For the past two years, I’ve had a blast doling out high school yearbook-style awards to some of the books I read over the course of the previous year. (Fun fact: I actually won a Senior Superlative in high school… “Shortest.” Womp, womp.) Here are my Book Superlatives for 2013:
Brainiest: Middlemarch, by George Eliot
One of the last books I read this year was also one of the most challenging. Not only is this novel an absolute tome, but it touches on all kinds of political, religious and economic issues of 1830s England. You’ll absolutely need to wear your thinking cap for this one. Middlemarch is definitely the Class of 2013 Valedictorian.
Best Looking: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
I wanted to read this book in large part because it received so many raves around the book blogosphere. But it didn’t hurt that the whole package – cover design, story, writing – was absolutely stunning. Full review here.
Best Friends: Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
Anne and Diana are one of the classic BFF duos in the entire literary canon. From their early friendship, where Anne convinces Diana that it would not be a sin to “swear” to be friends forever, to their brief separation thanks to Diana’s mother freaking out when Anne accidentally gets Diana drunk on currant wine, to their lives as young women, wives and mothers, these two are the definition of kindred spirits.
Class Clown: Poet’s Pub, by Eric Linklater
Linklater’s little-known classic starts out ponderously, but the hijinks kick in midway through and then it’s hilarious. Three words: charabanc. car. chase.
Biggest Jock: The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
I don’t read a lot of sports books, so this was an easy one to pick, but it would have been on my list of 2013 reading highlights no matter what. This non-fiction account of the University of Washington crew team that went to the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and won gold (that’s not a spoiler, people, HISTORY!) was an absolutely fantastic read. There were one or two pages that got a bit over-technical and a little dry on the subject of rowing theory or boat-building, but mostly, it was just a great story of some remarkable young men and the sport they loved.
Teacher’s Pet: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte
I read Villette with Beth and Amal back in the spring and loved the story of Lucy Snowe, a young woman of reduced means who takes a post teaching in a girls’ school in the Continental city of Villette. Lucy is a teacher, but she also does a fair amount of learning – some from experience, and some from a cantankerous master in the school who turns out to have more depth of emotion than originally thought. Fabulous book, and you can find my readalong posts here: Vol. I; Vol. II; Vol. III; Reading Companions.
Biggest Nerd: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England and The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer
Or am I the biggest nerd for totally geeking out over these? Mortimer’s histories (the first focusing on medieval England – roughly, the 1300s – and the second on Elizabethan England) are written like travel guides, covering things like where to stay and eat, what to do, and how to handle money, just like a travel guide to a modern country. Both were fun and fascinating, although I enjoyed the Elizabethan England guide just a tiny bit more.
Most Creative: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
This was something new that Mitchell accomplished here. Six different stories, set in six different time periods – from the 1800s to the dystopian future – each told through a different vehicle (a journal; an epistolary format; straight narrative; and a statement of a condemned prisoner are some examples) and each connected to the other stories in a mysterious way. It didn’t grab me immediately, but once it did, holy WOW.
Most Opinionated: The MaddAddam Trilogy (Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam), by Margaret Atwood
This was the year I decided I love Margaret Atwood, and it was the MaddAddam trilogy that did it for me. (I’d previously read The Handmaid’s Tale and appreciated it but concluded that I didn’t care for it. Now I want to read it again and see if my opinion has changed.) Oryx and Crake was my least favorite of the trilogy, because the child abuse scenes really upset me and I didn’t think they were necessary to the story. But The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam were marvelous. So why did I award them “Most Opinionated” in this game? Well, on top of being a good, well-written, exciting story, the MaddAddam Trilogy is Atwood’s warning to all of us about what will happen if we neglect the environment and continue to pursue the insane path of progress at the expense of our humanity. There was SO much material for thought here.
Most Likely To End Up In Hollywood: Lexicon, by Max Barry
There are car chases, secret organizations at war with one another, and massive explosions… how could Hollywood fail to make this one into a movie? But if (when?) they do, it will be a doubly cool movie because all the action is set off by a WORD. Yep, behind the made-for-Hollywood action is a thrilling story about the power of language.
Biggest Rebel: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker has good reason for being a disturbed kid – his dad ran off and his mom was killed in a terrorist attack. So it’s no wonder that Theo grows up troubled, or that he falls in with another troubled kid, Boris. Theo is good at heart, though, and he wants to do the right thing. It’s just that, in his efforts to do the right thing, he often goes awry. He’s that kid who puts up a tough front but is really looking for some understanding.
Biggest Loner: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is a brilliant architect, but she’s been a recluse for years, ever since one of her projects met an unfortunate end. Now she’s hiding out in Seattle, a mom to precocious Bee, troublesome wife, and reviled member of the parent community at Bee’s school. That is, until Bernadette disappears. Bee assembles letters, emails and documents that she is sure will help her to track down her missing mom. But does Bernadette even want to be found? This was another of my 2013 reading highlights. I loved every moment of Bee’s search, and I recommend it to everyone.
Cutest Couple: Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell
Lincoln is an “internet security officer” at an Omaha newspaper, which he thought would be way more exciting than it turned out to be. Instead of leading the charge against internet vice, he’s stuck monitoring red-flagged emails that show up in his folder every time someone forwards an inappropriate joke. The only thing that keeps Lincoln going is the chance of seeing an email pop up between copy editor Jennifer and entertainment reporter Beth, who know their email is being monitored but can’t seem to stop discussing every detail of their private lives. It doesn’t take Lincoln long to realize that he’s falling for Beth… right around the time that Beth notices a cute IT guy in the break room. It only took me a day to read this because I was rooting so hard for Lincoln and Beth that I couldn’t put it down.
Most Likely To Succeed: Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman
This one’s a no-brainer – everyone knows Nellie Bly! Bly made headlines by being up for anything – from exposing the ruthless “Lobby King” of Albany to posing as insane and writing an expose of a notorious mental institution. But she really went all out with her challenge to beat Jules Verne’s fictional eighty day record for traveling around the world – a challenge which attracted plenty of interest and a little healthy competition, in the person of Elizabeth Bisland. Bly and Bisland’s race was such fun to follow, but it’s Bly who gets “most likely to succeed” honors in this yearbook.
That was fun! What were your reading highlights of 2013? Oh – and stay tuned, because I have some pie charts coming up next. Yay! Pie charts!