30.12.13

2013: Around the Year in Twenty Books

I read sixty books this year.
One less than last year. Five less than my goal.
I must say I left at least a half dozen books unfinished. It does happen sometimes.

It matters not. As philosophers might say: it's not the quantity but the quality.
And there was much quality in what I leafed through on 2013 even though I didn't manage to review everything that I read including 5 books which made it into my top list. Apologies.

Anyway, let's cut it short. Hereby you can find the twenty books that meant something to me in this ending soon year.
By clicking on each title, you can read a review. The bold links lead to my reviews, the other five, to better reviews than the ones I could have written if I had been less lazy. Read some!

01. Kurt Vonnegut - Mother Night
Forget 'Slaughterhouse Five' and 'Cat's Cradle': this is the best novel by Vonnegut you will find. Humorous, witty, melancholy, thought-provoking. In two words: pitch perfect. 

02. Israel Joshua Singer - The Brothers Ashkenazi
An epic tale on the rise and fall of a Jewish captain of industry in the rambling city of Lodz between the end of the 19th century and the dawn of World War II. Masterful stuff. 

03. Stefan Zweig - Chess (also known as The Royal Game)
It takes the author only 96 pages to deliver the greatest novella on the game of chess and one of the most powerful and topical stories on Holocaust ever written.

04. Don Carpenter - Hard Rain Falling
An underrated novel handling hard topics such as urban violence, gambling, homosexuality and social division with a sharp and yet emotional touch. A literary equivalent of The Shawshank Redemption.  

05. John Williams - Stoner
How the only child of poor Missouri farmers can become an English Literature professor fail into the pursuit of love, happiness, career and yet pass away serene. Belated bestseller, but for a reason. 

06. Gregor von Rezzori - The Snows of Yesteryear
Chronicles from a vanished Central European world where multiculturalism was a matter of fact. Von Rezzori drew an exquisite family portrait with a richful historical background. 

07. Elias Canetti - The Tongue Set Free
Canetti portrays an engrossing account of his childhood and young adult years wandering with his family from Bulgaria to Manchester, Vienna, Zurich and Frankfurt in the early 20th century. 

08. Olga Grushin - The Dream Life of Sukhanov
An interesting novel on art in contemporary Russia beautified by a flourishing language. Reading about Sukhanov's intellectual struggle is like staring at an abstract painting getting its actual meaning.

09. Antal Szerb - The Pendragon Legend
A hidden jewel by a Hungarian intellectual who loved Britain to bits. A carefully-chiselled pastiche celebrating Gothic literature, British humour and poking fun at occultism in a sophisticated way.

10. Walter Tevis - The Man Who Fell to Earth
A shining and probably unique piece of introspective science fiction. How a humanoid alien visiting Earth to save us from nuclear wars is relentlessly shattered into pieces by solitude and alcoholism. 

11. Graham Greene - The Comedians
Nobody understood what was going on and what was bound to happen in Haiti as much as Greene did.   And he managed to write a suspenseful thriller as well with Papa Doc and Duvalier in the background.     

12. Anne Applebaum - Between East and West
An engaging travelogue through Eastern Europe in the early 1990s when the Iron Curtain got rusty. Applebaum takes you from Kaliningrad to Odessa jotting down notes with the keen eye of a reporter.

13. John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead
Gems of pure Americanah pop and underground culture delivered by one of the most humorous pens west of the Atlantic Ocean. Where gonzo journalism meets David Sedaris. 

14. John Wyndham - The Day of The Triffids
Gargantuan walking plants stinging to death men and woman to banquet on their flesh thus driving humanity on the verge of extinction. All fueled by mass blindness and set in puritan England. Very funny indeed.

15. Isaac Bashevis Singer - Enemies
A love quadrangle set between Coney Island and the Bronx involving a sexy Holocaust survivor, a meek Polish peasant, and a resurrected wife torn a man apart. Polygamy is a tiring business. 

16. Ma Jian - Red Dust
A Chinese artist leaves Beijing behind to escape from a purge in the early 1980s. He will travel for 5 years discovering the sweet and sour sides of his homecountry and rediscover himself in the process.

17. Antal Szerb - Journey by Moonlight
Szerb strikes again with something completely different. At this time a newly-wed Hungarian groom has a personality crisis during his Italian honeymoon. Funny and profound at the same time.

18. Patrick Hamilton - Hangover Square
Hamilton puts himself in the shoes of a loser and good for nothing pining for a bitchy alcoholic woman. Love and hate walk hand in hand through the dark alleyways and public houses of pre-war London. 

19. Edmund de Waal - The Hare with the Amber Eyes
World famous ceramist turns into novelist to narrate the story of the Jewish branch of his family displaced by wars and misfortunes. On the wake of Canetti and von Rezzori but with a modern twist.

20. Julian Maclaren Ross - Of Love and Hunger
What do we know about the door-to-door vacum cleaner seller's feelings? Maclaren Ross filled that gap by telling the story of a suburban love affair in earlier times of job insecurity. Every little helped.

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