate translations.
  • Susan Cain: Quiet: the power of introverts. Another essential read for the teaching profession.
  • Damien Barr's Maggie and Me is a funny, touching and sometimes horrifying account of a gay boy growing up in a tough poor community in Scotland. 
And finally, tarantara, the Book of the Year (there's a picture clue at the top of the post):
  • Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life. "We are all storytellers – we make stories to make sense of our lives. But it is not enough to tell tales. There must be someone to listen."  Stories of extraordinary lives, and ordinary lives marked with the extraordinary.  For teachers, parents, readers, this is profound and thought-provoking writing.