A Year in Books: 2013

Every year, just before New Years, I take stock of myself, my work, my reading, and any goals I want to set for the new year. This time last year, I took advantage of a program on Goodreads where you set a goal of how many books you will read in a given year; I wanted to do better than the sixteen I did in 2012. For 2013, I set a goal of 25 books. 

Here’s the thing:  I’ve always loved reading. It relaxes me. It always takes me back to being a kid, reading Sweet Valley books and eating Dunkaroos. And in the times when my reading life has dwindled, when I have read very little, I can look back and see a correlation:  I wasn’t as happy, as healthy, as productive, as I am when I make the time to read. For me, it’s important.

And so, when I did my tally for the end of 2013, I was beyond thrilled that I read 36 books! I’ll include the full list at the end of the post in case you’re interested.

Usually, I’d like to provide a little info about each book, maybe a recommendation, but for 36 books, that would end up being an awfully long post (and this is already awfully long – sorry). So instead, I’ll recommend a few of my favorites for the year, giving them categories that seem fitting for their individual subjects.

Best Book About Writing

Anne Lamott’s bird by bird was funny, practical, honest, and easy to approach. If you write, or want to write, I think you’ll find this book a personable guide of rules to live by (and write by).

Best Book of Poetry (and I’m not just saying it because the poet is my friend)

Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec is a gorgeous, visceral, kinetic collection of poems that you should read. And I’m not just saying it because Natalie’s my friend. This is gospel truth. Buy this book.

Best Book That Proves Fantastic Things Come in Small Packages

Kate Lebo’s A Commonplace Book of Pie is an adorable little collection, part coffee table book, part poetry collection, part cookbook. It is full of whimsy, delicious recipes, and playful language. A delightful read, and a perfect gift for the pie-lover in your life. (So, everybody. Because everybody likes pie, right?)

Best Memoir About Family

Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, is an honest, thoughtful, unflinching look at what it means to grow up evangelical and out of place and alone, while also touching on themes of adoption, love, and home.

Best Book That Will Make You Want to Change Your Entire Life and Become a Farmer

Kristin Kimball’s memoir, The Dirty Life:  On Farming, Food, and Love, made me seriously consider telling Amanda that we should buy a farmhouse and build up a farm around it. That’s not to say that Kimball paints a picture that’s all sunshine and rainbows and runner beans; she tells an honest story of identity, marriage, hard work, and a return to the earth.

Best Book That Will Make You Want to Change Your Entire Life and Hike for a Long Ass Time

Cheryl Strayed’s hit memoir, Wild, is so fantastic that when Oprah launched the second iteration of her book club (the 2.0 version), she started with Wild. This book is about a woman’s journey to change her life, by first heading out into nature, alone. Her story is honest, humorous, and challenging; Strayed made mistakes and recounts them unflinchingly, not with shame (or conversely, with bravado) but with the wisdom that comes with owning one’s decisions and growing from them.

Best Punny Cookbook

Tim Federle’s literary cookbook, Tequila Mockingbird:  Cocktails with a Literary Twist, is everything a lit nerd (who drinks) could want:  word play, literary puns, English major humor, and cocktail recipes.

Best Book That Taught Me About Myself and My Relationship to Food

I’m about a million years late to the Edna Lewis party, but her book, The Taste of Country Cooking, was a game-changer book for me this year. It helped me hone in on some identity crises I have with Southern food, and with Southern culture and identity. With the idea of home. I can’t talk more about it right now or I’ll kill the essay that’s simmering in my brain, but read this book:  it’s gorgeous, it’s heartfelt, and it will make you hungry.

Best Kooky Novel

Maria Semple’s novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was one of the best things I read all year. The novel is told through documents – emails, transcripts, letters, and through the guiding narration of Bernadette’s teenage daughter. The book is kooky, energetic, a bit of a mystery, and a book that grabs you by the collar and drags you along with it.

Best Artsy Book

I’m also about a bit late to the Humans of New York party, but the book that has come out of Brandon Stanton’s blog, Humans of New Yorkis so worth checking out. I read through it in one night, and I know I’ll return to it again and again. While it is mostly images, Stanton’s bits of dialogue with his subjects are what give his photos such value and meaning. I felt inspired by the book, and I plan to keep letting it inspire me.

My complete reading list for 2013

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
From Scratch:  Inside the Food Network by Allen Salkin
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
One Writer’s Beginnings:  Lectures in the History of American Civilization by Eudora Welty
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl
O Holy Insurgency by Mary Biddinger
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Dirty Life:  On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
A Commonplace Book of Pie by Kate Lebo
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Suffering Succotash:  A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate by Stephanie Lucianovic
Small Space Container Gardens by Fern Richardson
Spoon Fed:  How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim Severson
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Devangelical by Erika Rae
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Thirst by Mary Oliver
bird by bird by Anne Lamott
When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

So what’s the best thing you read all year? And do you have any reading goals for 2014?

9 thoughts on “A Year in Books: 2013

  1. You and I have several books in common! I love Anne Lamott’s nonfiction (her novels are kind of hit-and-miss for me) and I adore “Bird By Bird”. “Where’d You Go Bernadette” was laugh out loud funny in some parts. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is one of my all-time favorite books–I’ve probably read it at least 5 times over the years. And–I also love reading books about food and cooking! I did a Tuesday Ten post awhile back of my favorites in this area–and several of the books you mention made it onto my list! Here’s the link if you’d like to see my favorites in this genre–

    1. Thanks for sharing the link! I’m glad to find other fans of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! I read it for the first time at age 13, and read it every year until I was about 20. When I went back to it this year, it was like a homecoming. 🙂

  2. What a fabulous list! You’ve included several of my favorites, and have made me want to read the others. Love Edna Lewis, Laurie Colwin, Mary Oliver, and The Secret Garden (my fave children’s book). And Kate Lebo’s book is definitely a gem (have a little interview with her coming up at Alphabet Soup). I’m not familiar with Natalie’s poetry but will definitely check it out!

    I’m finding Beth Kephart’s HANDLING THE TRUTH: On the Writing of Memoir (published this year), very helpful and inspiring. 🙂

    Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks! I can’t wait to read your interview with Kate Lebo – I loved her book, and her Pie Lady’s Manifesto is wonderful too. I can’t recommend Natalie’s poetry enough – it’s visceral and tough, not for the faint of heart, and so worth reading. I’ll have to check out HANDLING THE TRUTH – I’m not working on a memoir, but I’m always interested in how memoir/nonfiction writers handle the rendering of truth (and specifically their truth) in writing. It’s no easy task.

  3. omg so many books i need to check out! you make me wish i had kept a list of what i read this year. Love that you read Swamplandia! – i loved that book. Have you read her Vampires in the Lemon Grove? really, really good collection of stories, that one. And i want to say i read The Road this year also, but it may have been last year. and Little Women! aw, i love that one: always good for a re-read, and truly one of my favorite books of all time…i need to pick that up again.
    i think the book which stuck with me the most this year was The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer. It was a debut novel, but it’s written with immense force, and it’s beautiful. It’s one of those books you read not realizing how much you’re going to think about it after you’re done, or how much you’ll want to keep delving deeper into the characters and what’s going on in their lives. I continually think about it, for reasons mostly unknown, except that it was so, so good.
    Because, READING. *high five*

    1. I haven’t read Vampires in the Lemon Grove – this was actually my first Karen Russell book, and I took some pretty major issues with it, but I really enjoyed it (until I didn’t anymore). I’ll have to check out The Infinite Tides. I like reading debut novels – I feel like it keeps me current, and it’s weirdly encouraging, even when it’s also intimidating. I recently read Tell The Wolves I’m Home, which was a debut novel, and it was so good, so powerful. I highly recommend it. I just kept reading and thanking my stars that I’m not fourteen years old anymore.
      *high five back!*

  4. I need to look into that feature on Good Reads! What a great idea. I just read Commonplace Book of Pie — agree about the whimsy. It was a fun read.

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