I remembered to track 118 of the books I read in 2013 and I had thoughts about all of them. I love reading.
My top ten books:
Tampa by Alissa Nutting Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon Unmastered: A Book on Desire by Katherine Angel The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg Alone With Other People by Gabby Bess Meaty by Samantha Irby The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward Long Division by Kiese Laymon Milk & Filth by Carmen Gimenez Smith
Ranking is so arbitrary so I am not ranking these books. I am simply saying these are the books, published in 2013, that have stayed with me most vividly. They are the books that made me gasp and cringe and laugh and nod wildly with recognition and stay up way too late because I could not put the damn book down.
As I read Tampa, I felt like I was beholding something brilliant. I do consider Alissa a dear friend so, full disclosure, but that does not bear on my response to the book. It was just so bold and well written. The book made me want to genuflect. In truth, I did genuflect, but on my bed, because the floor in my apartment is really hard.
When I began Ghana Must Go, I wasn’t sure where the book was going. This is certainly not a perfect book but Selasi gains confidence with each page and when she hits her stride, the book becomes magnificent. I found myself sobbing as I read this book and when I finished, I held it to my chest and rocked because I finally understood where the book was going. I was intensely moved by how Selasi got me there.
I first learned of Aleksandar Hemon when I read an essay about the death of his baby daughter in The New Yorker. When I got an ARC of The Book of My Lives, I dove into it eagerly and found it to be one of the most intelligent books I’ve ever read. It’s also a book that offers a fresh perspective on the complexities of difference and immigration and grief and joy. And goddamn. The writing in this book is so fucking crisp. At times I wanted to punch Hemon for being so good. I did not, of course. I’m a book lover, not a fighter.
Unmastered by Katherine Angel is a beautiful, beautiful book both in word and as a physical object. An intense but controlled eroticism runs throughout the book and I particularly appreciated the fragmentary nature of the prose and the sense of a writer grappling with big questions rather eloquently.
Laura van den Berg is an exceptional short story writer. I loved her first collection with the super long title I am too lazy to type out here and I loved The Isle of Youth. Every story was satisfying and well written. My favorite story, which is one I teach, originally appeared in Ploughshares. In “I Looked For You, I Called Your Name,” a couple’s honeymoon begins with an emergency landing, “a hard, screeching wallop that knocked us around in our seats,” and doesn’t really get better from there. The couple seems desperately ill suited and the narrator is infuriating in the most compelling way. Love love love.
The other five of my top ten, I’ve written about elsewhere and such but suffice it to say, they each offer something necessary to the art of letters and to the act of living.
Books Just Outside My Top Ten
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer Searching for Zion by Emily Raboteau Where Did You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter The Name of the Nearest River by Alex Taylor Brit Lit by D. Gilson Whipped by Richey Laurentiis Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
If You Only Read Three Books of Poetry Read These
The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert She Has a Name by Kamilah Aisha Moon When My Brother was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
A Book I Loved So Much I Get Teary and Turned On Just Thinking About It
Meeting the Master by Elissa Wald came out quite some time ago but I love this book to the ends of the earth and back. It is smart and sexy and captures the complexities of submission perfectly. I particularly appreciated the focus on the mental and emotional, more than the physical nuances of submission. I recall entire scenes from this book on nearly a daily basis. I can’t stop re-reading it. There is this story about a woman seeing a therapist and it’s all a mind game and then there is a revelation at the end that made me gasp and then feel such kinship with the narrator. Elissa Wald is a masterful (no pun intended) writer and if I were to create a literary canon, this book would be part of it. I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. Okay. Had to get that out.
Books Written Just for a Girl Like Me
Nine and Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeil Damage by Josephine Hart
A Book That Burned Slow But When It Got Hot In My Mind, Goddamn, Goddamn (get it? hahaha)
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche
A Book I Read Because I Saw the Movie Preview and Had to Know What Was Going On and Then It Was Terrible.
Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
Books That Confounded Me but Still Left Me Struck
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava
A Book that Disturbed Me to the Depths of My Soul and Also Began Weirdly
Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates
A Book That Made Me Think And Want to Be a Better Writer/Thinker
No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
Books I Truly Did Not Care For And Was Kind of Angry At
Tenth of December by George Saunders The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar Inferno by Dan Brown (honestly, symbology? SIR!)
A Book I Was Super Ambivalent (and a little HMMM) About Though I Do Respect the Craft & Research and Time the Writer Put Into the Work and Also I Profiled The Writer
The Son by Philipp Meyer
A Memoir That Made Me Cry and Also Feel A Bit Irritated and then Guilty for Being Irritated
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Books I Reviewed or Otherwise Covered (and mostly enjoyed) and I Am Too Lazy to Link
Red Moon by Ben Percy Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg The Virgins by Pamela Erens When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams The Studbook by Monica Drake Rivers by Michael Farris Smith The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson Dirty : Dirty an anthology edited by Debra Di Blasi featuring art by Mugi Takei Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan High Rise Stories edited by Audrey Petty At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcon Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath In New York, 1953 by Elizabeth Winder Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David Henry and Joe Henry (This one I did not like at all at all) Love is Canoe by Ben Schrank Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older The Syria Dilemma The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart White Girls by Hilton Als
Books I Read For This Awesome Piece I’ve Been Working On For Like a Fucking Year
Inferno by Eileen Myles Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (I also hated this one, just have to get that off my chest) Light While There is Light by Keith Waldrop Deliverance by James Dickey The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath Graceland by Chris Abani
A Book I Appreciated on the Sentence and Conceptual Level That I Wanted More From
In The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
A Book I Read That I Am Still VERY VERY MAD ABOUT Because NO THE MAIN CHARACTER WOULD NOT DO THAT AT ALL NOT EVER
Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Other Books I Enjoyed
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt All That Is by James Salter And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini Sparta by Roxana Robinson We Live in the Water by Jess Walter Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes Commercial Fiction by Dave Housley Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire SaenzSpeedboat by Renata Adler The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna The Kind of Girl by Kim Henderson Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. by Rob Delaney How to Make Love to a Negro by Dany Laferriere Bough Down by Karen Green Figures For an Apocalypse by Edward Mullany Best American Essays 2011 edited by Edwidge Danticat The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen
Books I’m Still Not Sure About That Made Me Think (In a Good Way)
We the Animals by Justin Torres What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life by Marie Calloway Taipei by Tao Lin The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
A Haunting, Excellent Book With a Breathtaking Ending
Fault Line by Christa Desir
The Fifty Shades of Grey Imitation I Truly Regret Reading That Makes FSOG Look Like a Literary Masterpiece
Anything He Wants by Sara Fawkes
A Book For Which My Response Is Not At All Surprising
The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
A Book That Is Whimsical and Strangely Affecting
Acorn by Yoko Ono
Brief Encounters with the Enemy: Fiction by Said Sayrafiezadeh The Fault in Our Stars by John Green The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson Very Recent History by Choire Sicha Still Missing by Chevy Stevens I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman Joyland by Stephen King Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen (worth checking out, just wanted more from this)
Very Good Poetry
Amores Gitano by Roberto Carlos Garcia Man vs Sky by Corey Zeller
Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend Goodnight Nobody by Ethel Rohan
A Book With an Awesome Bad Ass Woman Protagonist Who Was Left Out of the Movie For Reasons I Will Never Understand/BURN IT ALL DOWN
Homefront by Chuck Logan
Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors (Must read short fiction) Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman (Smart, warm and generous memoir) Haiti Glass by Lenelle Moise (Lovely poetry, from a great Haitian writer) Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (Book with a great idea, strong writing, disappointing denouement) The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Brilliant, humbling essays, punch punch) The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (Exceptional, exceptional novel) The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Data embargo) The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard (Made me glad I’m already a vegetarian but for real don’t eat that chicken unless it’s free range) Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter (Not for me)
Last Sunday, Mitchell S. Jackson, author of The Residue Years, worked with family, friends, and the African American Literature Book Club to give away 125 copies of his novel on 125th Street in Harlem.
We’re honored to have Mitchell joining us on the BookUp faculty this fall!
Find out more about Mitchell here, and visit our website to learn more about BookUp.
You can join us throughout the day at booth 210, where we’ll be celebrating our National Book Awards Longlists. There you’ll also be able to meet the co-founders of Call Me Ishmael, one of our Innovations in Reading Prize Honorees, who’ll be there with a special surprise!
PLUS, you can pick up t-shirts and limited edition jerseys from The Other NBA, the greatest basketball game in Literary history.
On June 20, the National Book Foundation (presenter of the National Book Awards) is hosting The Other NBA, a charity basketball game featuring winning writers vs. publishing powerhouses. Proceeds will support BookUp, the Foundation’s after school reading program, expand into Detroit, a city with a 47% adult illiteracy rate.