My reading list, 2013

by Jessie K on January 3, 2014

I try to read something at all times but this year was a wash out. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, my brain glazed over and all I could handle was thumbing through magazines like Country Living or House Beautiful.

2013: The year of serious home decor porn.

But here are the books I managed to get through this year, in the order I read them.

Call of the Wild, Jack London – My copy is from the 40s — the pages are all yellowed and ripped and spine is broken, the font is old fashioned. It’s the best way to enjoy this classic animal adventure.

Oryx & Crake, Margaret Atwood – A dystopian tale selected by my book club that I found not all that original plot-wise but the way it’s structured — lots of back and forth in time and told from different perspectives — makes it feel fresh and exciting. I really enjoyed it.

Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood –  The follow up to Oryx & Crake. I didn’t like it nearly as much. This was more like an obligation read for my book club.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski – Probably my least favorite book of the year about a mute boy and his dogs on a midwest farm whose parents die (or were they murdered?). It was recommended to me by a casual friend who knew I was trying to write a dog book and said this one was a stand out in the genre (it was an Oprah select). The plot itself is engaging but I found the writing way too ground down with meaningless descriptions of things like the gently beading condensation in a window or the softly creaking kitchen chair.  Argh. I found myself flipping through large chunks just trying to stick with the action. I ended up setting it aside not even half way through so I don’t know how it ends.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egen — I assumed I wouldn’t like this book by the description on the back — a collection of loosely related short stories about the ravages of time, but Egen is such a fast, strong writer I was totally hooked after the first chapter (the best one in the book, as far as I’m concerned).

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg — a classic about the craft of writing written in an era before computers so there’s a lot of “grab your notebook and your number two pencil and record your dreams…”

Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel — this won the Booker Prize so everyone in my book club assumed we’d like it, but we were all like, “Huh?” And the ladies in my book club are robust, meaty readers. A 50 Shades of Grey crowd, it’s not. I personally found the writing  hard to follow and her use of pronouns confusing. Every male in the book is regarded as “he” or “him” so you have no clue who she’s talking about…which, as we found out later, was Mantel’s intention. A device that served no purpose beyond reader aggravation.

You Know When the Men are Gone, Siobhan Fallon — a reread about life on a military base. She’s a great writer.

Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, Melissa Francis  — a fun, beachy read from a Fox News anchor about her emotionally abusive stage mom from hell.

The Sunshine When She’s Gone, Thea Goodman — I should have waited to read this one for now when I’m home alone with Katie. It’s about the early days of new parenthood and the prickly, sometimes crazy effects it can have on a marriage.

The Rules of Civility, Amor Towles — my favorite book of the year. I loved this book! LOVED IT! I loved the plot, the heroine, the setting. It’s a coming of age tale set in 1930s Manhattan and the heroine is a woman after my own heart.  Funny to think she’s the creation of a man. Click the link to read a review and definitely pick up a copy. (I hear it’s going to be a movie!)


Sweet Tooth, Ian McCewan — NPR’s Maureen Corrigan found the novel cynical and nasty with a “tenderized disdain for female readers.” (Click the link to read her review.) I didn’t take it that way. I found his heroine Serena Frome believable and vulnerable; true to life. Did you read it? What did you think?

This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz — I felt compelled to read this after hearing Diaz on NPR. I really liked him so naturally I liked his Pulitzer winning book.

How Children Succeed, Paul Tough — A bestseller Jake brought home about the importance of letting kids make their own mistakes, even fail, in order to help them build resilience and succeed. The reporting got a little pedantic at time — some chapters read like a collection of dry academic studies — but I  agree with the thesis.

The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson — I was really pregnant when I tried to tackle this story about life in North Korea, but I couldn’t get through it! I had serious brain freeze. I might try again in a few months….or years.

What about you? What books did you read this year? Or was it a House Beautiful year for you too?

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