Once again, I’m flipping through the pages of my book journal to see which books I thought were the best…which means this is my highly personal, highly unscientific take: sometimes I loved a book that may not be a work of “art.” Many times those books may not have been published in the current year. The only rule is that I have to have read them in 2013. Also, I try to avoid putting books by friends on my list, though on occasion I also allow myself to break that rule every now and then. So, in order only of when I read them throughout the year, here goes:
1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: A bestseller that is hardly a book that needs my endorsement, but I’ll say that I consumed this in about 24 hours, wondering how on earth the author could write to an ending…and totally impressed that she did.
2. With Robert Lowell and His Circle by Kathleen Spivack: The best literary gossip about an amazingly talented group of people in a most creative time and space, 1950-60s Boston…this book sent me down a remarkable Robert Lowell rabbit hole that I may never emerge from.
3. Serena by Ron Rash: Another popular book that hardly needs my accolades but just SO compelling and beautifully written. I can’t love Serena, but I sure was fascinated by/terrified of her.
4. The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A reread, and my exact words from my book journal: “I was worried, but yes—these stories still make my heart ache.” A down-on-his-luck Hollywood hack still tries to believe he’s someone of relevance…just like Scott himself, I imagine.
5. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion: Another reread. How does she get away with writing episodically about an emotionally numb character who’s not entirely sympathetic? Oh, of course: because she’s Joan Didion.
6. The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford: A lovely pathway of the Robert Lowell rabbit hole, discovering this novel by one of his wives…I’m so angry that the book has been forgotten and that Jean Stafford is basically a footnote. Wit, sarcasm, darkness, secrecy…sign me up for more of Stafford’s work!
7. Deliverance by James Dickey: A reread, which sent me back to the movie (also brilliant). A nail-biter even knowing the outcome, and a dark, dark, dark book from which no one emerges unscathed. I recommend reading it while alone in a cabin in the same Georgia mountains where the book takes place!
8. Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell: Smart writing that cracks like a whip and leaves you feeling uncomfortable. These stories burrow into the souls of girls and women and spills their secrets.
9. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor: A reread. And if I had to pick one book that shaped my writing/mind during this year, it would be these stories, especially when combined with the experience of being in Georgia while reading them and visiting O’Connor’s house and town. Dark, funny, true, hard…these stories chill me to the marrow.
10. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: Totally immersive and addictive, with memorable characters and richly evoked settings—and lots and lots of plot! A big book in the best meaning of the word. Set aside your life for a few days and dig in!