Annual retrospectives are upon us. I never feel like I can write a best-books-of-the-year post as, no matter how many books I read in a year, most of them won’t be from that year. I’m still catching up. But a quick look at my goodreads 2013 list and I see there’s a few newer books that I read this year that I really enjoyed. I’m not totally sure that all these books were published in 2013, some of them might have been from last year, but the Guardians top 100 books of the year has Quiet by Susan Cain on it, and I definitely read that in 2012, so I won’t worry too much if I get it a bit wrong as well.
Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman
I know I started reading this at the end of last year, but that’s because it got mailed to me sooner than the listed release date. I really love Kaufman’s books. He writes contemporary fairy stories in an honest, earnest sort of way. This is a story about a group of siblings each burdened with a special power, and how they are trying to get rid of them. Super powers and magical elements are part of Kaufman’s usual oeuvre, but underneath that there is always a more human element. Born Weird is about a family that have drifted apart and how they are finding their way back to each other.
The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz
Not the sort of thing I usually go for, but knowing I like a bit of Sherlock Holmes this was given to me by my wife for Christmas (which also means it definitely wasn’t published in 2013. Damnit, not doing well so far.) I was really dubious about it, because I like the Conan-Doyle books so much this could have been really terrible. For a little while it seemed like it might be too, the opening chapters felt like a shopping list of Holmes tropes being ticked off one by one. But what Horowitz did was actually very clever and appropriate. This is not a book Conan-Doyle would ever have written. It is darker and more sinister and so, consequently, more contemporary and suited to the current audience of crime readers. I’m not a big crime reader, only occasionally dipping into the genre, but this one I really enjoyed.
The Universe vs Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
This book I have very ambivalent feelings about. If I were being harshly critical I would say that it is over-polished with a predictable, visible structure. I could almost feel the rhythmic beat of the plot. It occasionally feels like a polemic on the subject of euthanasia and comes close to being a didactic lecture with the authors particular point of view right in the foreground. But its a really good book too. The characters are charming and even though I felt some of the emotional response was highly manufactured, I did have a strong emotional response to it. No matter how much I feel I ought not to have liked it, I just liked it a lot. I love a good odd-couple and the pairing of a grumpy old American with a cheerful but naive kid finding common ground over Kurt Vonnegut novels really did it for me.
The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
Of everything I read this year this is the one I am most likely to go back to. In a series of short anecdotes taken from the authors long career the hidden thoughts, feeling and motives of ordinary people are explored. Each is succinctly written, I read most of the book in a series of short, daily train journeys, so it lends itself to being dipped in and out of. What I really admired about it is the way these anecdotes were presented. Honestly and simply written, they are free of judgement or conclusion and leaves the reader free to find whatever they find.
So there you go, some thoughts on some of the new books I read this year. I think my favourite book I read this year was The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. Primo Levi was a chemist who survived the concentration camps in World War 2 and wrote a couple of books about that, but The Periodic Table is a memoir of his life as a chemist. It touches on the war and the way it affected the direction of his life took, but mostly it is an enthusiastic, joyful love letter from Levi to chemistry. A wonderful read.