Our ten favorite books of 2013

by Lara

The end of the year is near: time for winter coats and hot chocolates, but also end-of-the-year lists! You will find in this list our ten favorite titles released this year, both fiction and non-fiction.

Goat MountainDavid Vann

In David Vann’s searing novel Goat Mountain, an eleven-year-old boy is eager to make his first kill at his family’s annual deer hunt. But all is not as it should be. His father discovers a poacher on the land, a 640-acre ranch in Northern California, and shows him to the boy through the scope of his rifle. With this simple gesture, tragedy erupts, shattering lives irrevocably.

David Vann was born in the Aleutian Islands and spent his childhood in Ketchikan, Alaska. He is the author of the international bestseller Legend of a Suicide, which has been translated into eighteen languages and won several prizes including the Prix Médicis Étranger, Caribou Island and Dirt.

Washington PostGoat Mountain, his third Sophoclean novel, is muscular, existential, barbaric and dense with allegory.

Interview of David Vann“I write Greek tragedy told through a wild western landscape”


 
A Tale for the Time BeingRuth Ozeki

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. A Tale for the Time Being is her third novel.

The New York Times: Ozeki takes on big themes in A Tale for the Time Being — not just the death of individuals but also the death of the planet.

Interview of Ruth Ozeki: “I write in order to think. It’s the way I ask questions and interrogate the world. It’s the way I experience life most fully.”


 
Ten White GeeseGerbrand Bakker

A woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales. She says her name is Emilie. An Emily Dickinson scholar, she has fled Amsterdam, having just confessed to an affair. On the farm she finds ten geese. One by one they disappear. Who is this woman? Will her husband manage to find her? The young man who stays the night: why won’t he leave? And the vanishing geese?

Gerbrand Bakker won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2010 for his novel The Twin. Ten White Geese is a quiet and haunting novel in which we follow a Dutch professor and Dickinson scholar fleeing to Wales after an incident and trying to settle on an isolated farm.

Kirkus Reviews: In stark but lyrical prose, Bakker explores themes of both isolation and intimacy.

Interview of Gerbrand Bakker: “A lot of background information is sometimes just noise; it’s immaterial for the unfolding of the story.”


 
This Is the WayGavin Corbett

Anthony Sonaghan is hiding out in an old tenement house in Dublin: he fears he’s reignited an ancient feud between the two halves of his family. Twenty-first-century Dublin may have shopping malls and foreign exchange students, but Anthony is from an Irish Travelling community, where blood ties are bound deeply to the past. When his roguish uncle Arthur shows up on his doorstep with a missing toe, delirious and apparently on the run, history and its troubles are following close behind him—and Anthony will soon have to face the question of who he really is.

Gavin Corbett was born in the west of Ireland and grew up in Dublin, where he studied History at Trinity College. This is the Way is his second novel.

The Guardian: This is memorable work from a gifted writer whose next moves we should await with very keen interest.

Interview of Gavin Corbett: “Home is any place where peace of mind comes easily”


 
The PanopticonJenni Fagan

Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as suspicious as its residents. But Anais can’t remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform…

Jenni Fagan is a novelist and poet based in Edinburgh. She won numerous awards for her fiction. The Panopticon is her first novel.

BookOxygen: Sparingly and cleverly written, with poetic passages, The Panopticon is a yarn that makes one hungry for more from the same author.

Interview of Jenni Fagan: “The dehumanising effects of institutionalisation are evident in the lives of all the characters in this book”


 
A Delicate TruthJohn le Carré

A counter-terror operation, codenamed Wildlife, is being mounted in Britain’s most precious colony, Gibraltar. Its purpose: to capture and abduct a high-value jihadist arms-buyer. Its authors: an ambitious Foreign Office Minister, and a private defence contractor who is also his close friend. So delicate is the operation that even the Minister’s Private Secretary, Toby Bell, is not cleared for it.

John le Carré was born in 1931 and attended the universities of Bern and Oxford. He taught at Eton and served briefly in British Intelligence during the Cold War. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, secured him a world wide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People.

Financial Times: This is vintage Le Carré and highly enjoyable. He is the master of the tightly crafted, interlocked plot, with characters who blow smoke, cause trouble and have chaotic affairs.


 
The Book of My LivesAleksandar Hemon

Aleksandar Hemon’s lives begin in Sarajevo, a small, blissful city where a young boy’s life is consumed with street soccer with the neighborhood kids, resentment of his younger sister, and trips abroad with his engineer-cum-beekeeper father. Here, a young man’s life is about poking at the pretensions of the city’s elders with American music, bad poetry, and slightly better journalism. And then, his life in Chicago: watching from afar as war breaks out in Sarajevo and the city comes under siege, no way to return home; his parents and sister fleeing Sarajevo with the family dog, leaving behind all else they had ever known; and Hemon himself starting a new life, his own family, in this new city.

Aleksandar Hemon is the author of The Lazarus Project, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and three books of short stories: The Question of Bruno; Nowhere Man, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Love and Obstacles. He was the recipient of a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. He lives in Chicago.

NPR: He is not only a remarkably talented writer but also one of the great social observers, a cultural anthropologist who seems at home everywhere and nowhere and who balances despair with hope, anger with humor.


 
Turn Around Bright EyesRob Sheffield

Turn Around Bright Eyes is an emotional journey of hilarity and heartbreak with a karaoke soundtrack. It’s a story about finding the courage to move on, clearing your throat, and letting it rip. It’s a story about navi- gating your way through adult romance. And it’s a story about how songs get tangled up in our deepest emotions, evoking memories of the past while inspiring hope for the future.

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV, and popular culture. He is the author of the national bestsellers Love Is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife.

Los Angeles Review of Books: Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus may be among our best rock critics. But if Sheffield keeps writing books as tender and smart as this one, he might end up being judged on a bigger dais.


 
We Need New NamesNoViolet Bulawayo

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

NoViolet is the author of We Need New Names. Her stories have won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and shortlisted for the J.M. Coetzee – judged 2009 SA PEN Studzinsi Award.  NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University where she was a recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship, and most recently, a lecturer of English. She is now a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She was born and raised in Zimbabwe.

The New York Times: A deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel.


 
The GoldfinchDonna Tartt

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

Donna Tartt is the author of the novels The Secret History and The Little Friend. She was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and is a graduate of Bennington College. She lives in New York.

Washington Post: Tartt has created a rare treasure: a long novel that never feels long, a book worthy of our winter hibernation by the fire.