Here I’d like to remark briefly on the past year in reading. In a few days I’ll post a list of New Year’s resolutions for my writing, but in this post I’m focusing on my favorite books of the year. I’m happy to share this list with the blogosphere, but this is meant as an introspective post. I use my blog as a sort of public journal, where I can reflect on the things that have inspired me as an individual and as a writer, and this post is meant to be a reflection on the books that inspired me and why they so captured my attention.
As I think about the ratings I gave these books when I wrote reviews of them, I find it interesting that they’re not necessarily listed in ranking order. I realize think I’m thinking back, not to what rating I gave the books at the time, but to the books that stuck with me, the ones that I kept thinking about even after I’d closed the pages and written my review. These are the books that inspired me to better myself as a writer. Here were my top ten favorite novels of the year, in order:
10. Disconnect by Imran Siddiq
Disconnect, like the next book on this list, showed me what science fiction is doing to explore the problems of our generation. It also showed me how to approach science fiction from a more masculine perspective, from a boy’s point of view, as most of the novels I’d been reading at the time were very female-oriented. It was refreshing and educational.
9. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer struck me as flat and emotionless but at the same time incredibly revolutionary. It was a book that showed me that it is possible to write excellently without appealing to a reader’s emotions. It is a great story, hard-hitting science fiction, and a dark portrayal of a corrupt character in a corrupt world.
8. Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline
Ready, Player One made me think about science fiction in a more modern context. It forced me to acknowledge that there is a ton of room for creativity as a sci-fi author, and that there’s a whole world of untapped potential in the science fiction literary spheres to deal with virtual realty and to incorporate video gaming into books. That’s a field I’d love to explore in 2014. It also showed me that science fiction doesn’t have to be about humanity’s dark side. I found this book uplifting despite its dark dystopian setting.
7. The General In His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This book made this list almost entirely for the last line in the novel. Although the writing is eloquent and smooth, it was the study of a great man that made this book worthwhile, and the ending even more so. It wasn’t revolutionary or life-changing, but definitely one of the most interesting reads of the year.
6. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
This novel showed me how incredibly introspective and psychological literature can be. I’d seen the dark side of psychological lit in books like L’Etranger, Native Son and The Brothers Karamazov but this book took that to a new level. I’d never read a book where so little happens and yet so much is explored.
5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World truly was revolutionary. Although I felt that many of the themes discussed in this book had been re-attempted by more recent dystopian literature, there’s no novel that addresses dystopia in such intellectual and existential terms. No other novelist (that I’ve read) so thoroughly examines what dystopia means to an individual seeking truth, and that made it groundbreaking for me.
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This post-apocalyptic story was also groundbreaking, though for different reasons. Like Hunger, this novel is totally introspective. What moved me about The Road was McCarthy’s incredibly vivid and stone-cold prose, as well as the environmental implications of a world so ravaged it had no ecosystem left. A dismal book, but one that inspired me to better my writing and to examine my use of language more carefully.
3. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente
A children’s book, but one that nevertheless captivated me. A delightful romp of a story, this is one of the few truly ‘happy’ books on this list. I found it as creative and exuberant as anything I’d ever read, a story I’d recommend eagerly to any young reader, male or female.
2. The Library At Night by Alberto Manguel
I don’t often read non-fiction, and I’m still somewhat disappointed I gave this book back to the generous soul who lent it to me before I could write a review of it. But this examination of the role of libraries, literal, spiritual, and metaphorical, in our culture, had me hooked from the get-go. I’ve never read a non-fiction book that flowed so smoothly or engaged me so easily. Maybe it was the subject matter – I’m a huge history of reading buff – but this book really blew my mind. I can’t wait to read it again.
1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I hate to be another one of those young people who revere David Foster Wallace above so many other talented authors, but this was the best book I read all year. It was also the book I read for the longest time, so that might have something to do with it. It took me the better part of three months, but it sang to me the whole way through. DFW manipulates characters, language styles, and complex ideas so well and so easily I couldn’t help but be awed. It was a mountain of a book, but one more than worth the ascent, and I got more out of this one alone than half the rest of the books on this list combined.
There are some books I read in 2013 that I’ve yet to write reviews of, and I’d still like to: The Library At Night is one, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman is another. I may yet get to them; I may not. Either way, these books, I feel, will be the ones that stick with me long after 2013 is buried and gone.