2013: It’s a Wrap

2013 draws to an end. This post, featuring my best of 2013, has existed in draft form for a couple of months now while I chewed over my choices. And here’s the final list–the best of the books I read:

Best non-fiction:

Diary of a Man in Despair  by Friedrich Reck. This German book is an extraordinary document. The author, a member of the German elite, a conservative Prussian landowner, was appalled by the Nazis, and he says it all here, writing in a diary which he kept hidden by burying it. He was in the same room with Hitler on a few occasions and regretted not killing him when he had a chance. Reck also made some uncanny predictions, but even he, in spite of the fact he seemed to understand the Nazis, was ultimately blindsided by their venom. He died in Dachau in 1945. This was my non-fiction read of 2013

Best German fiction:

Transit by Anna Seghers. Another German book on the subject of WWII. This is a fictional story of a POW who first escapes from a concentration camp, and then escapes from a work camp and finally makes it to Marseille where he assumes the identity of a dead writer, hoping to get the necessary funds and papers to leave Marseille. Transit is a marvel of intense pacing and desperation.

Best French Fiction:

Climates by André Maurois. A wonderful book that charts two very different relationships. Maurois is another great find for 2013. I loved this book and its descriptions of two very different relationships. Climates says a great deal about what we need in relationships and sometimes what we need just isn’t good for us….

Best 19th Century Fiction:

The Odd Women by George Gissing. My respect for this author increases with every Gissing book I read. This is a story of feminists, a couple of women who run a school to train genteel young women for adequate employment. The feminist ideals of both of the women who run the school, Rhoda and Miss Barfoot, are tested in different ways. Also woven into the story is the fate of the Madden girls, sisters who struggle to survive in a world in which women hope to keep afloat through marriage. Gissing has made my Best-of lists now for 2 years straight. Will he make it for a third?

Best re-read:

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham. This was re-read for me, and I loved this novel just as much this time around. Maugham is, and always will be, a great favourite. This is the story of a husband, father and office worker, who tosses his life aside and in middle age, decides to pursue an artist’s life. Inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin.

I wanted to stick with categories, but these are all British:

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban. Hoban is another discovery of 2013, and he wrote a good number of novels, so I’ve some catching up to do. Turtle Diary is a wonderful novel–the story of animal and human liberation, and guess what, as it turns out the two are tied together. As a “turtle freak,” I wallowed in the images of the turtles endlessly swimming in their small tanks and two people becoming some concerned, so morally involved with these giant sea turtles, that they decide to do something about it.

My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes. A classic tale of Hollywood. This is the story of a married screenwriter who becomes involved with an unstable actress. Some people you just can’t step away from fast enough…

A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam. Looking over my choices for the year, this one stands out as quite different. I’m a long-time Gardam fan and have read most, not all, of her books. I tend to steer away from child/adolescent narrators so it’s telling for me to say that I loved this book, and that Gardam’s narrator, a 13 year old girl was witty, refreshing, and so non-conformist, I hope she never changes.

Great Granny Webster a largely autobiographical book by Caroline Blackwood. This is a wicked little book, recommended by commenter, Leroy (eternally grateful). This is essentially a search for identity through rifling through the stories of one’s immediate family. The young narrator is sent to live with her dour Great Granny Webster, and gradually the narrator pieces together family history, including a ramshackle Anglo-Irish estate, and all the pieces come together to make sense.

Best Debut Fiction:

A is for Angelica by Iain Broome. With its clever structure and unusual narrator, this debut novel swerved in an unexpected direction and took me by surprise

Now to crime….

Best American Noir:

River Girl by Charles Williams. I’ve read a number of novels by Charles Williams now, loved ‘em all, but this one, River Girl, is going to be hard to top. This is the story of a corrupt small town deputy who falls in love with a mystery woman and then comes up with a plan to dump his old life and run off into the sunset….Sheer brilliance here.

Best British Noir:

Kiss The Blood Off My Hands by Gerald Butler. This is the story of a rather unpleasant character who finds redemption through love. No, it’s not soppy; it’s dark, desperate and harsh. OOP.

You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Richard Hallas (Eric Knight). Who would have thought that the mind that wrote Lassie could have written this dark story….

Well there you have it. Most of my choices are very dark. No surprise there I suppose. But one thing I noted as I looked over my choices: there are no less than 5 books from NYRB.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “2013: It’s a Wrap

  1. On your recommendation, I’ve read the first two on this list and I absolutely endorse your choice. Among my choices of best read this year I’d probably include something else you pointed out to me: the Duane Swierczynski trilogy, which I loved. And now I’ll be reading the Gerald Butler…

  2. PS I’ve been a Gardam fan for years.

  3. Thanks Charles. I can’t find out much about Gerald Butler, and his books are not easy to find. This one seems to be an easier title to dig up.

  4. Oh! the cute turtle is gone!
    I have read the Maugham and the Gissing and I loved them both.
    I should read the Maurois. He’s out of fashion but I’m curious.
    Looking forward to your 2014 reading year.

    • She’s back by popular demand. I think you would like Climates a lot. I have a few more of his books her, and I know that I’ll enjoy reading them. Climates is, I think, a very sophisticated look at relationships.

  5. Jonathan

    A good reading year then. Has your Balzac project progressed to-plan in 2013?
    I really must read some Gissing.
    For me, early 2013 was dominated by Zola and mid-year by Ulysses.
    Are you still looking forward to Proust in 2014?
    I liked the turtle/tortoise as well!

    • Yes, I am still looking forward to Proust. I didn’t read as much of Balzac as I intended, but he’s so prolific, I can’t really get too excited about it. There are times when I’m ready for Balzac., and then I pick up a story. It’s different from the Zola project which was ‘just’ 20 novels. This seems more long-term.

  6. leroyhunter

    Always good to see what makes the cut. Hayes, Reck, Seghers (and Kastner) are all jostling for attention on my shelves. My crime reading is series-dominated just now (Parker, Archer, Simenon, George V Higgins) but there’s a lot on your list to branch out to.

    A late-year highlight for me was another exploration of identity in family (and another NYRB) – Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker. I have a feeling this is one you’ll also enjoy.

    • Thanks for the tip to the Baker novel–I happen to own it already since it’s a NYRB edition, and I tend to take chances with this publisher (and less screening). Happy New Year to you.

  7. I’ve got My Face for the Wolrd to See and would really like to read Gardam and the Maurois. I^That’s one I haven’t read.

  8. I think you would like them all Caroline–even though they re all quite different

  9. I’ve not read any of your choices so am off to look some up – but I have read and loved other titles by Jane Gardam and Russell Hoban. Happy New Year!

  10. Almost every book on your list is either sitting waiting for me at home or already on a to buy list. I may not always comment quickly, but I do follow closely. You’ve had a good reading year Guy.

    Almost every. The Broome I’d missed. I’m off to read your review now.

    Great list as ever Guy.

  11. Thanks Max. I’ve had some duds this year, and it’s been enough of a problem that I’ve had to make some strategic changes.

  12. Is that because of accepting review copies, or something else? It sounds an interesting blog post in its own right to be honest.

    • I have too many review copies. Some of that is my fault. I am going to be pickier about what I request and also feel no obligation for unsolicited manuscripts. I still plan to review copies from the publisher–just look at my 2013 best-of-list and you’ll see there are a number of review copies that made the list.

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