My 2013 in Reading

roxanegay:

I remembered to track 118 of the books I read in 2013 and I had thoughts about all of them. I love reading. 

My top ten books:

Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
Unmastered: A Book on Desire by Katherine Angel
The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg
Alone With Other People by Gabby Bess
Meaty by Samantha Irby
The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Long Division by Kiese Laymon
Milk & Filth by Carmen Gimenez Smith

Ranking is so arbitrary so I am not ranking these books. I am simply saying these are the books, published in 2013, that have stayed with me most vividly. They are the books that made me gasp and cringe and laugh and nod wildly with recognition and stay up way too late because I could not put the damn book down. 

As I read Tampa, I felt like I was beholding something brilliant. I do consider Alissa a dear friend so, full disclosure, but that does not bear on my response to the book. It was just so bold and well written. The book made me want to genuflect. In truth, I did genuflect, but on my bed, because the floor in my apartment is really hard.

When I began Ghana Must Go, I wasn’t sure where the book was going. This is certainly not a perfect book but Selasi gains confidence with each page and when she hits her stride, the book becomes magnificent. I found myself sobbing as I read this book and when I finished, I held it to my chest and rocked because I finally understood where the book was going. I was intensely moved by how Selasi got me there.

I first learned of Aleksandar Hemon when I read an essay about the death of his baby daughter in The New Yorker. When I got an ARC of The Book of My Lives,  I dove into it eagerly and found it to be one of the most intelligent books I’ve ever read. It’s also a book that offers a fresh perspective on the complexities of difference and immigration and grief and joy. And goddamn. The writing in this book is so fucking crisp. At times I wanted to punch Hemon for being so good. I did not, of course. I’m a book lover, not a fighter.

Unmastered by Katherine Angel is a beautiful, beautiful book both in word and as a physical object. An intense but controlled eroticism runs throughout the book and I particularly appreciated the fragmentary nature of the prose and the sense of a writer grappling with big questions rather eloquently.

Laura van den Berg is an exceptional short story writer. I loved her first collection with the super long title I am too lazy to type out here and I loved The Isle of Youth. Every story was satisfying and well written. My favorite story, which is one I teach, originally appeared in Ploughshares. In “I Looked For You, I Called Your Name,” a couple’s honeymoon begins with an emergency landing, “a hard, screeching wallop that knocked us around in our seats,” and doesn’t really get better from there.  The couple seems desperately ill suited and the narrator is infuriating in the most compelling way. Love love love.

The other five of my top ten, I’ve written about elsewhere and such but suffice it to say, they each offer something necessary to the art of letters and to the act of living.

Books Just Outside My Top Ten

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Searching for Zion by Emily Raboteau
Where Did You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter
The Name of the Nearest River by Alex Taylor
Brit Lit by D. Gilson
Whipped by Richey Laurentiis
Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel 

If You Only Read Three Books of Poetry Read These

The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert
She Has a Name by Kamilah Aisha Moon
When My Brother was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

A Book I Loved So Much I Get Teary and Turned On Just Thinking About It

Meeting the Master by Elissa Wald came out quite some time ago but I love this book to the ends of the earth and back. It is smart and sexy and captures the complexities of submission perfectly. I particularly appreciated the focus on the mental and emotional, more than the physical nuances of submission. I recall entire scenes from this book on nearly a daily basis. I can’t stop re-reading it. There is this story about a woman seeing a therapist and it’s all a mind game and then there is a revelation at the end that made me gasp and then feel such kinship with the narrator. Elissa Wald is a masterful (no pun intended) writer and if I were to create a literary canon, this book would be part of it. I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. Okay. Had to get that out.

Books Written Just for a Girl Like Me

Nine and Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeil
Damage by Josephine Hart

A Book That Burned Slow But When It Got Hot In My Mind, Goddamn, Goddamn (get it? hahaha)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche

A Book I Read Because I Saw the Movie Preview and Had to Know What Was Going On and Then It Was Terrible.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

Books That Confounded Me but Still Left Me Struck

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava 

A Book that Disturbed Me to the Depths of My Soul and Also Began Weirdly

Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

A Book That Made Me Think And Want to Be a Better Writer/Thinker 

No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

Books I Truly Did Not Care For And Was Kind of Angry At

Tenth of December by George Saunders
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
Inferno by Dan Brown (honestly, symbology? SIR!)

A Book I Was Super Ambivalent (and a little HMMM) About Though I Do Respect the Craft & Research and Time the Writer Put Into the Work and Also I Profiled The Writer

The Son by Philipp Meyer

A Memoir That Made Me Cry and Also Feel A Bit Irritated and then Guilty for Being Irritated

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

Books I Reviewed or Otherwise Covered (and mostly enjoyed) and I Am Too Lazy to Link

Red Moon by Ben Percy
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams
The Studbook by Monica Drake
Rivers by Michael Farris Smith
The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson
Dirty : Dirty an anthology edited by Debra Di Blasi featuring art by Mugi Takei
Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan
High Rise Stories edited by Audrey Petty
At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcon
Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath In New York, 1953 by Elizabeth Winder
Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David Henry and Joe Henry (This one I did not like at all at all)
Love is  Canoe by Ben Schrank
Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older
The Syria Dilemma
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart
White Girls by Hilton Als

Books I Read For This Awesome Piece I’ve Been Working On For Like a Fucking Year

Inferno by Eileen Myles
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (I also hated this one, just have to get that off my chest)
Light While There is Light by Keith Waldrop
Deliverance by James Dickey
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Graceland by Chris Abani 

A Book I Appreciated on the Sentence and Conceptual Level That I Wanted More From

In The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

A Book I Read That I Am Still VERY VERY MAD ABOUT Because NO THE MAIN CHARACTER WOULD NOT DO THAT AT ALL NOT EVER

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Other Books I Enjoyed

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt
All That Is by James Salter
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Sparta by Roxana Robinson
We Live in the Water by Jess Walter
Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Commercial Fiction by Dave Housley
Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush
Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire SaenzSpeedboat by Renata Adler
The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna
The Kind of Girl by Kim Henderson
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. by Rob Delaney
How to Make Love to a Negro by Dany Laferriere
Bough Down by Karen Green
Figures For an Apocalypse by Edward Mullany
Best American Essays 2011 edited by Edwidge Danticat
The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen

Books I’m Still Not Sure About That Made Me Think (In a Good Way)

We the Animals by Justin Torres
What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life by Marie Calloway
Taipei by Tao Lin
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud 

A Haunting, Excellent Book With a Breathtaking Ending

Fault Line by Christa Desir

The Fifty Shades of Grey Imitation I Truly Regret Reading That Makes FSOG Look Like a Literary Masterpiece

Anything He Wants by Sara Fawkes

A Book For Which My Response Is Not At All Surprising

The Dying Animal by Philip Roth

A Book That Is Whimsical and Strangely Affecting

Acorn by Yoko Ono

Meh

Brief Encounters with the Enemy: Fiction by Said Sayrafiezadeh
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Very Recent History by Choire Sicha
Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
Joyland by Stephen King
Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen (worth checking out, just wanted more from this) 

Very Good Poetry

Amores Gitano by Roberto Carlos Garcia
Man vs Sky by Corey Zeller

BLURBED

Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend
Goodnight Nobody by Ethel Rohan

A Book With an Awesome Bad Ass Woman Protagonist Who Was Left Out of the Movie For Reasons I Will Never Understand/BURN IT ALL DOWN

Homefront by Chuck Logan

Future Books

Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors (Must read short fiction)
Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman (Smart, warm and generous memoir)
Haiti Glass by Lenelle Moise (Lovely poetry, from a great Haitian writer)
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (Book with a great idea, strong writing, disappointing denouement)
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Brilliant, humbling essays, punch punch)
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (Exceptional, exceptional novel)
The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Data embargo)
The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard (Made me glad I’m already a vegetarian but for real don’t eat that chicken unless it’s free range)
Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter (Not for me)

 

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16.01.14
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