top 10 books I read in 2013

top 10 books

I’m on track to read 29 books this year. Maybe a few more if I can sneak them in before the clock strikes 12. Not a huge amount–I do have a day job, which is coincidentally also reading–but I’ll take it. My top 10 favorite books this year, in no particular order, are:

Written by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga was the first comic book I’ve read, and, man, was it a great introduction. The characters are sharp and funny, the art is gorgeous and modern, and the story focuses on relationships–that just happen to be during a war in space. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try out graphic novels but isn’t sure of making the jump. It convinced me to dive into the medium, and I’m so glad it did…  [see saga related posts here]

The Sandman  
…because then I picked up Sandman. Neil Gaiman’s epic is a tremendously fun journey that I’m still reading–two volumes left to go. It’s not too late to pick this up. In fact, now might be a great time to get started because there are reports Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to make it into a movie.  [see sandman related posts here]

Where’d You Go Bernadette (Kindle here)
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple was a delight. It’s a funny, touching look at a family’s relationship with a struggling woman who disappears for a while–like I’m sure we’d all like to sometimes. It’s a compilation of (fictional) letters and documents that Bernadette’s daughter puts together to try to track her down, but it reads like a charming story from beginning to end.  [see bernadette related posts here]

The Gift of Fear (Kindle here)
I recommend this book to everyone. It is a brilliant read and it helps me understand and feel better about fears that I and most women (and men!) face every day. Each chapter showed me new ways to look at fears, process them, and live safer. It focuses on women’s safety but can be helpful for anyone–it has chapters on the workplace and schools, as well as regular scary places like parking garages. Gavin De Becker also shines a light on men’s actions that can be scary without them realizing it, which can promote more understanding and safer lives for everyone. Seriously, read this book.

Boy’s Life (Kindle here)
Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon, was possibly the best book I read this year. (But…so is this whole list.) It encapsulates feelings and the imagination of childhood and could connect with even the most hardened adult. I live as a grown up in a big city now, but reading about Cory’s life in a small southern town still resonates.  [see boy’s life related posts here]

The Revolution was Televised (Kindle here)
I have loved getting more into television. I am devouring show after show–most recently Orphan Black–and Alan Sepinwall’s book on some of the best shows from the past decade (or so) was excellent. Even for the shows I haven’t seen, hearing his analysis gave me a fuller picture of the medium and more appreciation for the storytelling that I am able to watch. He is passionate about the subject, and hearing his views on show after show was like talking to my friends about great shows I just saw–and that’s one of my favorite parts of watching TV.

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, and Joyland was not as scary as the thrillers he is usually known for. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less quality. To me, Joyland was a perfect summer read about a young man’s summer love–with an amusement park. It has enough love and mystery to keep things interesting, but it’s not too scary or saccharine.

Never Let Me Go (Kindle here)
This novel, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is technically about a strange boarding school and a twisted reality I’m thankful we don’t live in. But it’s more about basic humanity than almost anything else I’ve read this year. This book touches on what makes us human and the importance of basic decency, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Its first-person narration was easy to read and felt so real and true to the young woman Kathy C. that I was shocked to remember it was written by a man.  [see never let me go related posts here]

Under the Dome (Kindle here)
Stephen King again. And a story about a small town again, like Boy’s Life, but this time in the Northeast. Although King often uses scary monsters in his books, the true horrors are what we face in real life: jealousy, anger, substance abuse, insecurity, power. These terrors can take hold of anyone, and they invade a small town that finds itself trapped under a dome.  [see under the dome related posts here]

Salvage the Bones (Kindle here)
Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward, was not what I was expecting. I heard this was a book about Hurricane Katrina, but the hurricane doesn’t make an appearance until the memorable closing scenes. This story follows a poor family as it prepares for a storm no one could prepare for while Esch, the only girl in the family with three brothers, faces a storm of her own. It’s touching and heartbreaking, and though they live a life very different from my own, Esch’s emotions are all recognizable.

(These books are my own choices, and I’m not paid for them. I am part of the Amazon affiliate program, so if you buy through my links I’ll receive a teeny bit of money for it.)

never let me go

never let me go by kazuo ishiguro

(The, um, situation that Kathy and her friends are in is slowly and smartly revealed throughout the book. The reader is a bit in the dark, just as Kathy was herself. I had no idea what this book was about before I read it, and I truly enjoyed going in blind. It’s several years old, so I expect most of you know what makes Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth different. But if you don’t know and don’t want to be spoiled, go read it and then come back and read this post because I talk about it up front right away.)

Just be yourself.

Such simple, honest advice. It’s easier said than done, but being honest with yourself and true to who you are is one cliche we all should want to follow.

But for Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go, being herself also meant being another person. Because Kathy, the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ghostly beautiful novel, was a clone made for the sole purpose of growing organs to donate to people who needed them.

Kathy was created to give body parts to humans.

Let’s try that again: Kathy, a young girl in love, was forced to have operations until she died so that other people–people who she never met, who were deciding her life–could live instead of her.

The worst horror in this book wasn’t about clones. It was about how people could treat other people as less than human. As a separate species, like a lab rat. That slow despair creeps in like poison fog* until you can’t feel anything else. And when it existed, hope–hope for a different destiny, hope to find out where you came from, hope your life means anything at all–was almost as cruel.

Our story starts when we meet a grown-up Kathy reminiscing about her time at a boarding school, Hailsham. She tells stories of her friends, Ruth and Tommy, that could be anyone’s stories while they are away at school.

But something is a little off. No one ever mentions parents or siblings. No one seems to have a last name. No one has any money, and no one ever seems to leave school grounds.

But the kids there are like any other kids. They fight and gossip and play. Ishiguro does an incredible job getting into the minds of young girls. I recognized myself and my friends–and sometimes people I didn’t like. He captured the insecurity of growing up, and what it’s like to fight with a close friend. Kathy can see Ruth’s hope, fears, and passive aggression as well or better than her own. And when they get older, they grow and learn, and try to fit in just as we do.

Except I imagine it’s much harder to feel comfortable with yourself when you have no family and no history. I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to not have anyone to help ground you, and I couldn’t. To have no idea where you came from or why. No one to care where you end up. And not even the knowledge that you were born because two people somewhere out there came together–if only one time, to make you.

So it’s no surprise, really, that the students at Hailsham became obsessed with finding their “originals.” This story is full of jargon to make it easier to swallow the horrors of this life: “donations” were operations to give organs, “completion” was dying from these procedures, “donors” were the people undergoing operations. But searching for your “original,” the person you were created from, is the scariest one of all. Can you imagine not being the original you?

Favorite character: Kathy, I think. Tommy was sweet but broke my heart so much I can’t think of him without cringing.

Subtly saddest line: “It would have made a nice spot in the summer for an ordinary family to sit and eat a picnic.”

Would I recommend it: Yes! Go read it right now and let’s talk about it.

Movie?: Yes! And I watched it right after I finished the book. It was also quite good, and I just really like Carey Mulligan.

New obsession: I guess I’m into clone stories now. I read this, immediately watched the movie, and I just started watching Orphan Black on TV, which also has to do with clones. Except they call them “genetic identicals,” which I like. Are clones the new vampires? You decide. (No, probably not.)

*I saw Catching Fire last week. It was good!

(I bought this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. But I am a part of the Amazon affiliate’s program, so if you buy through my links I’ll make a little bit of money off of it.)