Friday, January 3, 2014

The Best of 2013

Somebody asked me the other night what the best book I read in 2013 was. Admittedly, I was at a loss, as I hadn't really given it any thought. And after looking back at the 38 books I did read in 2013, I'm still struggling to find an answer.

To be honest, 2013 wasn't a very good reading year. Sure, there were some great books, but they were far out numbered by the duds. This may be the reason I only read 38 books, as it obviously goes slower when you aren't enjoying them.

But enough about the bad, this is supposed to be about the good. When I think of books I've read, I divide them into two categories; list books and non-list books. The non-list books are overwhelmingly non-fiction (27-2), but not exclusively, and in 2013 I read far more non-list books than list books (29-9). To separate the two, I've divided my best of 2013 into these two categories.

At first glance it might be tougher to select the best list books, as there aren't as many to choose from. But as it's a list of "all time books," they all tend to be pretty good.

Here they are!

List Books

The Grapes of Wrath  by John Steinbeck. This wasn't just on of my favorite books of 2013, but one of my favorites ever. It currently sits as my 4th favorite among the first 70 books.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth. Yes, this may be because it was the most recent book I read, but I don't think so. This was an engaging  and enjoyable read from beginning to end. Seymour "The Swede" Levov is the most complete and compelling character I have ever read. Except for Scarlett O'Hara of course. I have currently ranked it 7th of the first 70.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. A book that totally surprised me as for whatever reason, I assumed I wasn't going to enjoy it. I was wrong. It is a little reminiscent of The Sot-Weed Factor in its satire of the genre it seeks to emulate. It currently sits 8th out of 70 list reads.

Non-List Books

The Big Year by Mark Obmascik. The first book I read in 2013 turned out to be one of my favorites as well. Who would have thought a book about bird watching would be so interesting? Naturally, I had assumed it would be as boring as, well, bird watching. It was very entertaining and interesting, and I'll admit, I now have a much better appreciation for bird watchers.

At Home by Bill Bryson. I don't think you can really go wrong with Bill Bryson. I've thoroughly enjoyed everything of his I've read. Perhaps what I love most about his books, is they are filled with the kind of information you can't wait to share with others. And usually you sound smart doing so.

In the City of Bikes by Peter Jordan. The story of cycling in Amsterdam, told alongside a 20th century history of the city was very interesting. It also had me pining for better biking infrastructure in my own city (one bike lane downtown that doesn't go anywhere won't cut it).

I would also give some honorable mention to Roland Huntford's epic biography, Shackleton. This gargantuan read was phenomenal, but I would understand why it wouldn't appeal to a lot of people. In fact, I doubt it would appeal to the vast majority of people. But I loved it nonetheless and because of this book, I now have a little bit of an obsession with all things Shackleton.

Now it's on to 2014, which I hope yields more books, both list and non-list, and which I hope I have a difficult time picking my favorites from, as they were all so good.

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