Thursday, November 28, 2013

Annual Favorite Books

Top Ten Reads of 2013

“It’s not the word made flesh we want in writing, in poetry and fiction, but the flesh made word”  ― William H. Gass

My list of favorite books read in 2013 includes many more than these books. But I thought I would try to limit the list to the top twelve (I couldn't stop at ten) that I read last year. So here they are in no particular order:

Auto da Fe by Elias Canetti
This is a stunning modern novel about obsession and the madness of the twentieth century.  The nightmares of Peter Kien, the "Book Man", are those of the world he lives in and by which he is blinded.

Rules of Civility  by Amor Towles
A young woman on the way up meets a man who seems to be near the pinnacle for it's his birthright and only her aspiration. Amor Towles scintillating first novel encompasses this simple story arc and much more as it reveals the penultimate year of the thirties as it was for the young and restless in Manhattan.

East of Eden  by John Steinbeck 
This sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.  A philosophical allegory of good and evil.

The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
A trilogy of plays about the birth of the Russian Intelligentsia in the nineteenth century.  The story spans from Moscow to Paris to England with characters as diverse as Alexander Herzen, Michael Bakunin, Vissarion Belinsky, and Ivan Turgenev.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
His amazing stories only hint at some of the myriad emotions and strange occurrences of men and women in settings as disparate as Salem Massachusetts and Padua Italy.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
With "The Woman in White" Wilkie Collins added the element of sensationalism to the mystery.  He develops the story through multiple layers from a variety of narrators. Each tells a story filled with both appealing characters and equalling unappealing villains.

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter
This is a novel redolent of expressive moments. From the French countryside which one meets on the first page to the game of love played by the young duo - Philip Dean, the American, and Anne Marie, the French girl: 'la belle elle' - the reader is presented a world of existential transport. 

An Equal Music  by Vikram Seth
This is a beautiful love story and it is a musical tale.  Both fascinating and a deeply moving narrative that this reader found difficult to set aside.

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
In 1853 Melville submits his first story that can be considered not only great but even amazing; this is Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. The story amazes in many ways and on many levels, as do his other stories.

The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
The Tin Drum uses savage comedy and a stiff dose of magical realism to capture not only the madness of war, but also the black cancer at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur.

The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery by George Johnson

The author is eloquent both in his telling analysis of the disease and in his personal memoir; he demonstrates an ability to convey scientific concepts lucidly enough for the layman to understand. These characteristics and the fascination that the author shares for scientific discovery make this a great book full of insights into the deep mysteries of some of the most complex areas of modern medicine. 

Sartoris (Flags in the Dust) by William Faulkner
Sartoris is the first novel Faulkner located in Yoknapatawpha County where he would go on to set fourteen more novels. In it he introduces the Sartoris family but the Snopes are also present in this early novel. He began to find his own voice in this novel.


Amy said...

So much on this list that I'd really like to read this year. I've got my eyes open to Steinbeck now, and am willing to try anything of his. And I've recently acquired a book of Hawthorne's stories. I've also had The Tin Drum in the back of my head for years--can't decide whether to go for it or not, as I'm always interested in the Nazi period, but am not much of a fan of magical realism. And The Woman in White is a wonderful old favorite.

James said...

Amy, Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the list. Go for the Hawthorne - his stories are unique.

Brian Joseph said...

Great list. Though I have only read East of Eden I would like to read many of these works.

I sometimes think about putting up a similar list but then I think that I really do not finish enough books in a year to make it work. Perhaps I will do a lifetime favorite list!

James said...

Brian, Thanks for your thoughts about these books - they are all great reads. Back in the summer of 2012 I posted a list of my ten favorite books since I started this blog. I would love to see your list of favorites like that.