Last year was full of new favorites. I tried to narrow them down into a blog-sized list, but decided it was a little long and that no one would be particularly interested to learn which type of latte I fell in love with in 2013. Instead, I bring you the 10 best things I read last year.
“The Yellow Birds” was hands down the most beautiful novel I read this year. The book follows a young man who returns home broken from the war in Iraq. Kevin Powers is a poet, and it makes the prose so incredibly cool. See how I used the word “cool” to describe how beautiful his prose is? This just illustrates how far out of my league this guy is. I’m like, sixth grade language arts class and he’s Allen Ginsberg. The subject matter of trauma and war will break your heart, which is exactly why you really need to read it. One reviewer wrote this about the novel’s effect: “Here we are, fretting over our Netflix queues while halfway around the world people are being blown to bits. And though we might slap a yellow ribbon magnet to our truck’s tailgate, though we might shake a soldier’s hand in the airport, we ignore the fact that in America an average of 18 veterans are said to commit suicide every day. What a shame, we say, and then move on quickly to whatever other agonies and entertainments occupy the headlines.” It’s heavy, but it matters. I’ll even lend you my copy if you want.
On a significantly more uplifting note: Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” and Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?” will make you laugh and leave you feeling ready to conquer the world. Tina and Mindy’s careers prove that if you enjoy doing something, it’s worthwhile to work hard and make a go of it. These books also reminded me to be myself. It’s okay to be a little nerdy and into writing or funny and into shoe shopping. It’s not weird that I have the same amount of love in my heart for Elle magazine and Tennyson. Yes, Mike Myers made me laugh in “Shrek,” but so did Daniel Day Lewis in “Lincoln.” Tina and Mindy’s books are different in a lot of ways, but both helped me realize that it is okay to be a strong, female leader who also happens to love sequined ballet flats. Success is possible when we’re confident with our interests, gifts and passions. There’s no need to be apologetic for not fitting someone else’s mold.
This brings me to my fourth favorite read of 2013: “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” Not exactly high-brow literature, but I like it so it made the list. I’d seen the movie years ago but just got around to opening the book. I read it on the way home from vacation last summer (immediately following “The Yellow Birds” – talk about a tonal shift) and laughed out loud on the plane. Ever since reading Bridget Jones, I’ve wanted to text and tweet the way she writes in her diary (everything is v. important, sarcastic and dramatic). Feels like a book suited perfectly for 20-somethings.
Maybe it started with Harry Potter when I was 9, but I really do love a good fantasy story with talking animals and magic (let’s say it has something to do with my active imagination and appreciation of light conquering darkness?). Last year, the best fantasy books I read were definitely “Wildwood,” “The Wolf of Tebron” and “The Map Across Time.” These three were my favorites because they didn’t need romance (i.e. “Twilight” and “The Discovery of Witches) to propel the story. One of the best things about fantasy books, is that authors always seem to write them in trilogies and series. Looking forward to reading the next installments in the Wildwood Chronicles and the Gates of Heaven series in 2014! Oh, and the last of Lev Grossman’s Magician books!
So much of the internet reading I did this year consisted of blog posts and Buzzfeed lists like the “15 things only children of the 90s will remember,” but there were some powerful pieces of journalism sprinkled in there too. The best came in December, when the New York Times published a five part account of homelessness through the eyes of a young girl named Dasani. Reporter Andrea Elliott followed Dasani and her large family over the course of several months. Elliott demonstrates how complex and cyclical the problem of homelessness is. By telling the story through 11-year-old Dasani’s experience, Elliott lets her reader teeter back and forth between hope and despair. Dasani’s intelligence and gumption leave you hopeful, but her temper and the circumstances of her life simultaneously leave you with a heavy heart. As someone who lives far away from NYC and its urban messiness, it would be easy to forget Dasani and remove myself from the issue homelessness. Elliott doesn’t let me off the hook though. Throughout the story, she points to the dichotomy between the indulgences of the wealthy and the desperation of the impoverished. In New York, expensive and hip wine bars are nestled in the same city blocks as methadone clinics and cheap liquor stores. Distressed designer jeans (that cost more than probably every item of clothing Dasani’s family owns), are sold right in their neighborhood. This is where I’m hit hardest. Even in tiny downtown Canton, I’ve paid $6 for a latte and macaroon then told a homeless man standing near the door that I only have $1 on me. This NYT project puts a face and a name with the issue of homelessness. This is the kind of story that got me excited about journalism in the first place.
My favorite magazine pieces were much more lighthearted. I love The New Yorker but I don’t always have time to read eight or nine pages on the next insomnia wonder drug or a town that makes tamales in the Mississippi. Plus a new issue lands in my mailbox every two weeks! Who can keep up with that?! There is however, always time for Shouts and Murmurs. In September, Ian Frazier wrote one of my favorite Shouts from 2013: Walking Normally: the facts. I dream about having a short, weird, hilarious piece of my own published in The New Yorker. The 2014 Shouts and Murmurs are already off to a good start (see: “Downton Abbey” with cats).
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is pretty much filled with these sort of absurd/wonderful bits on the daily. My personal favorite from last year was easily Christopher Robin friend requests the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood. This was one of those things that made me laugh out loud at my desk in a newsroom full of people. Unexpected outbursts of laughter are never easy to explain, but are especially awkward when you try saying, “imagine if the characters from Winnie the Pooh were stressed about social media etiquette? It’s funny and oddly thoughtful! See?” Congratulations, you’re officially the office weirdo. Anyway, I suggest clicking this McSweeney’s link in the privacy of your own home to avoid the whole laughing thing.
I had some other good reading experiences too: “The Explicit Gospel” was my favorite book on spirituality. Dave Egger’s “The Circle” was crazy, crazy good. Honestly, I liked it so much I’m intimidated to expand on it, which is why it is just getting a brief mention down here. If you read it and want to talk about it pleeease let me know. I also really liked “A Good Hard Look” by Ann Napolitano, which brings Flannery O’Conner to life in an interesting way. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green made me bawl like a baby. “Rules of Civility” was so good it got its own blog post.
This year I’m excited to read books with my cousin Mackenzie in the world’s smallest book club. After we finish each one, we’re going to make a meal based on the book. I have a feeling it will be interesting 🙂