Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Best Books!

So I am so glad to share with you what we think are the best books of 2013...not that they were published in 2013, but that we read in 2013.


These are the books you should read this year. I don't want to spoil them or give you too much...so I'll give you a picture, and the feeling of the book, then it's up to you.

Night Film 
by: Marisha Pessl

The Night Circus
by: Erin Morgenstern

So evoking, imaginative, dark and magical.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane
by: Neil Gaiman

Sort of Dark...sort of, Pretty...sort of, a coming of age story...sort of, beautiful...not sort of.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
by: Maria Semple

Uh SO GOOD! Funny. Fun. Read it.


I'm always such a curmudgeon about books. I can't get into fiction. I try all the time, and my 2014 resolution is to try harder. But I did read some fantastic non-fiction this year:

 1. The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt. The mysterious burning of the Fenice Opera House in Venice. 

2. The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, by Glenn Frankel. The making of the 1956 John Ford western, as well as the controversial story that inspired it.

3. Majestie, by David Teems. A fascinating and witty look at the king behind the King James Bible.

4. Spook, by Mary Roach. Written by the same author as Stiff, here she looks at ghosts, paranormal activity, and the afterlife. You know I love that stuff.

5. Untouchable, by Randall Sullivan. The strange, strange life and tragic, tragic death of Michael Jackson.

6. Alix and Nicky, by Virginia Rounding. A dramatic and intense look at the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.

But, and this will shock my PTA mates, I did read a little fiction!

1. The Apostle, by Sholem Asch (Because I played Paul for the New Testament series and I needed to know what he was about.)

2. Ragtime, by EL Doctorow (Because I directed it.)

3. Hawaii, by James Michener (Because I went there and I fell in love with it.)


I think I've already written about 7 posts with book recommendations this year, so I'll keep it simple. When I peruse my Goodreads list of books I've read, one really jumped out at me as a book that made me think and haunted me for weeks after I read it and it was...

 The Tree House by Douglas Thayer. Doug Thayer was a writing professor at BYU, and while I never took a class from him I did take a couple from his wife. This book is the story of a mormon boy growing up in Provo, Utah around the time of World War II. It's not preachy or didactic at all, even though it is clearly about mormonism and missionaries. The protagonist, Harris is interesting and noble but also flawed and realistic. It's truly a masterwork. 

Honorable Mention goes to Dracula by Bram Stoker. What? You've never heard of it? Yes, I'm sure you already knew this book was great. But I have a "condition" I like to call the "Dawson's Creek Syndrome" which means that I have a hard time consuming any media that was produced before 1998. I just can't read Jane Austen. Or Dickens. Or watch Bringing Up Baby even though Chris tried to make me and all I remember is that Katherine Hepburn was born on the side of a hill and I think there was a dinosaur. Or is that a totally different movie from the 80s called baby about people who raise a brontosaurus? I don't know. But my point is is that this October I listened to the audiobook of Dracula (read by Alan Cumming and Tim Curry and many more) and it was spooky and smart and terrifying and amazing. I loved it.

And my guilty pleasure was The Memory of Light by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. I wrote about this series (The Wheel of Time) last year which I started reading when I was 15 years old. The Memory of Light was the conclusion and it was everything the finale to a big, giant, epic fantasy series should be. Satisfying, exciting, question-answering and emotional. I loved it. I want to read it again.


Of the books I read this year, here are the best and/or most impactful/memorable of the list:

Pronto by Elmore Leonard
I love the TV show "Justified" so I wanted to trace the character roots of Raylan Givens to his origination. This is the first book the marshal appears in and it's quite entertaining if you like books about Florida, the Mob, double-deals, Italy, and ... Federal Marshals who are flawed and brilliant. I guess you could list this as my Guilty Pleasure.

“She wondered what he looked like with his hat off and wondered again if he knew he was funny.” 

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Ever since I first heard about Jack the Ripper, I've been fascinated with the story and maddened by the fact that it remains unsolved. I've also admired the character Sherlock Holmes and his incomparable brilliance. Naturally, then, this book—where Holmes is enlisted to help solve the Ripper case—was perfect for me in many ways.

"Besides, Watson,” he added, with a glint of humor in his grey eyes, “you, after all, are a man of the world. We must put your skills to use, for there is no greater tragedy on God's green earth than that of untapped talent.” 

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
I'd seen the movie and the book still got my heart racing. There's something about the suspense that this book creates, even if you already know the ending. And that ending. Reading it makes so much more sense than the movie. So glad I read it.

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” 

City of Thieves by David Benioff
I tried to read it once and stopped 10 minutes into it. I came back to it and it hooked me. Something about two young WWII-era Russians sent on an impossible mission behind enemy lines that makes you thankful for central heating.

“The fire was silent, the little houses collapsing into the flames without complaint, flocks of sparks rising to the sky. At a distance it seemed beautiful, and I thought it was strange that powerful violence is often so pleasing to the eye...”

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
It's a beast. It's so wide. Vast. There is so much happening and so many characters to love and to hate. And all the while you're being pelted with bits of useful philosophy you can use in your own life. I've never read anything like it.

“You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. ... How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away.” 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book. My eye sockets were red and dry after this thing got done with me. This may sound dramatic but it's an experience that I can't really put into words. If you think you've seen all you can see or read about WWII, then read this.

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.” 

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
If you fancy yourself a storyteller, this is required reading. But it's also just packed with wisdom.

“I don't think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognize it and then cultivate it and get going with it. I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman, or child.” 

The Brothers K by David James Duncan
At the top of the list of my favorite books. It's funny. It's tragic. It's infuriating. It's brilliant. It's about a family that, by the end, becomes as real as any family you've ever known. That's perfect writing.

“I wish there really was such a thing as a Time-Clock Puncher, though. I wish some gigantic, surly, stone-fisted Soap Mahoney-type guy went around the world smashing every clock in sight till there weren't any more and people got so confused about when to go to the mill or school or church that they gave up and did something interesting instead.” 


I am not as well read as Brett. Or anybody else reading this. Though I probably read more contemporary fiction this year than ever before.

I really enjoyed John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. John Green is just a clever, clever writer. While reading it I just kept thinking, "How did he come up with THAT line" or "That's movie dialogue, right there." I cast the movie in my mind while I read it. I appreciated the humor with with which he approached this heart-wrenching subject of youth with cancer. It was really a wonderful read.

The book that stayed with me for some time after I read it, however, was M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans. It was the last few pages of this book that just wrecked me. The description on the inside of the book: 

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a “gift from God,” and against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
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