Booked Up

Favorites of 2013

I won’t claim they’re the best, but they’ll make for good reading.

By - Dec 20th, 2013 03:09 pm

By now you may be tired of the “Best of 2013” lists that seem to reproduce like rabbits this time of year. Rather than pile on with more such claims, I will only share some books that I’ve enjoyed this year.  Call them my special favorites. Please feel free to share your lists with me and I will try to publish some of your choices in later weeks.

Before I got this gig, I had been reading mostly classics, older fiction, and reference works, so you may find this grab-bag rather puzzling. I am an eclectic reader, but usually avoid genre fiction (mysteries, sci-fi, romance, etc.). I read lots of poetry and plays. You will also notice that some of my picks were published in 2012. I will be concentrating more on new releases in my columns next year.

When we share our favorite reading material with others, it’s a way to reveal a little bit of ourselves. We are often deeply invested in what we read and can get quite offended when others don’t share our love for a certain book or author. Don’t worry about that. I would love to provoke your reactions, passions, and memories, even if you hate one of my choices. So please feel free to share your views.

My Favorites of 2013

“4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog. (Samuel French) A runner-up for The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this lovely play tells the story of two needy and infuriating people. One is a 21-year-old and the other is his 91-year-old grandmother.  Thrown together through crisis, they fight, cry, and love each other.  I want to see this on stage soon.

Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre” by Ethan Mordden

Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre” by Ethan Mordden

“Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre” by Ethan Mordden. (Oxford) Mordden is a very opinionated guide through America’s most original art form. That makes for a delightful ride. You may take some of his pronouncements with a grain of salt, but he will send you running back to the original shows.

“The Best American Poetry 2013” edited by David Lehman. (Scribner Poetry) The Best anthology series are always reliable ways to make your precious reading time more efficient. Instead of you poring over dozens of publications, the astute editors make some exciting (and sometimes, infuriating) choices for you. If you think poetry is dead in America, be prepared for a happy surprise.

“The Casual Vacancy” by J. K. Rowling. (Little, Brown) Rowling’s first adult novel from 2012 is fascinating as an insight into the development of a writer in mid-career. She doesn’t disappoint. The story of a British county election has echoes of Dickens and Trollope. You will be reminded occasionally of Harry Potter, but he was never this snide or venal.

“The Cineaste: Poems” by A. Van Jordan. (W.W. Norton) I appreciate a collection of verse with a coherent theme. This gifted young poet creates evocative and often jarring tributes to classic films. It helps to have seen the movies referenced, but even the unknown films make fascinating reading. I now have a new list of classics to watch, as well!

“Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar. (Bloomsbury Methuen) The 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was given to this riveting play.  A dinner party explodes as the conversation turns to Islam and terrorism.  This savvy entertainment shows modern Muslims still living under the stigma of post-9/11 prejudice.

“Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War …” by The New York Times, edited by Ted Widmer. (The New York Times) The Civil War was perhaps the most defining event in American history. As we commemorate the 150-year-anniversary of this horrible conflict, I recommend this book as a guide. It’s a huge volume and worth several years of study and thought.  I dip into it as we reach the date of an important battle or other milestone. The commentators put this sometimes baffling war into perspective.

“Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” by Anne Lamott. (Riverhead) Although it’s a short read, this meditation on prayer is potent and thought-provoking. Lamott is an unorthodox Christian, but makes some classic points about spiritual experiences. First published in 2012.

“Living the Good Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others” by Martha Stewart. (Clarkson Potter) Don’t judge! Whatever you think about Martha, you have to admit she is organized. Imagine what she would say about growing older. Get organized and live better! You can tell her whole company worked on this, but it is filled with Martha’s calm and cool tone. I especially recommend this book to caretakers of older relatives. The information is good for all of us to know.

“Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects” by Richard Kurin. (Penguin Group) I am a sucker for beautifully illustrated history books. This is one of the year’s best. It uses objects from the Smithsonian Museums to illuminate the story of America. As you read, you will be challenged to think of other things that you wish had been included (or excluded).

Disagree with any of this? Please feel free to comment below.

And send your book club picks and author event information to me at

0 thoughts on “Booked Up: Favorites of 2013”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love the variety. Look forwars to more recommendations!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Rose.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So far, I’ve only read Anne Lamott’s book from your list. I think I will go to the Smithsonian History next. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next week!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Will Stotts, Jr., thank you for the list. I’m only familiar with the Best of Poetry book (although I’m a poet and writer and reviewer and artist myself), so it will be interesting to find the books that you’ve mentioned (as per the Mexican quotation, “Every head is a different world”).

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Christina & Betsy!

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