Our Year in Reading 2013

book lists notebook

Whenever we reach year’s end, my husband Dan bemoans how short his book list is. Actually, he reads a ton for someone who works as hard as he does at a regular day job (which often requires his evenings as well) and is as involved as he is in the running of our household.

He also does this thing I really admire but don’t tend to do with my own reading, which is find a writer he likes, then read several books by the same person. This year he read two books each by George Orwell and sci-fi writer Joe Haldeman, and three by British novelist Edward St. Aubyn.

As usual, Dan and I have few overlaps in our lists. This year we have just two: Our friend Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s lovely and critically acclaimed debut YA novel, Uses for Boys, and Alex Shakar’s Luminarium, which I found myself wanting to call, perhaps unfairly, Nothing is Illuminated.

As for me, I realized looking at my list that I really do enjoy reading the sort of fiction I also write—namely, literary historical fiction. I read some terrific examples this year. I’m also thrilled to be able to say that, in addition to Erica’s book, I read with great pleasure several books by literary acquaintances, friends, and mentors (noted by linking to their websites). I’m grateful to be part of a large and supportive—and productive!—writing community.

Dan’s list is given in as-he-finished-them order. It’s all fiction except for the ones marked “nf” for non-fiction. The short annotations are his. My list is split into categories for no particularly good reason other than that I want to see for myself how I distribute my reading. (The books appear in each category in the order in which I finished them.) My annotations are, unsurprisingly, less brief.

George Orwell
Orwell. Worth reading again & again.


  • George Orwell, A Collection of Essays (nf). Deservedly classic.
  • Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls
  • Erica Lorraine Scheidt, Uses for Boys
  • Joe Haldeman, The Forever War (a classic) and Forever Peace (terrible)
  • Daniel Pinkwater, Fish Whistle: Little Short Essays (nf)
  • J. K. Rowling, The Casual Vacany. Better than given credit for.
  • Thomas Marcinko, Astronauts & Heretics
  • Stephen Macknik & Susana Martínez-Conde, Sleights of Mind (nf)
  • Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon
  • P. G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves
  • D. T. Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (nf)
  • Edward St. Aubyn, Some Hope (a trilogy of short novels), Mother’s Milk, and  At Last. Bitterly funny, ultimately kind of depressing.
  • George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
  • Alex Shakar, Luminarium. Not a big fan.
  • Gilbert Sorrentino, The Abyss of Human Illusion. Really liked while reading; can’t remember anything about it now.
  • Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio
  • David Foster Wallace, This Is Water
  • Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Finally finished after several years. Huzzah!
Uses for Boys, Erica Lorraine Scheidt
The best book we both read



  • Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin. Gorgeous prose about not-very-pretty characters.
  • Erica Lorraine Scheidt, Uses for Boys. Sparkling and true.
  • David Leavitt, The Indian Clerk. Loved this fictionalization of the relationship between mathematicians G. H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan.
  • Pat Barker, Life Class. Another excellent First World War book from one of my favorite contemporary writers.
  • P. D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley. “Disappointing” is the nicest thing I can think to say about this.
  • Melinda Moustakis, Bear Down, Bear North (stories). Terrific stories set in Alaska.
  • Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (stories). So good I wondered why I even bother writing myself.
  • Honoré de Balzac, Old Goriot. What a dark little tale. Provided some details I needed about Paris in the 1820s.
  • Andrew Miller, Pure. Recommended to me by my friend, poet Susan Wolbarst. Paris in the 1780s. Why is this writer not more famous in the U.S.?
  • Geraldine Brooks, March. Inventive and engaging re-imagining of the Civil War experiences of the absent father in Little Women.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped. Part of my regular diet of nautical fiction. Yum.
  • Roddy Doyle, Mad Weekend. Odd little book with one of the funniest laugh-out-loud lines I’ve ever read.
  • Alexander Pushkin, The Captain’s Daughter & Other Great Stories (stories). I can only remember the title story.
  • Jodi Angel, You Only Get Letters from Jail (stories). Let me just add to the accolades. This book is awesome.
  • C. S. Forester, Hornblower and the ‘Hotspur’. See above, re: Kidnapped.
  • Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (stories). The much-anthologized title story is extraordinary, of course, but the others are also excellent.
  • Alex Shakar, Luminarium. Ambitious and complex, but ultimately failed to justify its own length, IMO.
  • Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker. Tough and beautiful.
    One Hundred Apocalypses, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, Lucy Corin
    Incredibly cool die-cut cover
  • Lucy Corin, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. Weird and wonderful. Most remarkable physical book object I read and handled this year.
  • John Lescroart, The Hunter. A page-turner with lots of great history and terrific sense of place.
  • Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic. Love the way first-person plural is used in this compact novel.
  • Josh Weil, The New Valley. Three novellas that reward reading and rereading. Long live the novella!


  • Isabelle Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns. Long. Too long. But worth the effort.
  • Annie Dillard, An American Childhood. A great book for generating writing.  I had to stop every few paragraphs to follow a new idea that popped into my head.
  • Eula Biss, Notes from No Man’s Land. An often amazing stew of research, reflection, and memoir.
  • Michelle Dicinoski, Ghost Wife. Also combines personal history and research to moving and lyrical effect.
  • Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Unexpectedly funny in places.
  • John D’Agata, Halls of Fame. Challenging. Mind-expanding. Sometimes exasperating.
    Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, Cami Ostman, Susan Tive, Leah Lax, Naomi J. Williams
    Essays by women who left repressive religious communities
  • Susan Tive and Cami Ostman, eds., Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions. The first essay in this anthology is by me! Includes other first-person accounts by women who belonged to, then left, strict religious communities.
  • A. Kawabata, A Hermit Turned Loose. I’ll write a blog post about this book in 2014, but it’s an English-language travelogue written by my great-grandfather, Tokkyo (“A.”) Kawabata, who went to England in 1913.
  • Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes. My mother lent me this book. What a great read—traces the history of a family & its art collection from Odessa to Vienna to Paris to Tokyo.
  • Kate Cambor, Gilded Youth: Three Lives in France’s Belle Epoque. Another terrific read. Got me interested in reading more about the Dreyfus Affair.


  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Challenging but worth every minute.
  • Candace Ward, ed., World War One British Poets. Heartbreaking as always.
  • Kay Boyle, The Collected Poems of Kay Boyle. Sometimes luminous & sometimes opaque.
  • A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad. Some pretty lines. But felt—well, dated.
  • May Sarton, The Silence Now. Having trouble remembering this book, but I know I copied out some lines from it.
  • Margaret Atwood, Selected Poems. I copied out a lot of lines from this one.
  • Anne Sexton, Love Poems. Raw and sometimes a little scary.
  • Derek Walcott, The Prodigal: A Poem. Not always easy, but always gorgeous.
  • Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings. More pleasant than stirring.
    Red Doc >, Anne Carson, Geryon
    Must read again right away
  • Anne Carson, Red Doc >. A gift from my friend, writer Leah Lax (who’s also in the Beyond Belief anthology above). I already need to reread it.
  • Robert Frost, Robert Frost’s Poems. Turns out some of the less-famous poems are also wonderful.
  • Bowen, Temple, Albery & Wienrich, eds., Poem a Day, Volume 3. Received as a thank-you gift for being the pronouncer at a local spelling bee. Faithfully read a poem a day all year. Introduced me to poets I’d never heard of before.


  • William Shakespeare, As You Like It. I liked it.
  • Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice. Still can’t figure out whether this is just an anti-Semitic play or a play about anti-Semitism. I want to believe it’s the latter, but I suspect it’s really just the former. Now watching some film adaptations.

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