Originally published January 2, 2014
How many books did you read this year?
I thought I read a lot until I learned one of my friends reads three books a week. That makes me both jealous and exhausted. Me? I read a paltry 38—though it felt like I read more than that. Maybe I need to do something about my Bejeweled Blitz obsession and I could find more time.
So here it is—everything I read this year. If you want to see my faves, check out the Best Books of 2013. Just about everything was worth the read, so don’t be afraid to give something from this list a whirl, too:
The Husband’s Secret (Liane Moriarty): The last book I read this year and really, very good. It seems this year has had a “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” thread running through it, with books like “Life After Life” and “Forever, Interrupted” having plot lines that exist based on the decisions the characters make.
Let Me Off at the Top (Ron Burgundy): This would probably better as an audiobook, because words on paper from Ron Burgundy just don’t sound the same when read by the voice in your head. Once I changed my inner channel to Ron, it got funnier. Especially thr rules on how to survive a prison riot. Comedy … self-improvement … you choose.
The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt): On my best books list for the year—exquisitely written, thought-provoking and just sad, readers can’t help but wonder what tragedy is going to next befall Theo Decker.
Far from the Tree (Andrew Solomon): This book isn’t made for a casual weekend read, but is most definitely readable. Andrew Solomon takes readers on a journey into the lives of people that don’t fit the typical mold, and will have you questioning the very thought process by which you live with and love those around you. Maybe it’s not about the fix—and more about the acceptance.
Forever, Interrupted (Taylor Jenkins Reid): More of a classic chick-lit read for a rainy weekend or waiting out your kid’s soccer practice. The plot line has you wondering just how long love has to grow before it’s considered legitimate by friends and family, and what the expiration date on grief is supposed to be.
The Reason I Jump (Naoki Higashida): A must read not just for autistic kids and parents of autistic kids, but for anyone—teachers, family and friends that struggle for understanding and acceptance. The book opens the doors into the world of an austistic and offers much-needed insight.
VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave (Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood and Martha Quinn): An unabashed look at MTV’s early years from the inside. A wild ride full of great soapy factoids. Great for 80s fans everywhere.
Help for the Haunted (John Searles): Loved it—similar to “The Death of Bees” below, a story about two young, orphaned sisters, trying to make sense of the death of their parents, and to make sure the right person pays the price for the crime that killed them. Sad and sppoky, Searles will have you wondering if we can communicate with the next plane.
Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book (Diane Muldrow): A lovely little ditty that is full of life lessons. Great gift book for a grad this June. (And something different from “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”)
Nine Inches (Tom Perrotta): Another one of my besties and a terrific collection of short stories, mostly themed around family and redemption. Just yummy.
The Cuckoo’s Calling (Robert Galbraith) My theory? That J.K. Rowling wrote this under a pseudonym just to give the middle finger to all the critics who panned “A Casual Vacancy” because they didn’t think there was enough (any!) magic in it. Girl can write—and this time, it’s a murder mystery. Don’t miss it.
Masterminds and Wingmen (Rosalind Wiseman): Need to know how to talk to a boy? This is “Mean Girls” Wiseman’s follow up to “Queen Bees and Wannabees” and offers fantastic insight into the boy’s mind.
The Measures Between Us (Ethan Hauser): A quiet and haunting read about love and relationships in this tale of a emotionally disturbed young woman and the parents who want to help her.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman): I said Neil Gaiman. Why aren’t you already in the line at the library for this? Magical and romantic, this fantasy tinged with a little Sci-Fi is great for any age.
The Light in the Ruins (Chris Bohjalian): Set in the time period around WWII, a killer is loose and he or she has their sights set on one family in particular. Bohjalian knows how to turn up the heat and throw in plot twists that’ll have you asking, “What the fudge?”
Life After Life (Kate Atkinson): Also set in and around the War, Kate Atkinson’s meaty masterpiece takes a look at the concept of do-overs—making the right decisions at the right time so that you can get it right. But which decisions affect what? At times a little tedious but really a spectacle. Pick it up.
Finding Bliss (Dina Silver) I love Dina’s books, not just because I am friends with her, but because they are what they are—fun diversions from reality for a few hours. Her third is all about a young woman finding love at a beach house when perhaps she should have been looking in her dorm room. Fun, fun, fun.
Everybody Has Everything (Katrina Onstad): Your husband wants a kid, You’re not sure. Best friends are in a car accident. Daddy gone, Mommy clinging to life. And now? You have a kid. The interesting part is how much people care when faced with tragedy, and who crumbles under pressure.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Teddy Wayne): This was pop sugar candy corn fun—kinda like reading a Tiger Beat all about Justin Beiber without having to actually admit you even know who Bieber is. Follow along as pre-teen heartthrob Valentine hits the road on tour. Hilarious.
Inferno (Dan Brown): Either you like Dan Brown or you don’t. I liked it, but would have cut about 30 pages.
One Step Too Far (Tina Seskis): Great piece of chick lit that has a couple of twists—one expected, the other not so much. Grief makes people do crazy things. Like run away. Start over. Party a lot. Regret it in the morning. You get the picture.
A Dual Inheritance (Joanna Hershon): This book had me thinking about both “The Great Gatsby and “A Separate Peace”—classmates from different backgrounds that become the best of friends until lies and love tear them apart. And then their daughters bring them full circle.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (David Sedaris): Need a good laugh? Sedaris is a master satirist and well worth every penny you spend on his books. Funny, funny dude.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ben Fountain): I read this based on two things—its buzz, and the fact Jess Walter liked it enough to tell me about it. I think I was hoping for more along the lines of “The Art of Fielding,” but nonetheless, my heart ached for poor Billy, his armed forces unit and his family. Billy’s headed back for duty after his unit wraps up a publicity tour, the result of an enemy engagement they experienced overseas.
The Death of Bees (Lisa O’Donnell): Like “Help for the Haunted” mentioned above, this is a tale of two young girls. What’s different? These kids actually buried their parents in the back yard and are just hoping no one notices. Too late. Based on the other side of the Pond, it was a quick but smart read.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Maria Semple): A bestie for the year—hilarious, touching, and what I’d call another great chick lit for smart girls kind of book. Bernadette used to be a successful architect. Now she’s an agoraphobe. Her daughter just wants her back. Great fun.
One Last Thing Before I Go (Jonathan Tropper): A burnt out, ex-rocker divorced dad thinks he is dying—so helping his older teen daughter, who has discovered she’s pregnant, may be his only shot at redemption. The ending? KILLS me. Hilarious and sweet.
Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg): C’mon, ladies—I know you all read at least some of this—it’s practically required reading for the Sisterhood. I don’t know if I agree with everything she has to say, but it’s thought-provoking stuff, for sure.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Ayana Mathis): Damn that Oprah, but she knows how to pick ’em. Beautifully written story—almost separate short stories, really—about Hattie, a black woman living in the North, and her children. Not a happy happy joy joy book, but stirring, for certain.
A Thousand Pardons (Jonathan Dee): Interesting work revolving around family dysfunction. Guy wants divorce. No real reason why—just thinks he’s no longer in love. Wife blown away—knew there were problems, but … divorce? And daughter? Not happy with any of it. And, again—a story about the ramifications we incur based on a decision we make.
The Dinner (Herman Koch): Another book with a lot of buzz behind it—translated from Dutch (I think) I was determined not to let the translation scare me away as it has successfully with Dragon Tattoo girl. It is a good book, but keep in mind it’s of a pretty disturbing nature. And, like “The Husband’s Secret” above, puts a family in the position of making choices about how far they’ll go to protect each other.
After Visiting Friends (Michael Hainey): If you are into memoirs, this is a mesmerizing turn into the world of writers and newspaper reporters—Hainey is an editor at GQ, and someone who struggled with the reality of his father’s death when he was a young boy. Wanting to know the true story, he started to dig, well aware he may not like what he found out. Very engaging and an honest look at the faults and foibles all humans possess and act upon. Loved it.
Dante’s Wood (Lynne Raimondo): An excellent debut from a Chicago-area author—Mark Angelotti moves from clinical psychiatrist to sleuth when a patient, an intellectually disabled teen boy, is accused of a crime he didn’t commit—we think. Great for mystery fans.
Bebe Day by Day (Pamela Druckerman): More about how to raise kids the “French” way. It really is an interesting and different perspective. May be right for you, may be not. Nonetheless, food for thought.
The Middlesteins (Jami Attenberg): On one hand, a tiny bit disappointing in that there seemed to be a lot of buzz around this one, but still worth picking up if you’re in the mood. All about a Chicago-area family and their struggle to accept the impending divorce between the elder Middlesteins.
Motherland (Amy Sohn): On my besties list and simply fantastic. Soapy, twisted, disturbing, funny—all about those crazy hipster urba-mommies in NYC. I promise you will yell, “Oh my GOD!” out loud, at least three times.
Love, Water, Memory (Jennie Shortridge): A smart girl’s chick lit—the tale of a girl trying to rediscover the love of her life after losing her memory. Kind of like “The Vow,” but better. Well, Channing Tatum is tasty. So watch the movie, too.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce): A simply lovely tale of a man trying to find forgiveness by taking a walk—a very long walk. The ending is honest abd touching and priceless.
And we’re off on 2014! I just started “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. I hope you’re reading too—if you want my reviews right to your in-box, type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.