2013 reading highlights

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

The Hired Man by Aminatta FornaBeautiful 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

The Spinning Heart by Donal RyanSkilled 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

Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna KrallI didn’t think I needed to read another Holocaust story. I was wrong. Find out why here.




A Brief Conversion by Earl Lovelace

Brief Conversion by Earl LovelaceI 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

The Mussel Feast by Birgit VanderbekeSometimes 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.

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There are 22 comments

  1. That’s a lot of books, 54. I just finished my 30th today. Will be working on that list myself, to be posted next year. 🙂
    Have a great 2014, Andrew, any new resolutions for the new year?

    1. I’ll be interested to see your list, Delia. I always like to see what other people have been reading. Usually get a few good recommendations out of it.

      Hmm, not sure about resolutions yet. I’ve still got a few hours left to decide, haven’t I? Maybe “stop leaving everything until the last minute” would be a good start 😉 How about you?

  2. I’m with you on the “last minute” part, but to be honest I don’t think that’s going to change for me. I work better when I’m pressed for time, don’t know why.
    And yes, we are officially in 2014 here and one resolution I’ve made for this year was to read your book, On the Holloway Road. A promising start, isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Hi,

    Eclectic list. I want to read The Mussel Feast, it was on my mental TBR.

    I’m not much into statistics and KPIs about what I read, so I’m unable to compare mine to yours.

    I have no reading plan for 2014 except a vague idea of reading another Proust, another Thomas Hardy, the books from my Book Club list, my Humbook (virtual Christmas gift exchanges), books set in America and diminish the TBR, so I’m in a book buying ban.
    Vow, perhaps that makes a reading plan for 2014 after all!

    Anyway, you already know that my list of favourite books read in 2013 is on my blog.

    I wish you a Happy New Year, now that we’re the 1st of January.


    1. I’m obviously a slow reader as I don’t usually read in my native tongue…I wish I could read more books but there are always so many time consuming tasks for me to do. Anyway, here’s my list. The greatest disappointments were Suzuma and Marc Levy. The best Julian Barnes and Italo Calvino. I don’t know why the latter is never mentioned because I think he’s great. I’ve read almost all his books and it’s always a great pleasure to read him. As for A Virtual Love, I already told you how much I enjoyed reading it. Like Delia I also intend to read On the Holloway Road this year.

      • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway ( Atlantic Books, London )
      • Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
      • A Mesa Limão by Julian Barnes (Edições ASA)
      • Victoria by Knut Hamsun ( Cavalo de Ferro )
      • A Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman (Legend Press)
      • L’étrange voyage de Monsieur Daldry by Marc Levy (Club France Loisirs/Éditions Robert Laffont)

      • Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (Vintage Books)
      • Hurt by Tabitha Suzuma ( Bodley Head)
      • Levels of Life by Julian Barnes ( Jonathan Cape)
      • Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino ( Editorial Teorema)

      New Year Resolution-
      to spend more time reading books. 🙂

      1. I should really wait for Andrew’s reply to your comment, but I couldn’t resist commenting 🙂 Wonderful books you have read, Isolette! I loved ‘A Virtual Love’, ‘Essays in Love’ and ‘Levels of Life’ too. Julian Barnes is so wonderful. Sorry to know that you didn’t like the Suzuma book much. I think her ‘Forbidden’ and ‘A Note of Madness’ were better.

        1. No need to wait, Vishy – I am very happy for you to chat amongst yourselves when I’m not around 🙂 I haven’t read Levels of Life yet, but am planning to. Have enjoyed most of what Julian Barnes produces, so am looking forward to that. I liked ‘Forbidden’ as well.

      2. Hi Isolete

        I have the utmost respect for anyone who can read books in a foreign language. I know a few languages at a conversational level, but when I try reading novels, I spend more time with my nose in the dictionary than I do with the book itself, and usually give up after a few pages. So your list impresses me!

        Italo Calvino is certainly a great writer. I’ve reviewed a few of his books on this blog, but several years ago now. I enjoyed Marcovaldo too, but don’t seem to have reviewed it. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller was my favourite.

        Thank you so much for your kind words about A Virtual Love! Hope you enjoy On the Holloway Road.

        And hey, I can’t argue with that New Year Resolution. Sounds like a great way to spend 2014 🙂

    2. Bonne année, Emma! I’ve never gone for the statistics either, but have been keeping track this year for the first time. In general I just read what I feel like reading, and am not a big planner either, but wanted to get a general idea of the mix of books I read.

      Yes, that is quite a plan for someone without a plan 😉

  4. Considering the move I think 54 is a marvellous amount of books! I’m impressed. I racked up a lot of reading hours this year, but for the majority of it I was unemployed – my challenge for 2014 is considerably lower.

    I’ve seen a lot of people list the percentage of male to female authors (yours is a good one) I’m almost afraid of doing it as I read a lot of books by dead white men – this needs to change this year.

    Happy New Year, Andrew!

    1. Happy New Year to you too, Alice! Yes, I thought my ratio would be more male-dominated. I wonder if the fact that I was measuring it this year made a difference. I didn’t consciously seek out female writers, but perhaps it was in the back of my mind.

  5. Happy new year! Same as Alice, 54 books is very good and in addition to what she said, adding the Kindle and your not-so-fond-ness makes it even better. I couldn’t pick one book, so I’ll say that my highlight was January because I read books I probably would still have on my TBR (a reading challenge).

    1. Getting through the TBR is a good thing, Charlie! That should probably be my New Year’s resolution – mine is huge 🙂 So many good books, so little time. And always something new to catch the eye…

  6. Wonderful list of favourites, Andrew! I love the title ‘The Spinning Heart’. I have avoided it till now because of its heavy subject, but after seeing it on your favourites list, I am tempted to try reading it. I loved your short-and-sweet description of Hanna Krall’s book. I want to read ‘The Mussell Feast’. 54 books is impressive! Congratulations! It is also so wonderful that you read ‘Moby Dick’ last year! That is a real chunkster!

    Happy New Year! Hope you have a wonderful year filled with wonderful new books and writers and many beautiful reading moments!

    1. Happy New Year to you too, Vishy!!

      The Spinning Heart is really good. I know what you mean about The Spinning Heart. It does have a lot of sadness, but there’s so much humour as well. It’s quite a heavy subject, but doesn’t feel like a heavy book at all.

      Yes, Moby Dick took a while! I was listening on audio, which was better in some ways but worse in others. Audio books seem to remind me of bedtime stories, so I kept falling asleep halfway through a chapter, and waking up hours later with a voice in my ear and no idea of what it was talking about!

  7. I am a hopeless sucker for best-of lists and don’t mind what form they come in! I love the variety and uniqueness of your choices, and think I will have to see if I can get hold of the Aminatta Forna and Donal Ryan, both of which sound fascinating. I did count the number of books I read one year but have failed ever since to keep detailed notes. That year I read about 130, though, which surprised me – I never thought it would be so much! I’m not sure that’s a good thing, either…. I’m all for slow reading to savour a book properly. Hoping you have a wonderful reading and writing year in 2014!

    1. Ah, I’m glad I’m not the only one! I keep complaining about all the end-of-year reviews, and end up reading more of them all the time – and now I’ve written one!

      Yes, I think you’d like those two. Will look out for them on your blog in the year to come. Thanks for stopping by, and I wish you the same for 2014!

  8. After reading your post, I think The Spinning Heart will make its way to my TBR list for 2014. My favorite book of the past year was TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. Wonderfully and delicately written. The story was woven among different narrators and time periods but never felt forced. Have you read this novel?

    I’d like to expand my reach to writers of different nationalities. I’d like to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Nigera as I’ve read great reviews of her novels.

    1. Ooh yes, I loved Transatlantic. It almost made the list – in fact, I’m not sure why it didn’t! That illustrates why I think these lists are quite arbitrary. Probably if I wrote this post today, Transatlantic would be on there. At first I didn’t see how the narratives could possibly be connected, but gradually it all started coming together. Really well-constructed novel, with a lot of interesting things to say about migration and change.

      And yes, I can add to the recommendations for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Half a Yellow Sun was my favourite book of either 2011 or 2012, can’t remember which now! I haven’t read her latest, Americanah, but can definitely recommend the earlier one.

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