I’m always a bit suspicious of those “Best books of 2013” articles. I read lots of them anyway, and carefully note down all the recommendations, but still I can’t help wondering how people can pronounce judgement when they can’t have read more than a tiny fraction of the thousands of books on offer.
So these are not the best books of 2013. They’re the best ones I happened to read this year. They may or may not have been published in 2013. Here we go…
The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna
Beautiful depiction of the aftermath of war in a small Croatian village. I loved the way Forna kept the horror of war hidden for so long, and perfectly judged the right time to let it spill out. Great meditation on how some choose to remember, and others choose to forget. Gorgeous prose too.
My full review was published on the site of Canadian literary magazine The Puritan.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
Skilled evocation of the different voices of 21 narrators, sad family relationships, hilarious moments, clever plot development, strong underlying exploration of the effects of the financial crisis in Ireland. And all that from a debut novelist. No wonder this won the Guardian First Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Booker. A writer we’ll be hearing much more about in the years to come. Read my review here.
Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall
I didn’t think I needed to read another Holocaust story. I was wrong. Find out why here.
A Brief Conversion by Earl Lovelace
I never got around to reviewing this short-story collection, but it left a real impression on me. Lovelace is a Trinidadian writer with a wonderful talent for depicting moments of change, both in individuals and in communities. If you’d like to find out more about him, read my report on his speech at last year’s Bim Literary Festival.
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke
Sometimes the best books are the ones that sound boring. A family cooks dinner and waits for the father to come home. But in the act of waiting, a whole story unfolds. I reviewed it on the blog back in October.
This year I kept track of my reading more closely than usual, so I can share a few little factoids with you. Whether they’re of interest to anyone other than me, I’m not sure. But here they are:
- I read 54 books overall, which is less than usual. I think it’s because of moving halfway through the year, and being busy with getting set up here in Crete and other stuff. Also I think it’s because I’ve relied on reading by Kindle, which I don’t enjoy as much.
- I had a slight male bias – 50% male to 40% female writers (the remaining 10% were mixed, i.e. more than one author, some male and some female). Not bad, but I’d like to make it tilt the other way next year.
- Half the books I read were new ones (published in 2013), 16 more were published in the preceding few years, and the rest were fairly evenly spread – about one a decade for most of the 20th century. The earliest was Moby Dick (1851).
- Exactly half were by British authors, and another 30% were from the U.S. Other countries represented: Austria, Germany, Trinidad, Finland, Poland, Zimbabwe, Russia, Greece, Ireland, Canada. I’d like to up my reading of foreign fiction next year.
- More than half were ebooks, with most of the rest being paperbacks. Just 2 hardbacks this year, and 3 audio books.
- 70% fiction, 28% non-fiction, 2% poetry (I’d like to increase both the non-fiction and the poetry next year).
What were your reading highlights of 2013? Let me know in the comments below.