The best books that I read in 2013

This is where I’m drawing the line– I won’t make any more book lists from the far past and will only make lists from the most recent past from here on out. I really should have just started doing this years ago after I read a slew of good books and thought, ‘I wish I could share these with EVERYONE!’ But instead of realizing that I could have shared them with people, I just forgot the Internet existed and went about my life as usual. So now that I understand how to use this thing, I have some catching up to do. Please forgive my unintentional procrastination. We will all be able to join the present tense soon enough.

 

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott

help thanks wow

As I wrote in my 2014 book list post, Anne Lamott always seems to know just what to write. Help Thanks Wow is a short, sometimes rambling book on prayer (specifically the three prayers that make up the title). It was so enriching to read about what prayer is and how people do it naturally, made all the more endearing by Anne Lamott’s signature humor and insight.

“But grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.”

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

me talk pretty one day

This was the first book I read by Sedaris, and it had me laughing so hard, out loud, that it would not be the last. He is self-deprecating yet continuously doing things that merit laughter. When I finished the book, I felt better about some of my own life decisions because I could at least say, ‘At least I haven’t done what David Sedaris did.’ I would love to be able to write like he does. But maybe that requires living like he does.

“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a fee trees down with me.”

 

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

walkable city

An engaging, tremendously important book on how (and why) to make cities walkable. At first, I felt defeated, unsure how to make a difference as an individual, but as he listed in step-by-step form what to focus on, I felt more empowered, despite still not being a city planner or politician. It made me all the more determined to move to a walkable city. (It makes me very happy that I am now living in one, completely car-less.) The movie Urbanized is a great complement to this book.

“Long gone are the days when automobiles expanded possibility and choice for the majority of Americans. Now, thanks to its ever-increasing demands for space, speed, and time, the car has reshaped our landscape and lifestyles around its own needs. It is an instrument of freedom that has enslaved us.”

 

The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

the book of my lives

Hemon provides snippets of his life from childhood up until the death of his own child. He discusses the Bosnian war, the complexity of living as an immigrant, displacement, connection, and love. At times funny, this book was also self-disparaging and terribly sad, especially when he describes the death of his daughter, Isabel. I’m not sure I’d be able to read the last part now that I’ve been a foster parent because it was heartbreaking, but the rest is worth revisiting.

“Peter’s outburst, shocking though it may have been, made perfect sense to me—not only did he deplore the waste of words, he detested the moral lassitude with which they were wasted. To him, in whose throat the bone of displacement was forever stuck, it was wrong to talk about nothing when there was a perpetual shortage of words for all the horrible things that happened in the world. It was better to be silent than to say what didn’t matter.”

 

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

blasphemy

This is a collection of Alexie’s short stories, and most of their endings are like punches to the gut, leaving the reader to contemplate the meaning of the world long after they end. He uses humor but writes about such hurt and sadness and loneliness. I have such admiration for him.

“Sara looked at Low and wondered yet again why Indian men insisted on being warriors. ‘Put down your bows and arrows,’ she wanted to scream at Low, at her father, at every hypermasculine Injun in the world. ‘Put down your fucking guns and pick up your kids.'”

 

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

cannery row

This was my second time reading Cannery Row, and compared to some of Steinbeck’s other works (think: East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath), it is a very easy read. The ending is just so beautiful, though, and the whole book is about people whose lives aren’t easy but who are described so sympathetically that I just want to hug them.

“Mack and the boys, too, spinning in their orbits. They are the Virtues, the Graces, the Beauties of the hurried mangled craziness of Monterey and the cosmic Monterey where men in fear and hunger destroy their stomachs in the fight to secure certain food, where men hungering for love destroy everything lovable about them.”

 

City of Thieves by David Benioff

city of thieves

A novel written from a Russian perspective of WWII, it seemed real to me because of how the opening pages are written. I soon realized it was fiction, but still, my heart was in my throat for the most intense parts of the story. The book revealed the sad and horribly grotesque side of wartime (think cannibalism), but it was also very humorous and human (think masturbation and shitting) as well as touching (think friendship and love).

“In the silence of her nonanswer, I considered the possibility that I was a very boring person. Who else but a boring person would utter such meaningless trifles? If a brilliant pig, the prodigy of the barnyard, spent his entire life learning Russian, and on finally becoming proficient the first words he heard were my own, he would wonder why he had wasted his best years when he could have been lolling in the mud, eating slop with the other dumb beasts.”

 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

the glass castle

I read The Glass Castle right after Half-Broke Horses— a ‘true-life novel’ about the author’s maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith– which worked out well because The Glass Castle picks up where Half-Broke Horses leaves off. This one details the author’s own life and is heartbreaking because she faced so many hardships in her childhood that could have been prevented if her parents had been less selfish; however, it also made me admire the author and her siblings and the connection they maintained in their lives.

“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. ‘You’d be destroying what makes it special,’ she said. ‘It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.’”

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“….he said it was interesting. He used the word ‘textured’. He said ‘smooth’ is boring but ‘textured’ was interesting, and the scar meant that I was stronger than whatever had tried to hurt me.”

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