Taking my cue from Stephen King in the “Best of” issue of Entertainment Weekly and my High School librarian Margot Polley who every year lists her favorite books, I do the same for my favorite books read in 2013. Note I do not list books necessarily published in 2013, but books I read. This year I read a little bit of everything, so instead of listing books by categories, I decided to just list six memorable books that I thought were awesome. My criteria for selection was whether or not the book was fun to read. If you want to make your own list, go ahead. So here goes …
1. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
The best novel I read this year. Shriver delivers in her latest diatribe-cum-novel on the healthy eating craze. Pandora Halfdanarson's brother Edison comes to live with her and he's 336 pounds -- a shock to the sister and her nuclear family. The novel glitters with cute tidbits like jabs on healthy eating -- none of the meals Pandora's health crazed husband cooks up are appealing. I love Shriver's nice touches like Pandora's line of talking dolls she sells online that say mean things for people you love. It's standard Shriver replete with an impressive vocabulary and insight into sibling relationships.
2. Truffaut/Hitchcock by François Truffaut (an interview with Alfred Hitchcock)
The best cinema book I read. Two venerable directors talk about cinema in this classic interview conducted by the French New Wave director Truffaut and stringent auteur Hitchcock. Less on biography and more on form and execution, this book is a fascinating read for cinephiles. I personally love both Truffaut and Hitchcock and I came away with the conclusion that Truffaut makes moves born from his exacting emotional intuition and Hitchcock is the total opposite. Truffaut quizzes Hitchcock on each and every film he ever made and the result is a trip through film history and a rare chance to experience two great movie masters talk shop.
3. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
The grossest book I ever read. I will never think about digestion the same ever again. I hear Mary Roach is famous for writing about taboo subjects like cadavers and stuff, and so I wanted to read her. Do you know why a dog throws up his food? He enjoyed the meal. Did you know that food, as it goes from your mouth to your stomach, is called a bolus? The book is chock full of AMAZING facts about eating and everything that goes with, from the mouth to the rectum. Mary Roach is funny and informative and she has the most clever footnotes ever contrived by an author. The book is not a list of facts about the digestive system. It's more of a series of encounters with scientists who are trying to innovate on everything from saliva to taste buds.
4. Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt
The best philosophy book I read this year was written by a journalist. Holt asks everyone who will listen the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" This simple question is actually a doozy. Why does the universe exist at all? The universe could just as easily never have existed. I remember in College my Metaphysics professor spent weeks discussing it and I got a dose of it in reading Heidegger. This book does not require philosophical expertise and I think it is a good way to get into philosophy.
5. The End of Alice by A.M. Homes
Every year I gobble up books written by the same author and this year the winner was A.M. Homes. The End of Alice is about Chappy, a murderer pedophile in Sing Sing who has an epistolary romance with an unnamed teenage girl who is obsessed with a young boy (who likes to collect his scabs and eat 'em). The novel reminds me of Joyce Carol Oates's fictional Dahmeresque novel Zombie. Homes wrote a postscript to the novel called Appendix A: An Elaboration on the Novel The End of Alice that I have yet to read.
6. The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen
There are a certain class of artificial satellites flung into Earth's orbit that are far enough away to stay within Earth's gravitational field but will never either fall back to earth or drift off into inter-stellar space. They are, say, stuck. Paglen conceived and implemented a way to preserve human memory indefinitely, even after we are all gone. Attaching a small silicon disk etched with curated black and white photographs, Paglen aims to to eternally archive humanity's sojourn on the blue planet. The idea is inspired by NASA's "Golden Record" project for the Voyager spacecraft, but less humanistic. The idea is that even after humans are extinct there will still be these "last pictures," a small testament to our shenanigans. Most of the photographs, like a bunch of wasps affixed with what looks like a jet pack, are only meaningful once you read the liner notes, but I like how Paglen tries to capture us in our foibles and shortcomings.