The superlatives of an outstanding reading year

DAMN this was a good year for books. As I was scrolling through old posts trying to make a Best of 2013 list, I was astounded at the percentage of posts this year that were four or five stars. Now, I will say that as years go on, I have become ever less inclined to review books about which I felt neutral, but even so, 2013 was an incredible year for books. It was so good that I gave up on the Best of 2013 idea, which would have felt uncurated because it would have included almost everything I read this year, and decided instead to tailor my list of superlatives to the particular strengths of this year.

Best bookish thing that is not a book

To nobody’s surprise, Emma Approved. Are you watching it yet, or have you been holding off because you were burned by Welcome to Sanditon? If the latter, I’d like to take this opportunity to endorse Emma Approved with a full heart. Emma and Mr. Knightley have excellent chemistry; Sen. Elton is pleasingly personable but you can see how he will turn out to be secretly douchey; and as in most Emma adaptations, Harriet and Mr. Martin steal any scene they’re in together. This creative team is brilliant, and my wish is that they keep on doing video blog adaptations of 19th-century classics forever. The 19th century was a good time for Lit’rature. It’s not like they’d run out of ideas. Mainly I don’t want them to stop before they get around to Jane Eyre.

Best job by me of convincing my mother of an opinion of mine that she disagrees with and I have been trying to talk her around to my position for more than a decade now

This defense of Sirius Black. Mumsy still does not love him, but she conceded that I had a point, and that my point made her like him better than she used to. Hooray for me!

Most deserving of its hype

Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell. The blogosphere could not stop talking about Eleanor and Park this year. Y’all were not lying. This book is damn amazing. I wanted to read it again the minute I finished it. I cannot wait to own my own copy, which I will cherish and put a book plate in with my name in my fanciest handwriting.

Most deserving of how m.f. excited I was about it before it came out

More Than This, by Patrick Ness. I went into A Monster Calls with too-high expectations, and when More Than This started off so slowly, I became terribly anxious that I wouldn’t love it the way Patrick Ness’s books deserve to be loved. But it rallied with the introduction of two new-and-wonderful characters, and I ended up loving it. In particular I love it that Patrick Ness is not in a rut. More Than This is totally different to the Chaos Walking series, which is totally different to The Crane Wife (review forthcoming), which is totally different to A Monster Calls. I love him, and I am excited for whatever he wants to do next.

Lowest expectations for a book that ended up being pretty good actually

Shadows, by Robin McKinley. As I’ve mentioned before, I count a couple of Robin McKinley’s books among my favorite books in the world. But only a couple, and the rest of her books leave me feeling dissatisfied and bored. My expectations of Shadows were rock-bottom, and it turned out to be a really fun read.

Most wanted to be The Secret History and was angry and disappointed when it wasn’t

You thought I was going to say The Goldfinch, didn’t you? Ha, ha, you were wrong. The answer is, The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood. I did not like it. Why wasn’t it more like The Secret History? Why aren’t all books more like The Secret History? These are questions I cannot answer.

Loveliest surprise

You’ll be tired of me saying it, but Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. I didn’t expect not to like it, but I was surprised by how much I ended up liking it. A runner-up, because I did expect not to like it, was Kate Atkinson’s strange and wonderful Life after Life.

Saddest fictional death

Uncle Finn in Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rivka Brunt. That book wrecked me. Although it’s difficult to say in a year so packed with wonderful reads, I am going to go ahead and say that Tell the Wolves I’m Home was my best book of 2013. Eleanor and Park was awfully, awfully good, but I’m giving it to Tell the Wolves I’m Home by dint of the fact that it’s not getting quite as much play and thus needs me to love it extra.

Saddest real-life death

Elizabeth Peters, of course. I am crushed that Elizabeth Peters has died, and I regret that I never wrote her a letter to tell her how much enjoyment I got from her books over the years.

Made me feel the best about myself for enjoying it

HHhH, by Laurent Binet. I often struggle with books in translation, so I’m always thrilled — with the author and myself — to encounter a book in translation that I unreservedly love. HHhH is that kind of book. It is surprisingly lovely and sweet for a book about assassinating a Nazi officer.

Whack-a-doodlest book lent the most gravitas by its author’s serious, Southern-accented radio interviews

Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright – If you haven’t read this book about scientology yet, now’s a good time to read it. I think it would be fun to read over a vacation: lots of crazy parts that you can read out loud to your friends-and-relations, who can’t escape from you because y’all are on vacation.

Favorite term I coined myself like a genius

“Process dystopia” to describe the kind of book that shows the world all going to hell, instead of starting the book after the world has already gone to hell.

Coolest design

Obviously, Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. No contest, because I haven’t finished reading the JJ Abrams / Doug Dorst collaboration S yet.

Best execution of a tricky premise

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. This book! So good! Karen Joy Fowler does not invent a premise and coast on it. She follows through all the way. She commits. I loved the writing, I loved the jokes, and I loved the sadness. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves gets additional credit for reminding me to care about James Tiptree Jr., an author I now really like.

Jolliest good fun

Lexicon, by Max Barry. This was just fun. It was fun and fun and fun, and there are not enough books in this world that are just pure fun.

Lovablest book that did not appeal to me on paper

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Nothing about the synopsis for this book would have called to me, but fortunately I read part of it in a NetGalley excerpts package and fell in love with the narrative voice. I loved it, and I think it’s something special and particular, and I’m not just saying that because the ending is perfectly geared towards my sensibilities.

Best Harry Potter news

It’s a tie! It’s a tie between the news that JK Rowling is writing a movie about Newt Scamander and his escapades as a wizard naturalist in the early twentieth century, and the news that the UK is releasing beautiful new editions of the Harry Potter books illustrated by Jim Kay of A Monster Calls. Y’all, I miss Harry Potter.

Most merits its long long length

Again, not The Goldfinch! (I think that could have been edited down a bit.) This one goes to Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s great. I didn’t want it to end.

Author least afraid of going balls-to-the-wall crazy with plots

Laini Taylor! I am well excited for the third book in her Nouns of Substances and Atmospheric Nouns trilogy. She just goes all out with her storylines, and that is wonderful to me, as anyone who has ever heard me speak about The Vampire Diaries will know.

Best character

Boris, from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. There aren’t enough good things to say about Boris. If the book only consisted of passages with Boris in them, and had no other plot, it would be worth it just for that. I don’t remember the last time I encountered a character in a book that I enjoyed spending time with as much as Boris from The Goldfinch.

Insanest that I still haven’t finished reading it

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. I know I know I know I know. But here’s what’s up: I’m reading it to Social Sister. I’ll finish reading it when I finish reading it to Social Sister. That’s how we roll.

And that’s 2013, my friends! I’ll be away from blogging over the next couple of weeks to celebrate holidays with the family, and I wish you all happy holidays and a wonderful New Year. See you in January!

54 thoughts on “The superlatives of an outstanding reading year

  1. I like your categories. Very Emma Approved, I’m sure. (Also, if you like all these adaptations, have you seen the Autobiography of Jane Eyre? Stumbled across that one and it really is quite brilliant)

    A lot of books here I’ve been wanting to read. In fact, I just got A Tale for the Time Being from the library, and was considering how to fit it into my reading schedule or if I should try again later, but maybe I’ll give it a go this week…

    • I have heard of The Autobiography of Jane Eyre but don’t know anything about it. I think someone else also recommended it to me in the comments, so I’m going to have to check it out!

  2. “The Bellwether Revivals, by Benjamin Wood. I did not like it. Why wasn’t it more like The Secret History? Why aren’t all books more like The Secret History? These are questions I cannot answer.” DAMMIT. You know when books say ‘JUST LIKE THE SECRET HISTORY!’ on the cover and then you buy it and for some reason don’t quite read it and then someone else tells you it’s all LIES and you wish you hadn’t bothered? Yeah, that.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to go add to/boost up my wishlist. :P

    • Yeah, that. It’s a thing. I just had that experience AGAIN with this book by Ivo Stourton called The Night Climbers. I didn’t even finish it. I just got mad at it and gave up.

  3. It’s good to see your mention of HHhH – I LOVED that book! A Tale for the Time Being was also very good, but I actually liked the description of it in advance. I’m also a fan of ‘process dystopia’ – great phrase! I love seeing how scarily close we all are to meltdown :-) Is that weird?!

    • Hahaha, I hate seeing how scarily close we all are to meltdown, but at the same time I’m intrigued to see what authors think the meltdown would look like. I’m torn!

  4. This is awesome. You did have a really good reading year! I saw Lexicon on another best of list and knew I had to have it. I am sure there are others on this list I am going to want before long!

    • I really did! It’s also partly because so many amazing authors had new books out this year. It was a ridiculous year for new books by authors I love.

  5. YES YES to Eleanor & Park and “Emma Approved,” obviously. Lexicon is on my TBR list, so I’m glad to see that you liked it! And I am totally putting HHhH on my list as well now. I was a bit more disappointed in Shadows than you were, though…the thing is, I have LOVED so many of Robin McKinley’s older books, and I keep hoping to LOVE her new ones, and then I never do. :( But this is related to the fandom conversation in your earlier post; maybe I should just accept that McKinley is evolving in a direction that doesn’t resonate with me, and be thankful for the books of hers that I do love.

    • What about Sunshine? Did you like Sunshine?

      My relationship with Robin McKinley is a little different because I never liked her consistently. I loved Beauty, really liked Deerskin, and didn’t care about anything else of hers until Sunshine showed up. So with every book that comes out, I’m hopeful that I’ll love it, but I don’t actually expect to.

      • I did like Sunshine, even though I don’t really like vampire books. My favorite of hers is The Outlaws of Sherwood, which I read as a child and which basically became THE Robin Hood story for me. I reread it a couple years ago and still liked it a lot, although I doubt it would be one of my all-time favorites if I hadn’t fallen in love with it as a kid. I agree with you on Beauty and Deerskin as well.

    • I know! I know! I want to. I can’t right now because it’s somewhere in my millions of boxes of books, but once I get all unpacked I will finish reading it to my sister, for sure.

  6. Ah, I’m feeling behind in my reading now! I did so want to read Eleanor and Park, and Shadows, and HHhH! I’ve been reading practical books (fishkeeping) instead!

  7. Yesssss, Emma Approved is so great! I store up two or three episodes at a time so I can have mini-binges.

    I’m glad to hear SHADOWS is really fun, too. I generally either love Robin McKinley with all my soul or find her boring as all hell (sometimes multiple times within the space of a single book *cough*theheroandthecrown*cough*). You give me hope I’ll mostly enjoy this one.

    • Well, don’t go into Shadows with your expectations up. I expected nothing from it and then had space to be pleasantly surprised.

  8. There is a Jane Eyre webseries called The Autobiography of Jane Eyre and it is fantastic! I think I even like it better than Emma Approved.

  9. I love the idea of doing this kind of year-end best-of list! And your descriptions of many of them make me want to throw caution to the wind and run out to my nearest bookstore and read them. right. now. I may not be able to wait to get TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME.

    Also, I know I’m rather late to the party/bandwagon, but I just discovered THE LIZZIE BENNETT DIARIES this week and devoured them all. I watched a couple of the EMMA APPROVED episodes, but had to take a break because I was just mostly disappointed it wasn’t more Lizzie. I’ll come back to it though.

    • Oh God, isn’t Lizzie Bennet Diaries wonderful? Isn’t it the absolute best? I loved it so much — it’s easy to stay up all night watching it because you keep telling yourself “The episodes are short, they’re only five minutes, I’ll just watch one more.” :p

      You SHOULD get Tell the Wolves I’m Home — although, maybe wait until after Christmas? And see if you get any bookstore gift cards for Christmas? That’s what I’m doing.

  10. I like your bookish roundup. And your Sirius defense is the best. I already loved Sirius but you made so many good points to use against those that have yet to realize how great he is.

  11. Curse you for getting me addicted to Emma Approved, CURSE YOU AND YOUR HOUSE. Not really, I enjoy your blog too much for it to be cursed. I am going to catch up with the whole thing over my Christmas break.

    I can’t stand Sirius Black, I don’t know if it’s for the same reasons as your mum, but he is possible one of my least favourite HP characters, at times he even dips below Voldemort… Voldemort! *reads blog you linked to which your mum conceded you had a point* Nope, still don’t like him, I didn’t much adore Harry either. It’s not even that I dislike him because he is good, or that he antagonises Snape, it’s something more, something deeper. If he actually existed as a person I would probably love him.

    I’ve only read one of the books you’ve listed, but many of them sound interesting so onto the to-read pile they will go! Looking forward to seeing what you read in 2014.

    • YOU ARE WELCOME. It is MY PLEASURE to introduce many people to the wonders of Emma Approved. You’ve seen Lizzie Bennet Diaries, right? Because, um, if not, you should get on that, and there will go your entire Christmas break basically. :p

      Ah, well, if you don’t care about Harry, then I have nothing with which to convince you that Sirius is a good guy. That’s okay. Not everyone likes the same thing.

  12. Well, I am a little overwhelmed because I have only read a FEW of the books that made your list of superlatives for 2013 and this obviously means that I have much catching up to do.

    I too liked Tell the Wolves I’m Home. A lot. I thought it was a 2012 read, though? I thought you had reviewed it in 2012 and then I got it in 2012 from the library to read but I must be off somehow because I definitely read it on your recommendation. I loved the cover art for that one, too. So pretty!

    I can see now that I must give Emma Approved another try. I watched the first 5 or 6 episodes, I think and just was NOT feeling it but if it is so beloved, then I must try again!

    • Oo, did I? I don’t think I asked for it for Christmas in 2012, though, and I would have if I’d read it then. So I think it’s a 2013 read, even if it wasn’t actually published in 2013.

      Yes, give it another try! I’ve become more fond of it. Emma’s always a tricky character, and I think the actress playing her has settled into the character really nicely; ditto Mr. Knightley.

  13. Just might have to set this post as my 2014 reading list. Sigh.

    I really enjoy your posts. My wish for you is much joy and love and laughter and reading of excellent books in 2014. The wish for me is that I figure out how to listen to podcasts. (it’s technical; automobilitive-related…) oh! and that you read If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

    • Aw, I wish you joy and love and laughter and good books too, Care! For every year!

      I SHALL read If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler this year. It is GOING TO HAPPEN.

  14. Happy, happy Christmas dear Jenny! I adore this list and your wonderful categories (you are the unrivalled Queen of Categorisation) and there’s so much on here that I must read/want to read/need to find the time to read. Particularly, A Tale for the Time Being (because I own a copy already), Lexicon by Barry and We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Such interesting and unusual books you picked!

  15. What a wonderful list. I must read Tell the Wolves and the Rainbow Rowell – I have both – Yay! I disliked HHhH, but you can’t win them all. Merry Christmas (belatedly).

    • Yay! I hope you like Rowell and Tell the Wolves — I, of course, was mad about both. They are extremely easy to love (whereas HHhH I think has some barriers to entry that would put some people completely off as being too cutesy and/or pretentious).

  16. I’ve only read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but I did love how she wasn’t afraid to just have insanely dramatic things happen. Some YA fantasy authors just drag and drag their plots (Beautiful Creatures I’m looking at you.) Thanks for reminding me about Emma Approved too!

    • Hahaha, I haven’t read Beautiful Creatures, although I watched the movie over Christmas break while finishing up the pillow I was cross-stitching for my brother-in-law. It was fine. Didn’t engender any great desire in me to read the books.

  17. Now that you’re home we can read “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” I have resisted valiantly so that we can read it together!

  18. I want to read every book on this list. Seriously!

    I’m really enjoying Emma Approved too. I think she and Knightley are just adorbs (to quote Lydia B.), and I loved what they did with Elton. Now I just need to actually read Jane Austen (hangs head in shame).

  19. You’re adding more books to my tbr list! I love fairy tales of all kinds, so The Crane Wife is already on my reading list. I hope 2014 is a fantastic year (reading and otherwise) for you.

  20. It’s like your 2013 reading year was the year I SHOULD have had! These are all books that I wanted to read, but didn’t get to. The Goldfinch is going to be top on my list for 2014, I’ll probably start reading it after I finish Vampire Academy.Tell the Wolves I’m Home is another one that I bought this past year and I can’t wait to read. Happy New Year!!!

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  22. Thank you, Jenny, for the rip-roaring fun of tearing through Laini Taylor’s books! About to move Tell the Wolves I’m Home up the TBR list. It’s only April. May. Still lots of 2014 left to get through the best of 2013….

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