I read 146 books in 2013. When you read that many books you end up with a lot of favorites.
If you want to read more, be sure to check out 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
Last year I offered a straight top 15 list, but this year I’m going to break it out a bit. I read a lot more fiction than nonfiction and I really love fiction. It’s hard to compare the two, so it seems unfair to put them in the same list. I’ll share my nonfiction favs later. We’ll also give a few honorable mentions…
Top 10 Fiction of 2013:
- The Martian by Andy Weir
An astronaut is abandoned on Mars and has to find a way to survive for years until rescue can come. It feels like the forever how-toing and survivalist stuff should get old, but it’s captivating. Impossible to put down and just incredibly engaging. I can’t stop recommending this one. Plus it was self published and got picked up for major release (which is why it’s not available until February).
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A time travel story that replaces all the pesky science fiction with romance. That makes it much more approachable than you’d expect and incredibly fun. It’s a love story where the time-traveling husband first meets his wife when they’re both in their 20s. But she actually met first him when she was 6 and he was in his 40s. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s awesome.
- Wool by Hugh Howey
I kept hearing people talk about the self-published phenomena of Wool and I finally grabbed an omnibus edition from the library (I hate cliffhangers). Howey also grabbed headlines by scoring mainstream publication while maintaining his digital rights, which is pretty great. Howey weaves an incredible world that’s engaging and fascinating, while also being hard to put down. I plowed through this book wanting to see more of the world and know what happens next. Great characters, great world, great fun. (And for the record, the sequels hold their own. A rare case when the trilogy didn’t kill the story.)
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I basically fell in love with Rainbow Rowell as one of my new favorite authors this year. I read all three of her books and saw her at a reading (delightful!). It’s tempting to put all three of her books in my list and if I did a top 15 I probably would. Attachments is pretty great with its late 1990s email monitoring setup. Eleanor & Park is probably her most popular and while it’s great, it’s probably my least favorite (but still in my top 15). But Fangirl gets the top spot for exploring the life of a freshman college student having a difficult transition (I can relate), exploring writing and also diving into fan fiction with a fun sendup of the Harry Potter world. I didn’t want it to end.
- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
This was kind of an unexpected favorite. It’s much more of a literary novel (and an Oprah pick!) and it took a little getting used to the literary style, but once the book got going I really got into it. It’s the story of a mute boy and his family that trains dogs, and, well, ultimately it’s a retelling of Hamlet. I’m kind of slow on the uptake with that kind of stuff though. I just enjoyed the story for what it was. For me the story really hit its stride when the boy was on the run with his dogs.
- Kindred by Octavia Butler
Another surprise favorite, I listened to Kindred while running. I’ve read Octavia Butler before and found her to be a little intense. Kind of severe I guess, which felt odd in the more fantasy works I’ve read. This one is entirely realistic, except for the fact that Dana is inexplicably drawn from the 1970s to slave-holding 1800s Maryland. Another time travel novel with no time machine! I love that concept. It’s a perfect scenario for Butler’s intense style, and it was riveting.
- Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
John Scalzi became one of my favorite writers this year. His reimagining of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is just great. It kicks off an entire series and it’s full of mind-bending surprises, sci-fi insight and just plain grunts doing their thing. Good stuff. Perhaps the only reason Scalzi didn’t make the top five is because his stuff has an unassuming quality that doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s just a good read.
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
This pre- and post-apocalypse vampire story is incredible in its breadth and depth. It’s long and takes some getting used to, which is probably why it’s not higher on the list, but the worlds it takes you to are fantastic. The narrative jumps around, sometimes entire generations, but you keep getting various glimpses of the tragedy unfolding. You see a post-apocalyptic hidey-hole and then generations later a compound that’s found a way to survive. My biggest complaint is that it turns into a trilogy and starts to get bizarre. I thought The Twelve was kind of a letdown and I’m less eager for the third installment.
- Feed by Mira Grant
I remember being amazed at the pace and imagination of this zombie tale. It’s the story of two adventure-addicted bloggers in a world where humanity has learned to live with their zombie infestation. The bloggers land on a press tour with a presidential candidate when a mysterious plot threatens them all. It moves at a breakneck pace and Mira Grant is not afraid to kill off main characters, which makes it a thrill ride. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is because it spawns two disappointing sequels that really kill the mood. (Notice a theme? Trilogies are really killing good stories. I know it’s tempting, but leave well enough alone!)
- Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
This one feels like an odd choice for the top 10 list. It’s the story of a troubled teenage girl and the ex-boyfriend who died with his share of secrets. She’s trying to sort out his death and the secrets while maintaining some semblance of life. I loved the snapshots of her after school job delivering pizzas. I’m a sucker for those vignettes of real life. But it’s just a funny, quirky, poignant book that I really enjoyed. No time travel, no zombies, no space flight—just good characters and a page-turning story.
Every year there are some books that don’t make my top books list but are still worth a mention. Here are a few honorable mentions:
- Best Post-Apocalyptic Story: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. It’s fair to say I’ve read all the major books. It’s hard to find a new one and I usually find myself reading zombie or vampire variants that aren’t quite the standard post-apocalyptic story. But this one was a surprise standard. It has a very weird voice that takes some getting used to, but once you do it’s the story of a pilot and his dog living with a totally prepared military guy and wanting to get out and explore. The simple details are wonderful. The only thing that kept it from being a top pick is the barebones style that took a lot of getting used to.
- Worst Post-Apocalyptic Story: Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley, Rawles
Wow. This book is so bad and so great at the same time. The writing and storytelling is atrocious. The survivalist insights are amazing. The author is a real deal prepper and knows his stuff. But the story is straight up propaganda (I wouldn’t even say it’s thinly veiled). So it’s painful to read, but strangely captivating. The story does become addicting and I had to know what happened, but then he’d throw in some ridiculous political comment and I was laughing at it.
- So Close But Not There: Reamde / Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Anytime you’re reading a book that’s more than 600 pages you’re making a serious commitment and the author needs to hold up their end of the bargain. Stephen King is one of the rare authors who can do this well. Neal Stephenson is almost there. Reamde was pretty good. Maybe top 15. An incredibly suspenseful story that just unfolded in bizarre complications. I enjoyed it. But there were definitely moments where I wondered about the pacing. Did it really need to be this long? Could we have shaved off a few hundred pages? That’s a problem. Then there’s Cryptonomicon. It had this great World War II mystery being played out in the past and uncovered in the present. Really engaging (except when he spent pages and pages explaining weird math concepts). But then the ending came too abruptly and with some weird leaps. You don’t spend a thousand pages on a book and then rush the ending. I dropped it a full star on Goodreads based on the abruptness of the ending alone. Even worse? It’s supposedly the first in a series. I like Stephenson’s writing, but the length makes me wary.
- Too Good Not to Mention: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
I already mentioned this one above when I put Fanmail in the top five, but Attachments needs some more love. Let’s be honest: It’s a top 10 book. The only reason I didn’t put it there is because I don’t like to give one author multiple spots. Arbitrary and stupid? Maybe. This is just a feel good love story. You’re rooting for the geek as he struggles to make sense of his life, gets himself in some trouble and wonders if he can ever get out.
There you go. The best fiction of 2013. Now I’m ready to get back to my 2014 reading (currently Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is making a good case for the 2014 top 10).
If you want to read more, again, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.