Best of 2013


As I'm writing this, 2013 is stifling a yawn and getting ready to go to sleep. Really deep – c'mon, name that lyric, you know you want to! And no, this time it is not, shockingly enough, a Morrissey lyric…

Where was I? Oh yes, 2013. Not much left of it, is there? About bloody time, then, to get around to acquire that retrospective gaze, gather the literary soundtrack of my year, as it were. Bearing that in mind, I sat down and started writing a tentative top ten. While the top five came to me rather vulcano-like, completely without hesitation, as though my subconscious had already written it, time and time again in invisible ink, I must confess the rest was a bit of a struggle. Not for lack of candidates, mind you. I soon realised that I simply couldn't limit myself to a measly TEN books. How to choose between Anton diSclafani's poignant coming-of-age tale set at a 1920's riding camp for girls, Jess Walters' beautiful, beautiful ruins, Stephen King's surprisingly tender Joyland and his son Joe's utterly unputdownable, downright EPIC horror tome? You can't, of course.

And so my initial top 10 quickly became a not-so-tentative top 15, which became a top 20 since I just couldn't bring myself to exclude certain titles. And what, then, of Jonathan Tropper, Lisa Jewell, Lisa Unger, and Lionel Shriver, all of whom have written books which by turns moved me, entertained me, and made me think (sometimes all of the above at once)? And what, pray tell, of Curtis Sittenfeld? Granted, Sisterland failed to make that larger-than-life impression that American Wife did, but it is still a pretty damn good read. Not stellar, but pretty damn good. Ergo, I settled on not a top ten, not a top twenty, but a top twenty-five of the English language books – mostly, though not exclusively, fiction – I have enjoyed the most over the course of this year. 25 books out of the 80 odd books I have read in 2013: not quite a third nor a fourth of the sum total, but nevertheless a dive into a rather deep end of my reading pool this year. I often fret about the books I don't read, as in quite simply don't have time to read (don't we all?). Compiling this list made me realise that while I am no longer anywhere near my old 120 book record of 2008, I read more carefully now, and tend to go straight for the books I know I will adore - and find them, with a little help from my friends.

So yes, 2013 turned out to be a rather good year, as good reads go. It was, obviously, the year of The Goldfinch, of Morrissey's much anticipated Autobiography, and Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, which up until the release of the two former books was my number one read of the year. Along with Tell the Wolves I'm Home and The Woman Upstairs, these titles form the crème de la crème of my literary 2013. These are the unflinching ten out of tens, the literary equivalents of a home run or a perfect kiss. You can, if you like, view my list as a thoroughly chronological presentation, going from number one to twenty-five in descending order. Certainly there is that element of grading in there somewhere... to the extent that you can grade books (I don't think I could, if we're talking numbers). Having said that, though, I will stress that every book on this list, be it a number two or twenty-four, is a knockout. Or rather, it seemed that way to me, either at the time or in retrorespect (ever notice how some books tend to grow in your mind, sometimes months after you actually finished them?) or both. Literally NO lukewarm reads on this list, no siree Bob! These lucky 25 are all - need I say it once more? - really good books, each in their own way. If you look at my picks really, really closely, I suppose you could come to the conclusion that many of them are coming-of-age novels and/or crime novels of the darker persuasion. Well, yes: I know my own taste in books pretty well by now, and so does my bookshop of choice, so those types of reads tend to come my way, by premeditation, recommendation, or osmosis. Perhaps this year has been particularly heavy on the crime, seeing how I read all the Best Novel nominees for this year's Edgar Awards. That reading challenge, documented here on this blog, was such a success that I think I will do it again in 2014. Still a tiny bit miffed that Gillian Flynn didn't win, but she did sell a few million copies and even made the glossies. Not to sound judgmental or anything, but every time I pick up the book section of, say, Glamour I tend to notice a lot of beaches or snowflakes on the covers, depending on the season. (And yes, I do realise that this is bit like getting pissed off about not finding tofu at McDonald's.) Suffice it to say it was a pleasant surprise that Gillian Flynn - who I continue to think of as MY Gillian Flynn, despite the odd million sold copies, because she has that effect on you, particularly if you happened to name your blog after one of her novels - made it to their 2013 roundup. I, of course, read Gone Girl in early 2012 and am currently looking forward to Flynn's next novel, which I hope she is writing right about now. (Okay, so the beginning that last sentence did come off as a wee bit judgmental, didn't it?)

While not on my top 25, I must say that it was nice to see Bridget Jones again. And to read a thoroughly enjoyable Harlan Coben standalone after last year's rather lackadaisical effort. And ooh, the Edgar nominees! So good, all of them!

Okay, you know what? Better make this a top 30 and be done with it. Are you ready?

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) The Interestings (Meg Wolitzer) Autobiography (Morrissey) Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carol Rifka Brunt) The Year of the Ladybird (Graham Joyce) The Cry (Helen Fitzgerald) Valley of Ashes (Cornelia Read) The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton diSclafani)

HELENA'S TOP 10 15 20 25 30 of 2013

(And yes, this is it, I promise. No more last minute additions - not even you, Linwood Barclay! Although I'm pretty sure you would be on here somewhere if I hadn't misplaced my copy of A Tap on the Window and found it several months later, in the midst of the all consuming Goldfinch rush. Note to self: continue reading, soon.)

1. The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
2. The Interestings (Meg Wolitzer)
3. Autobiography (Morrissey)
4. Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carol Rifka Brunt)
5. The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud)
6. The Year of the Ladybird (Graham Joyce)
7. The Cry (Helen Fitzgerald)
8. Valley of Ashes (Cornelia Read)
9. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton diSclafani)
10. The Wall (William Sutcliffe)
11. NOS4R2 (Joe Hill)
12. Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walters)
13. The Wicked Girls (Alex Marwood)
14. The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)
15. We Are Water (Wally Lamb)
16. Joyland (Stephen King)
17. Two Boys Kissing (David Levithan)
18. Sunset (Al Lamanda)
19. Gods of Gotham (Lyndsay Faye)
20. Lie Still (Julia Heaberlin)
21. Visitation Street (Ivy Pochoda)
22. Big Brother (Lionel Shriver)
23. Sisterland (Curtis Sittenfeld)
24. This Is Where I Leave You (Jonathan Tropper)
25. The House We Grew Up In (Lisa Jewell)
26. Live By Night (Dennis Lehane)
27. The Lost Ones (Ace Atkins)
28. Heartbroken (Lisa Unger)
29. The Burning Air (Erin Kelly)
30. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy (Helen Fielding)

... and then, of course, there are those books I more or less know would be up there had I, you know, had time to read them this year. Yes, I am looking at you, The Accursed. You too, Life After Life, MaddAddam, and This Is Where I Am. Here's to 2014, gals. And here's to knowing great books, and encountering new ones. See you soon! Now I'm off to read those very last books of the year. Who knows, maybe I've been saving the best for last?