Thus far, 2013 has been an excellent literary year for me. I launched Typographical Era with Aaron Westerman, finished my Master’s Degree in Information Sciences, and got a job in my local public library system. But on top of all that, I’ve also managed to read some really amazing books in the last 6 months.
As Aaron said in his Best of the First Half of 2013 post, readers love nothing more than literary lists (and a good book of course), and I am no exception. When I’m not reading, reviewing, or painting my nails, I spend a great deal of time devouring lists. From topical/subject-focused lists to upcoming release directories, these mini-catalogs are a great way to reach out to all reader niches in a timely and effective manner.
So before I get too far down the list loving rabbit hole, here is a brief register of the best books of 2013 according to me:
This book has developed quite a reputation in the literary community. As a Dutch translation, The Dinner has been highly anticipated by English readers for a long time, and let me tell you, it was totally worth the wait. Told over the many courses of a single meal between brothers and their wives, Herman Koch winds up the tension like spaghetti on a fork. The couples are meeting to discuss a very horrific and cruel act that their children committed together, but neither set of parents can agree on how the situation should be handled and whether or not the children should be punished. The premise may sound a bit bland, but by the second chapter, you’ll surely feel the spice and heat of Koch’s storytelling abilities, and you will definitely want seconds.
Longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, I’m still a little upset that Ned Beauman’s bizarre and hilarious novel didn’t make it to the shortlist. The Teleportation Accident follows the life of Egon Loeser as he navigates the German wartime party scene. There’s plenty of drugs and booze, but Loeser just wants to have sex with the girl of his dreams – Ms. Adele Hitler (no relation). But before he can make his move, Adele disappears, and then Loeser must travel through Europe and America searching for his elusive lady. Oh and on the side, Beauman introduces plot elements concerning art history, literature, politics, sociology, sexuality, travel, and a mysterious rumor of teleportation. As Loeser pursues Adele and teleportation, readers are highly entertained with Beauman’s sharp wit and hilarious sarcasm. This book is an absolute mess, but Ned Beauman’s writing obviously thrives on chaos, and by the end, it all somehow makes perfect sense.
For me, it’s been an amazing year for short stories, and it all started when I read Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge back in February. I was immediately mesmerized by Ogawa’s dark and haunting prose, and after a few chapters, I realized that each story is delicately connected. By the end, you’re left with a giant web of WTF, and then you will probably have nightmares. The thing about Revenge is that the horror and creepiness is sometimes so slow and subtle that you don’t even realize you are terrified and disturbed until you lay down to sleep and close your eyes – and Ogawa’s intense imagery floods you imagination. This book definitely hijacked my brain for a little while, making for one of the most vivid and physical literary experiences I’ve ever encountered.
Alissa Nutting is probably my new favorite contemporary author, and I cannot wait to see all the amazing things she publishes over the coming years. Tampa is told from the perspective of Celeste Price a female pedophile who works as a middle school teacher in order to facilitate her sexual desires and fantasies concerning young boys. Nutting is incredibly brave and assertive to tackle such a taboo subject, and she does so with such wit and brilliance that you may find yourself to be a devoted fan rather than a disgruntled and offended reader. And I’m sure Nutting will be highly criticized for writing about a controversial topic with such graphic sexual imagery, but from my perspective, Alissa Nutting is a literary tour de force, and Tampa is a cornerstone novel that you do not want to miss.
A struggling writer (loosely based on the author, himself) fakes his own death in the face of failure, but the act unknowingly launches him into fame and fortune. Unfortunately, he can’t exactly reap any of the rewards being presumed dead and all. And even more unfortunately, the love of his life, Emma, also thinks he’s dead. When Ron can’t take it anymore, he reveals to the public that he is indeed alive, and what follows is a personal and legal journey to discover the truths, lies, and perceptions of love, relationships, grief, and power. At times both heartbreaking and hilarious, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles should not be overlooked. Ron Currie, Jr has mastered the art of prose, and his wise and profound musings establish Currie as a highly talented and extremely skilled literary presence.
The Death of Bees introduces two very memorable and unique character voices. Sisters Marnie and Nellie are far from adulthood, but they are forced to deal with some very mature situations. When their abusive, neglectful parents suddenly die, the girls bury them in the backyard, terrified that if the local authorities find out that they are orphaned, they will be split up by the foster care system. And with their incredibly low social status and local reputations, Marnie and Nellie expect no help from their “friends” or neighbors. But their elderly neighbor, Lennie, notices that the girls appear to be alone and struggling, so despite his legal status as a sex offender, Lennie does his best to care for the sisters. As the mystery of their parents’ death slowly comes to light and the girls appear to be sinking further and further into trouble, the story takes some sharply unexpected turns but never deviates from being a humorously woeful and quirky narrative. While the subject matter is indeed troubling, the character development is strong, and the themes of family, resilience, and grief make The Death of Bees an unforgettable and fast-paced tale.