I read 53 books in 2013, but a bunch of those were cheats. I count comic books in that number, though they often don’t take more than an hour or two to get through. So for this list I’ll combine the comics into series and we’ll see what the actual number is by the end of it all (37, it turns out). In all other ways, this will be much like any other list. Pictures, a quote, and a little review. And I didn’t hate a single one of these books, though those last five weren’t really very good. Here’s part one! Part two to follow later this week!
37. The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
“Tomorrow will be like today, and the day after tomorrow will be like day before yesterday,” said Apollonius. “I see your remaining days each as quiet, tedious collections of hours. You will not travel anywhere. You will think no new thoughts. You will experience no new passions. Older you will become but not wiser.”
I read this right after I read Something Wicked This Way Comes because I was told it’s a spiritual father of that story. I get that, a lot. The majority of this novella focuses on the weird stuff at a weird circus. It just doesn’t have much of a plot or really a reason for existing. Nice, but nothing I’ll ever think about again.
36. Dial H Vols 1 & 2 by China Mieville
China Mieville is one of my favorite writers working today and his take on a forgotten superhero should have been really interesting. Instead we get kind of boring things with moments of brilliance (see the chalk version of Batman, for example). Mostly disappointing, though.
35. Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
All you can do is hope for a pattern to emerge, and sometimes it never does. Still, with a plan, you only get the best you can imagine. I’d always hoped for something better than that.
Besides all the dead baby talk and the necrophilia, the story of this is a little less than what I was expecting. I love the idea of a haunted house real estate business and the idea of the song that will kill anybody who hears it is fantastic. I don’t even remember how it ends, though.
34. Railsea by China Mieville
People have wanted to narrate since first we banged rocks together & wondered about fire. There’ll be tellings as long as there are any of us here, until the stars disappear one by one like turned-out lights.
Another semi-disappointing story from Mieville. I get that it’s for kids but UnLunDun proved that he could do that kind of thing while still maintaining a high degree of awesome. There’s room for improvement here, if he ever decides to return to the rails.
33. The Walking Dead Vols 1-8 by Robert Kirkman
Now I get why the TV show is so uneven. After years of hearing that the comic is better I thought I’d put that to the test. Turns out it is better, slightly. There’s still a lot of bad dialogue and the situations are sometimes quite silly. Still, as half a soap opera and half a kickass zombie story, it’s mostly interesting.
32. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
God, how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of each other.
The prose is uniformly beautiful. The pace, on the other hand, is super slow. Maybe five things happen over the course of the whole book. It’s robbed of its immediacy and therefore less scary than it could have been. Fortunately, Bradbury wrote another Halloween story…
31. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
You know how it goes, young woman travels to a fairy land in search of adventure, finds it. It’s well done and references those giants that came before it nicely. It’s good.
30. Prophet Vol 1 by Brandon S. Graham
Really pretty and mostly interesting story of the last humans flung across space. Here’s hoping it comes together at some point, because as of the end of Vol 1, there’s not a whole lot actually happening.
29. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The 1143-year-long war hand begun on false pretenses and only because the two races were unable to communicate.
Once they could talk, the first question was “Why did you start this thing?” and the answer was “Me?”
The most interesting aspect of this story is it’s take on space travel and the time stretching and compacting that happens as the first intergalactic soldiers go out to the front line. It’s a Vietnam parallel and an obvious one at that, but it’s no less powerful for it. The sense of alienation in the middle segment is fantastic.
28. Lexicon by Max Barry
Good words were the difference between Emily eating well and not. And what she had found worked best were not facts or arguments but words that tickled people’s brains for some reason, that just amused them. Puns, and exaggerations, and things that were true and not at the same time.
Another book about the power of words but a lot more successful than Lullaby. Barry continues his trend of fast moving and funny books that feel like a really well done blockbuster movie. That’s a high compliment coming from me.
27. Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
I had schooled myself since the war-days never to speak of my enthusiasms; when other people did not share them, which was usual, I was hurt and my pleasure diminished; why was I always excited about things other people did not care about? But I could not hold in.
There isn’t a whole lot of conflict in this story, the first in a trilogy about a small town in Canada, but it thrives thanks to the really great character work. The main character would have been a side character in any other story, and the choice to focus on him gives us wonderful segments like his war experience and his friendship with a Jesuit. It’s not exactly fun, but it is a really great read.
26. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?
Often recommended as a “what to read next” suggestion after catching up with the Song of Ice and Fire series, it shares that saga’s grime and plotting machinations. The characters are often interesting, even those that seem one-dimensional at first glance. I’m eager to catch up with the rest of the series.
25. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
Too many of us take great pains with what we ingest through our mouths, and far less with what we partake of through our ears and eyes.
My 2013 audiobook consumption was dominated by Brandon Sanderson, first with his book that appears later on this list and then with this one, the second in the Mistborn series. There’s maybe too much build up to the big siege scene, but boy does that scene deliver. Sanderson is a master at making a world and magic system feel entirely realistic and thoroughly considered.
24. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
The silence wasn’t uncomfortable or hostile but exhausted–the quiet of people who have a great deal to think about but not a hell of a lot to say.
Anybody with sense in their head might tell you that King writing a sequel to his beloved haunted hotel book, The Shining, which takes place 20 years later and concerns itself with psychic vampires and a death-sensitive cat would tell you it’s a bad idea. But he pulls it off, mostly. The bad guys are at once sinister and kinda silly. King justifies them remarkably well, though, and uses this opportunity to talk about alcoholism in a really great way. Danny Torrence was often overshadowed by his father in The Shining but here he, uh, shines.
23. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
A troupe learns to play like we all learn to screw, stumbling and jostling until everything’s finally in the right place.
I don’t know much about Scott Lynch’s personal life but the skinny on the ‘net seems to be that he was suffering until recently from depression and the end of his marriage. That makes a little bit of sense, as this is the least fun of the Gentlemen Bastards series so far. He again switches back and forth between a previous point in the characters’ lives and their current situation and again the “modern” story is a lot more interesting. Stop showing us the past, Scott! Despite all that, it’s still really good.
22. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.
The only reason why this is so low is because it was a re-read. It’s still one of the best books for young readers with a fantastic father-son relationship and superb writing throughout. It’s on my top 50 books of all time list for a reason.
21. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that’s something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later: between twenty and thirty, say. And after that, we’re just stuck with what we’ve got. We’re on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn’t it? And also – if this isn’t too grand a word – our tragedy.
There’s a movie parallel to be made here with Stories We Tell. Both offer us the idea that we are who we say we are, and that the act of constructing ourselves is one in which we actively engage rather than just having it happen to us as we live our lives. There’s existential crises and a suicide and a really fantastic scene involving a river that runs backwards. And it’s so short I read it in an afternoon.
20. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
The difference between childhood and adulthood, Vic had come to believe, was the difference between imagination and resignation. You traded one for the other and lost your way.
Much like his father’s Doctor Sleep, Joe Hill’s 2013 output is about a psychic vampire. Charlie Manx is a fantastic villain, both obviously evil and certainly demented. He steals kids and sucks their lifeforce to power his own in a pseudo-winter-wonderland from hell. Only one girl has escaped and now he’s out for her son. It’s big and long but it moves like a bullet and is quite well written.
19. Fables Vol 1 & 2 by Bill Willingham
I already love fables and fairy tales as a genre, so this comic series which imagines those characters we all know (The Big Bad Wolf and The Three Little Pigs, for example) as modern day refugees from the old world which was taken over by a malevolent darkness. Now they are private eyes (Bigby, the wolf) and communists (those pigs, also borrowing from Animal Farm). I’ll keep reading this series as long as Willingham comes up with clever situations to put these characters in.
18. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
Miraculously, smoke curled out of his own mouth, his nose, his ears, his eyes, as if his soul had been extinguished within his lungs at the very moment the sweet pumpkin gave up its incensed ghost.
Half adventure, half lesson, The Halloween Tree is a much more vital and exciting Halloween themed story than his more popular Something Wicked This Way Comes. Though I have no need to ever learn about Dia de los Muertos again, the rest of the historical instances of the celebration of death are fascinating. Bradbury knows what he’s doing.
Halfway there! Come back later this week for the rest of the list!