Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best and Worst Books I Read of 2013

Although it wasn't my 2013 New Year's Resolution, I read more books in 2013 than any other year.  Because I recently resigned from my high school English teacher position where I needed to reread the same 10 classics each year (which don't get me wrong rereading The Great Gatsby, Hamlet and To Kill A Mockingbird among others each year was a gift more than a curse), I sometimes had time to squeeze in a book each month between grading stacks of student essays and narratives. When I no longer needed to bend my head over the seemingly endless grading and no longer had the same classics to teach, I went on a book binge.  For the past 8 months, I read at least one book a week, many weeks I read two and occasionally I read three.  The following is a list of the best books and the worst books from my 2013 book bender (note: for this post I only chose books that were published in 2d013):

The Best Books I Read of 2013:

1) And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Infused with fable, loaded with tragedy and triumph, and unforgettable intersecting characters, Hosseini's latest tribute to Afghanistan and beyond broke my heart and made me respect his prowess as a writer.  Even though I loved both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, this book now reigns as my Hosseini favorite.

2) The Round House by Louise Erdrich: I am embarrassed to admit that I never read a novel by Louise Erdrich before especially after I fell in love with the National Book Award winning The Round House.  This part coming of age novel, part mystery, part crime thriller, part mystic Native American lore kept me captivated from the first chapter.

3) A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett: I didn't want to talk to anyone as the story of Amanda and Nigel's Somalia kidnapping unfolded.  I cried, I cheered, I felt anxious and sick for the day and a half this book held me hostage.  I have recommended this memoir to so many people since I read it because ultimately it is the story of survival through hope.  A huge thank you to Suzi at the NCTE Convention in Boston for recommending it to me.

4) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: I fell in love with this simple romance between two very unlikely romantic counterparts.  The freshness of the storyline set in the 1980s reminded me of a John Hughes film with big twists but without the drama.  I loved the title characters and their simple tale of falling love against all odds.

5) Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala: I love memoirs, and this one made me understand the devastation of the tragic tsunami along the Sri Lankan coast during the Christmas holiday travel season in 2004.  Deraniyagala's survival and devastation of losing her entire family and trying to make sense of it touched my soul and made me appreciate the value of each moment I am lucky enough to have with my family.

6) Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller: In this memoir Miller bared her dirty, big secrets of growing up with parents who were both hoarders.  She retells her often bug infested and trash heaped past, but pays respect to her parents who loved her so much but couldn't come clean from their own hoarding sickness even if it meant giving her a "normal" upbringing.  Kimberly Rae Miller's bravery to tell this story needs to be recognized.

7) After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey: At first I wasn't so sure about this memoir where Hainey divulges his quest to find the truth of his father's mysterious death.  Because it was told in bits and pieces of interviews, clues, conversations, and recollections, my brain didn't latch on to the style at first, but as soon as he started to uncover more and more about his father's past, I was hooked on the unconventional telling and was breathless at the conclusion.

8) Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh: This graphic novel memoir compiled the best of Allie Brosh's award winning blog by the same name and presented new material.  I wasn't familiar with her blog before hearing her speak on NPR, but was compelled enough by her interview that I wanted to buy the book.  I laughed, I felt uncomfortable, and I thought of Allie as she cried during her interview as she recollected her darkest days as she dealt with the black cloud of depression.  The creativity of both the retelling of the stories and the illustrations kept me intrigued.

The Worst Books I Read of 2013:

1) Inferno by Dan Brown: I don't know what I expected.  I admit that I liked The Davinci Code, and because of that I read a few of Brown's other books.  BUT - I don't think I will ever read another one because this book was really, really awful.  I mean seriously bad.  Why? Ridiculous story lines, drab characters, formulaic writing, bad editing and eye roll worthy conflicts and resolutions.  My husband and I nicknamed this book (which we both slogged through and laughed about at certain spots) Dumbferno.

2) Allegiant by Veronica Roth: Okay. I know that every teenage girl who read this book and loved it will despise me for saying anything bad about the end of the Divergent Trilogy, but I am actually proud of myself for even attempting to read it after I struggled with Insurgent (the second book in the Trilogy).  Roth seemed to give up.  Tris got more and more unlikable, as did Four, and the story twists and turns felt forced and silly.  Roth's writing actually seemed to get worse with each book.  I actually cheered when I finished the book because it was OVER!

3) The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon: This much hyped book written by 21 year old Samantha Shannon was selected by The Today show as they launched an Oprah-esque book club series.  Shannon's futuristic London world was touted as the next J.K. Rowling success story with seven books slated in the series.  With movie rights already pending, the book should be incredible, right?  I found myself wanting it to be over and questioning whether or not I really enjoyed the story of the Clairvoyant hierarchy and the Rephiam conflict.  At the end I wasn't hungry for the second installment let alone six more.

4) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I still hear about this book and how incredible it was, but it only seemed REALLY, REALLY long to me.  I liked parts of it, but overall the drab and depressing story lines and the unlikable characters made me think that it was not so interesting to force myself through this one.  It could just be me, but I loved the idea of the book - a pack of friends form life long friendships at a camp for gifted kids.  The reality of the book did not intrigue me as much as the idea.

5) The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls: I'm so disappointed that Jeanette Walls is on my worst books of 2013, but I think that her book is here because I loved her memoir The Glass Castle and expected so much more out of her first attempt to write fiction.  Instead of loving this, I couldn't help but feel like she wanted it to be the new To Kill a Mockingbird and she started a great story with so much potential, but it fizzled so much by the end that it left me feeling empty.

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