The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books of 2013

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

Have I ever told you how much I love fiction and memoirs?  I love them very much.  Why? Because fiction (as well as memoir) is like seeing reality portrayed in a stain glass window.  The story is condensed into its most poignant scenes, but the more subtle elements are there if you know how to look for them.  It’s colorful, the characters are complex and sometimes exaggerated.  But what makes this stained glass mean anything is the light of truth that shines through it.  If that truth isn’t there, then the story is useless and if it has no different color, its a plain realistic window.

The best of books are able to do this without obscuring the truth too much, but the worst books are the ones written by authors who are either unsure about how to tell the truth or not out to tell truth at all.  They are there to sell books.

So, as I’ve read quite a few in 2013, I’d like to share with you my mixed bag.  Suggestions of things to read, things to avoid.

Best Fiction

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

What can I say?  I’m not quite finished with this book and I already love it.  As with his previous books, it’s full of artistic stories with plenty of reality mixed in.  It reads like someone telling you a bedtime story, and that’s exactly how the book begins.  Warning: I was cautioned ahead of time that because there are so many intertwining stories, one needs to keep a character cheat sheet handy.  I haven’t needed one, but it might be because I knew in advance that if I didn’t pay close attention to names, I might get confused.  So since I was warned, I figured you should be too.


As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

It took me a bit to really get into the lingo of this book, but once I did, I could not put it down.  It is a story about a very dysfunctional family.  For me, this book hit very close to home, and many times, I had to set it aside because it made me so angry at the predictability of some of the character’s choices. Warning: If you’ve lived a relatively charmed life, you will find this book terribly disturbing.  If you can relate, read it.  It might help you understand your childhood a little more.


The Call of the Wild by Jack London

There are three authors that I love for their writing styles: John Steinbeck, Cormack McCarthy, and Jack London.  They have the unique ability to use as few perfectly placed words as possible to tell a very powerful story.  For a long time, I avoided reading this because its…about a dog or wolf or something.  But let me tell you, this is so beautifully written, and is such a good story, you can’t not read this.  And in full disclosure, this book actually made me tear up in one part (I rarely cry, so I know it’s a moving story if I do).


The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I enjoyed this book.  It was highly imaginative and fun.  And at several points, I kept thinking, “He must’ve done a lot research.” Warning:  If you listen to it as an audiobook as I did, make sure that you are not running a long distance in the heat of summer while listening to the part where he is thirsting to death.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

This was a fun sci-fi/fantasy book.  It turns time travel on its head and really is just a fun, quick read.  I enjoyed how it begins with a small story, and begins to unfold into a huge story by the end of it.  It’s great for teenagers and young adults.  Warning: It is part of a series of which the second book is not as good, and the third book is not out yet.


Best Memoir

Night by Elie Weisel

For many schools, this book is required reading and rightly so.  It’s the brief and gripping firsthand account of one Holocaust survivor who lived to tell his story about life and death in Auschwitz.


The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I checked this one out of the library on audiobook, knowing nothing about it. Warning: This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  I began listening to this while at the gym and kept bursting out laughing.  I’m pretty sure that the man next to me was about to call the paddy wagon.  If you have a parent that idealizes growing up in the 50’s, this will make you laugh all the more.


All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

This one makes me smile every time I think about it.  This is a book for which the word nostalgic was created. If you’ve never read it, you must.  It will make you laugh, smile, and wish that you too could ride in an unreliable car in jolly old England.


Thought Provoking

This is the category I’m using to say that although I didn’t love the book, I’m glad I read it.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

For years, I’ve seen this on the best of sci-fi lists, but since sci-fi isn’t generally my favorite, I kept putting it off.  Heinlein is creative, preachy, and highly opinionated.  Spoiler Alert: It was interesting, and the Christ-like death of the main character was predictable from midway through the book, but it was interesting.


American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This book really stuck in my head.  After being sorely disappointed by the cliched and angsty treatment of Greeks gods in The Lightning Thief, I was really looking forward to this one.  It did not disappoint.  It was not predictable, the characters were fascinating, and the story drew me in.  Warning: There are several “uncomfortable” scenes in this book, if you know what I mean. *clears throat*


Dune by Frank Herbert

I really don’t have too much to say about this book.  I was told that I would love it, but I didn’t–I liked it.  I found it interesting with some wonderfully creative ideas, a wonderful plot, but I think I just really disliked the authors writing style as well as all of the characters.  They all seemed completely devoid of hearts.



This is Our Faith by Michael Pinnock

Other than most chapters beginning with old e-mail forward jokes and stories, the book was as thrilling as staring at a blank wall.  I’ll take the wall.  I’m not ragging on this book because it’s a Catholic book, just to keep it clear.  It’s just that it’s terribly written.  It’s for those who have grown up in the Catholic church, and not for Protestants wanting to know more.  So, to really learn more about the Catholic faith, I bought the Catechism–it was much more informative.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Let me begin with the one positive thins about this book: it was very well written.  Okay, now to save you some reading time.  There are four things to say about this book: drugs, alcohol, arrogance up the wazoo, and poor choices.  The characters were all rich jerks, the narrator wanted to be one of them, and they all killed people.  The end.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riorden

This.  This was awful.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not 10 and I’ve read other books and I have an imagination.  There was so much potential, but every time that an exciting turn could be taken, nope.  Riorden had to keep it as boring as possible.  How do you make a book about a boy finding out that Greek gods are real and that he’s one of their sons, boring?  Honestly, I would think it would take more work.  And if an impressionable 10 year old did read this, they might come away with a terrible attitude problem like the main character has.

There you have it.