…of the year, that is. Not, like, of my existence or anything.
Everyone who’s anyone in the blogosphere has started putting up their ‘best of’ lists for 2013 – their top 10 best books published in the last 12 months, top 13 best reads of 2013, that sort of thing. I, because I am chronically disorganised, have compiled a list – of sorts – of my favourite reads this year too, but where I differ from the others is that my list is made up of my favourite books read this year – but not necessarily published this year. I wish I was the type of reader who kept detailed start- and end-dates for my reading process, and filed the books away in a rational and ordered fashion on my shelves when they’ve been read, but I don’t think I’ll ever quite manage it. I’d also love to have the money to keep up with the flood of new books constantly being published – but sadly, that is another dream.
In any case, on with the show. Today’s post is going to look at books which I’ve slotted into the category of ‘General’ – i.e. not children’s books or YA books. I’m noticing a certain bent toward the SF end of the fiction spectrum, but heck. What can you do?
Favourite Books Read this Year (General)
The best book I read this year, I think, in the General category was Jung Chang’s Wild Swans. I’ve had this book for years, waiting for its moment in the spotlight, and I eventually managed to make time to read it a few months back. It’s been around for a long time, so chances are you’ve read it already, but if you haven’t – well. I can’t say I recommend it, as such, because it’s almost as challenging a read as Mao’s Great Famine (Frank Dikotter), and it is full of descriptions and testimony which will leave you literally unable to think or speak, but it (along with the Dikotter book) is a book that everyone should read. If it does nothing else but reinforce your desire to see that the events described never, ever take place again on the face of the earth, then it’s done its job.
I also read (and loved) Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a masterclass in writing about time-travel – but also so much more than that. It’s 2057, and we’re introduced to Ned Henry, a professional time-traveller, and a wealthy woman named Lady Schrapnell (who would have been right at home in an Oscar Wilde play.) Lady Schrapnell is sinking millions into the exact reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in the Blitz, and is causing a major headache for historians, academics and time-travellers alike with her painstaking and dictatorial manner. Everything is in place for the grand reopening – except, that is, for one mysterious object called the Bishop’s Bird Stump, which cannot be found. Ned is suffering from time-lag as a result of jumping back and forth between the 1940s and his own time searching for the Stump, but when another time-traveller appears to have broken the rules of the Continuum by bringing something forward through time from the Victorian period, he is the only time-traveller available to bring it back. Confused and addled, his adventures in the Victorian period begin… This book is huge, and though the plot is insanely complex, the reader never once loses track of where they are or what’s happening, because of the skill of Willis’ writing. It’s absolutely hilarious, as well as brilliantly plotted, executed and described. It’s not a new book, but it was one of my 2013 highlights for sure.
I also read Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, another title that had been lurking on my ‘to read’ list for many years. It’s a rich and rewarding story filled with meditations on humanity, ethics and the rights of patients, the treatment of the disabled, societal distaste for anything which is ‘different,’ prejudice against those who are seen as ‘lesser beings’, and the morality of tampering with a person’s brain without their full understanding of what will happen to them. Charlie Gordon, our narrator, is a kind, hard-working and gentle young man who is considered to have sub-par intelligence. The book takes us through the experiments conducted upon him and a laboratory mouse (the titular ‘Algernon’) with a view to increasing their IQ, and we learn about the effects of the treatments upon Charlie first-hand, in his own voice. Chilling and moving in equal measure, it’s a book that will stay with me.
One of the very lovely gifts my husband gave me during the year was a book titled When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman. It wasn’t the kind of book I’d have picked up for myself, which is what made it such a great present, and it’s about a girl and her brother, and the relationship between them as they grow to adulthood. It doesn’t sound like much – but it is. This is a book filled with eccentrics and oddballs, touches of magic realism, the maddening, infuriating and ultimately precious links between family members and – most importantly – explorations of love, in all the forms love can take. I found the relationship between Elly and Joe (the sister and brother) extremely moving to read, perhaps because I only have one brother, and we are very close. This fictional sibling relationship reminded me, on some levels, of my own real-life one. It’s a strange book, and parts of it stretch the ‘magic’ of ‘magic realism’ a little too far (I’m thinking of a scene where one of the most odd of the oddball characters gets his sight back when he is hit on the head by a flying coconut), but overall it was one of this year’s memorable reads for me.
I’m trying to steer clear of books I’ve already reviewed, which means Cloud Atlas can’t be mentioned here. Oh – whoops! Look what I just did.
I find it really difficult to narrow books down to a ‘best of’ list; usually, there’s something worth liking in everything I read. Perhaps if I was to draw up this list again tomorrow an entirely different selection of books would present itself, but that’s your lot for today.
Later in the week: my top children’s/YA reads for this year… Get your breaths bated in plenty of time for that.