What did you read this year?

The annual literary snowball fight has begun: The media are publishing their top picks for 2013.  You can find out who liked what on a variety of Web sites, for example, NPR offers an interactive grid of choices here. The New York Times weighs in twice with their Ten Best Books of 2013 and 100 Notable Books of 2013

Library Journal‘s top ten selections were based on the theme of “humanity’s struggle against injustices great and small.” However, they also have lists by genre, such as mystery

Kirkus Reviews also nominates by category: fiction, non-fiction, teen books, children’s books–even book apps!

You can browse hard copies of several lists at CCL. A notebook at the circulation desk contains highlighted lists indicating books that are in our library system.

What did you read this year that you really liked (or really didn’t like)? Help us generate a list of reader favorites! Follow the guidelines in “write for us” to submit your selections.

Here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed this year:

Fiction

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. Although it didn’t win the Mann-Booker Prize, as predicted by some, it may end up on my desert island book list. Ozeki deftly weaves a rich tapestry that comments on cliches about Eastern and Western cultures, questions our obsession with the past and the future, and has a lot to say about the relationship between writers and readers. Ozeki herself called this book “a parable” about writers’ and readers’ relationships.

A Short Time to Stay Here, by Terry Roberts. Technically published in 2012, this book by local (Chapel Hill) author Roberts is a fictionalized account of  German prisoners  held in Hot Springs, NC, during World War I. Roberts’ characters are deftly drawn and the story so compelling that I was inspired to visit Hot Springs this fall–I highly recommend that as well!

The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout. I confess–I love Elizabeth Strout’s books. She always manages to produce perfect New England characters who tell you who they are seemingly without the author’s interference. In a way readers feel as though they’re spying on neighbors: the lonely sister, the agreed-upon “loser” brother, and the churlish successful brother who’s been selected by the family to be the winner. The questions this book raises about hate and forgiveness make it an excellent choice for book clubs.

And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini. Like many popular authors, Hosseini suffers the curse of the comparison of all his subsequent work to The Kite Runner. Hosseini is an enthralling storyteller. His writing is amazing and I have to admit that sometimes I have to stop just to admire his gift. Who cares whether or not this is better than Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns?

Non-fiction

The Hour of Peril, by Daniel Stashower. If you think our country is divided now, take another look at the political atmosphere of the 1860s! Those who are familiar with the many books written about Lincoln probably knew that there had been a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln before he could take office; however, this was new information to me. Stashower meticulously documents the political forces at play in 1861 and paints a deeply empathetic portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The surprise of the book is what readers learn about Alan Pinkerton, founder of the renowned detective agency, and his “operatives.”

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral–plus plenty of valet parking–in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich. A lot of people really, really did not like this book. What about the people who work hard in Washington? How could the author “sell out” his colleagues ? Washington isn’t the only place on Earth where people relentlessly kiss up to win favor, manage to create new images for themselves in a changing political climate,  pursue money and power like hounds on a rabbit’s trail, or rip on colleagues to sell a book. DC is my hometown, but I’m not offended. It’s funny stuff if you let yourself think of it as leafing through a Kitty Kelly tell-all than a scholarly exposition of the way things work in our nation’s capital.

Gulp, by Mary Roach. I am shocked–shocked I tell you!–not to find this book on any of the “Best” lists this year. Mary Roach is the funniest science writer you will ever read, but she takes her research seriously. No detail of digestion is too graphic for this journey through the human body. As she did in her books Stiff and Packing for Mars, Roach answers questions you never even knew you had and then again, maybe didn’t want to have in the first place. Inside every person in my family is a thirteen-year-old waiting for the homeroom teacher to sit on a whoopee cushion. Maybe I would have gotten better grades in Biology if I’d had a teacher like Mary Roach.

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