A little late, but my favorite fiction of 2013

Pretty proud of the variation and spread of my favorites from last year:

  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer — she herself is so charming and her writing is so smart and not nearly enough people know about her.
  • The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy — This was my first introduction to WORD favorite Simon Van Booy, and I was extremely impressed. Such spare prose and such deep and heartfelt observations. Sometimes interwoven novels that jump from era to era, person to person, continent to continent can feel disjointed, but Van Booy’s narrative is masterful, and truly does allow you to believe that seemingly disparate lives can connect in the most beautiful ways.
  • The Midnight Promise by Zane Lovitt — I trust Europa when it comes to world noir, and they certainly have succeeded with this one. Zane Lovitt writes like sort of an Australian Chandler, with the quick, snappy dialogue and observations that you’d expect from a private investigator, but also with the stunning descriptions of beauty and squalor that have perhaps nothing to do with his cases. It jumps around chronologically, so you have to enjoy each chapter on its own to an extent. But the final story, and the way it brings everything together, and the way it ends, the last few pages, they took my breath away.
  • The Humans by Matt Haig — This was my beach read of the summer.  I picked it up because Jeanette Winterson blurbed it. A mathematician makes a huge discovery, and it causes concern among distant aliens who fear humans will rise above their station in the universe. So, of course, they send one of their own to inhabit his body, destroy the proof and anyone who knew about it, and dispose of his wife and teenage son. The alien’s disgust at the human race and the crazy situations that arise while he’s inhabiting the object of his revulsion are pretty hysterical, and you won’t be surprised to learn that the cold and heartless alien gets more heart the more time he spends on Earth.
  • The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal — After an accident as a child, Juan Salvatierra never spoke again. But he painted. And painted. And painted. He painted every day on rolls — a diary of his life and the life of the village and its shifting landscapes — and by the time he died there were hundreds of them. His estranged children had to decide what to do with them and became intrigued when they realized that one roll was missing. What kind of secret life did their father have that year? And is anyone still around who remembers it?
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert — I was surprised to be so taken in by this book. It just reminded me that I shouldn’t make assumptions about my own reading tastes, let alone anyone else’s. In Alma Whittaker, we get to see firsthand the frustrations built in to being born privileged and brilliant — and a woman — in the early days of the American republic. And Gilbert has also crafted one of those rare novels that presents the reader with a life, a full life, and keeps your interest the whole time. I haven’t read one done so well since John Williams’ Stoner. And splurge for the hardcover — it’s got the most beautiful endpapers.
  • Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen — recommended for anyone who enjoys mythology, revisionist history, and beautiful book objects.
  • Nothing by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon — The narrative flows with both a breathy intensity and a cool hollowness in Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon's debut novel, Nothing. The rise and fall of a toxic friendship, the pulsing house parties that stop after a girl dies, the wildfires and mountains, the middle class kid who hops trains to Missoula to find the truth about his father — they swirl and converge and blur together like smoke in your eyes, but the light, it’s sharpened and heightened somehow too. She captures perfectly that early adulthood wasteland where you’re friends with people and you do things, but you’re not really sure why anymore, and either the momentum carries you through or it doesn’t, either you emerge at the other end of the tunnel or the walls come crashing down, and there’s something about the dialog, the rhythm. I don’t know, it’s just that the ambivalence and hesitation and put-on confidence are exactly as they should be.

Okay, folks! Get thee to an independent bookstore!

Emily’s Favorites of 2013: Nonfiction Edition

This year, I read books! Here are some of my nonfiction favorites that came out this year:


Bough Down by Karen Green: I never thought that I’d say that a book reminds me of Anne Carson’s Nox, and yet, here I am, saying it. It’s a grief memoir, it’s an art object, it’s poetry. It’s evocative, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking. I’ve been instagramming the shit out of quotes on its pages, and the final line is one of the best I’ve read. It is powerful whether or not you know who the writer is and who she is grieving. If you don’t know already, wait until you’ve read it to look into it further. And then read it again.


Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: Like David Simon’s The Wire and Dave Cullen’s Columbine, this book is about all of the moral dilemmas that surround massive tragedy, and about the ways that interconnected systems succeed and fail and undermine each other when infrastructure breaks down. Fink does a remarkable job of remaining, for the most part, neutral — and yet there are heroes and villains (often in the same person) and no shortage of drama. Natural disaster, medicine, corporate hierarchies, crime, law, media — they feed and play off of each other. You ask yourself, “What would I do in such dire circumstances? Was what happened right or wrong?” and as is often the result of the best investigative journalism, I couldn’t always answer those questions with certainty.


The Book of Matt by Stephen Jimenez: Jimenez makes the argument that the anti-gay hate crime explanation (rather than the reality of methamphetamine trafficking) was easier and more useful for pretty much every party involved: for the murderers who wanted to protect their drug collaborators, for police and prosecutors who knew that the meth trade was a much larger problem to tackle than homophobia, for heartbroken friends and family who needed a cause to channel their grief into, for activists who needed a martyr to catalyze a movement, for a president facing scandal and impeachment who needed a smoke screen, for media outlets who wanted a story before all the facts were known… Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder will always be a tragedy, but this book suggests that the tragedy is nuanced and complex, rather than the simplistic myth the public demanded and came quickly to accept.


Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert: This book hit close to home for many reasons — though I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a small town, it is still part of my family history, and we visited small places every year. I can identify with the struggle to reconcile the distance and closeness that one feels towards a “home” that they’ve left. And I can also recognize the tendency (Midwestern perhaps) to leave things unsaid in the interest of smoother interactions. Amidst all the love we have for each other in my family, we choose not to voice controversial things very often. I was impressed with how much she was able to pack into a relatively small book.

Emily’s Favorites of 2013: Young People’s edition

This year, I read books! Here are some of my favorites (for young people) that came out this year:

Snippet the Early Riser by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Snippet the snail tries to figure out different ways to get his family out of bed (i.e. their shells) — so much to fit into the day! The illustrations are bright and adorable with plenty of detail and just the right amount of cleverness.

Odd Duck written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Sara Varon
This is one of those rare books that hits all the right notes — it will entertain kids and earn much sympathy from adults. The art and the writing complement each other perfectly — much like Chad & Theodora’s unexpected friendship. You never can predict who will ‘get’ you.