After taking a break from my Top 10 Books list last year, I'm returning with a list of my favorite books that I read in 2013. I had this idea in mind that once I had kids, I was never going to have time to pick up a book again, but happily, I found that not to be the case, and I managed to keep up very near pre-parenthood reading levels.
Unfortunately, I didn't make the time to keep my reading list here updated, so there's absolutely no way I can remember all of the books I read. The good news is that I read quite a few books on e-reading devices, so I do have at least a partial list! I've also started including the Amazon rating, to give a less specifically personal opinion of the book.
So, without further blathering on, my top 10 books of 2013, in no particular order:
1) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot (Amazon rating 4.5 stars)
It took me much longer than it should have to pick up this book, but I kept being put off by the fact that it's nonfiction, and typically I'm more of a fiction lover. What a mistake. This book traces the history of HeLa, a rapidly multiplying cell used in cancer research, back to an African American woman in the 40s, Henrietta Lacks. The cells were harvested from her cancerous cervix and stored for use without her consent, and now are one of the most used cells in scientific research. But more than that, the book is about Henrietta's family and the mystery of her cells and how the author finds herself tangled up in their lives in a way that went far beyond the writing of a book.
2) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky (Amazon rating 4.5 stars)
Anyone who has ever charted the turbulent waters of teenhood will find something to relate to in the protagonist, Charlie, as he embarks on his freshman year of high school. Bonus points if you've ever felt like you're on the outside looking in, loved someone you probably shouldn't, or struggled with depression. This reminded me a little bit of The Catcher in the Rye, but with Charlie being about 100 times more charming than Holden. I don't always love books about teenagers, but when I do, I love this one.
3) The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (Amazon rating 4.2 stars)
This book is pretty long, but it absolutely flies. It is the story of a missionary family who moves from middle America to the middle of the Belgian Congo, just as the Congolese people are beginning to lobby for their independence and eventually gain it. Each chapter is told in the remarkably distinct voices of each of the four daughters--the vapid one, the brilliant one, the relateable one, the little one--and the mother. It follows the girls through the time in the Congo, and then throughout adulthood as their childhood experiences shape the rest of their lives.
4) Where'd You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple (Amazon rating 4.3 stars)
I love it when an author is able to find the humor in personality disorders. Bernadette is a wife, mother, washed-up architect, eccentric recluse, bane of the PTA's existence. When her daughter, 15 year-old Bee, decides that she would like to take a family trip to Antarctica, Bernadette vanishes. Throughout a series of letters, emails, memos and official documents, Bee unravels the secrets of her mother's past and the mystery of where she has disappeared to, with plenty of belly laughs along the way.
5) The Fault in Our Stars, John Green (Amazon rating 4.7 stars)
There's a saying, "You'll laugh, you'll cry"... it must have been invented to describe this book. For a person who doesn't typically love reading about teenagers, it's surprising to discover how many of my favorite books last year had teen protagonists. Maybe it's time to reevaluate my stance. I don't think a book has ever haunted me the way this one did. Hazel, 16, and Augustus, 17, meet at a cancer support group, and for both of them, it is love at first sight. But somehow, someway, it is a completely believable love, and their story will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
6) The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick (Amazon rating 4.4 stars)
I know what you might be thinking--I watched the movie, it was okay, why should I read the book? Because the book is SO MUCH BETTER. This is another one where the humor and tragedy in mental and personality disorders is detailed beautifully. Newly released from a mental facility, Pat is convinced that by becoming physically fit and brushing up on the classics, he will be able to get his life back on track and reunite with his estranged wife, Nikki. For some reason, everyone else around him from his mom, to his therapist, to a strange girl named Tiffany, has a different idea. As the novel progresses, we learn that Pat is perhaps not the reliable narrator he would have you believe, and his past is slowly revealed in sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic ways.
7) 11/22/63, Stephen King (Amazon rating 4.5 stars)
What would happen if you could go back in time, and stop the Kennedy assassination? This is the mission that Jake Epping is faced with, but time has an eerie way of protecting itself and deflecting change. As Jake journeys back and forth in time, he finds himself torn between the past and the present. This novel takes the concept of the butterfly effect and how changing one small thing can drastically affect the future, and dials it up to its most haunting level.
8) The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy (Amazon rating 4.0 stars)
Admittedly, if you aren't already a Conroy fan, you probably won't enjoy this. But having loved The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the real family behind the fiction. And horrifying to realize how much of the novels were thinly veiled true stories. The most riveting aspect of the book was the journey of Pat's relationship with his father, from fear and loathing, to a strange sort of love and respect. The critics of the book have complained that Pat is self-aggrandizing and plays the victim more often than not, but frankly, I'd expect anyone would have known that already from reading anything he ever published. You either love him or you hate him.
9) We Are Water, Wally Lamb (Amazon rating 4.1 stars)
What does it say about me that many of my very favorite books are about families keeping deep, dark, destructive secrets from one another? This one is no different in that regard. It tells the story of Annie or Anna, depending on who you're talking to, and her longtime husband and three grown children, and the woman that she left them for. Annie plans to marry at her family home, and as these things happen, her past and her future come to a shocking head as the family comes together for the event.
10) Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh (Amazon rating 4.8 stars)
I've somehow managed to be involved in the blogging world for ::mumble, mumble, cough, cough::8 1/2 years::cough:: and never read Hyperbole and a Half. I mean, I would see links posted on Facebook from time to time, and I know the meme that it spawned, but I really had no idea what it was about. I just saw weird comics and was not too intrigued to investigate further. But when I got my Kindle for Christmas, my dad had preloaded a ton of books on there, and this was one of them. I was looking for a light read, so I gave it a whirl. About 3 minutes into it, I was laughing so hard that I was shaking the bed I was sharing with my sister, and she sleepily decreed that I must find another book to read before bed. And yes, it's incredibly funny. But it's also incredibly deep. Her essay/comic on depression blew my mind.
You can find my Top Books of 2009, 2010 and 2011 here. Happy reading in 2014!