Caveat: These books were not necessarily published in 2013. In fact none of them were except for the last one.
Phil’s Top Ten Books of 2013 (in no particular order):
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My wife got this book at a family gift exchange at the end of 2012, and it was the first book I read in 2013. I’ll say three things about this book, and then you should go read it. First, the narrator is Death himself, and so you can be sure that the writing is incredibly imaginative. Second, the main character is a little girl, orphaned, in Germany, during the second world war. Third, the story is sweeping and beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to finish it. It’s also been made into a movie, which I haven’t seen yet, but certainly will.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
A novel of the Vietnam War by a marine veteran. Marlantes captures the horror of war along with the power of brotherhood and friendship. Not an easy read, but a moving and rewarding one.
Sutton by J.P. Moehringer
Willie ‘The Actor’ Sutton was America’s most prolific (and endearing) bank robber from the late 1920’s to the 1950’s. Witty, a gentleman, a master of disguise, non-violent, he became a folk hero during a time in America when the banks continued to get richer while the public suffered in economic distress. Not much is known about Willie Sutton, so this book is technically fiction. The author, J.P. Moehringer, has collected the available facts and imagined the rest, and the result is quite an enjoyable story! It’s an interesting twist on the genre of historical fiction. In any case, I like stories of criminals with ideals (The Great Train Robbery is one of my all time favorites), and this fits nicely in that category. Sutton is the man who answered, when asked why he robbed banks, “because that’s where the money is.”
Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley
A book by the son of a World War 2 veteran who happened to be in the iconic picture of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. The book traces the lives of all six soldiers who were in the picture, and it makes for fascinating and harrowing reading. You really come to know each one individually and root for them. If you have seen the movie, don’t be dissuaded – the two have very little in common and the book is better!
Exit Music by Ian Rankin
This is the 2007 finale of the Inspector Rebus series set in Edinburgh, Scotland (Rankin resurrected the series in 2012). I read the first book and then the last 4 books of the series and I find them a very enjoyable light-hearted read; witty dialogue, imaginary Scottish accents, believable characters, lovable characters, loathable characters, lots of whisky and classic rock. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but if you like witty humor and mystery fiction, you may find yourself picking up the next one and the next one and looking up maps of Edinburgh on Google.
Home by Marilynne Robinson
The polar opposite of light-hearted. Marilynne Robinson writes the way I wish I could. Really, it’s difficult even to describe her writing with any adequacy. What I admire the most is the seamless way she weaves profound spiritual realities into a grounded and earthy narrative. Book reviews tend to overuse superlatives, so forgive my indulgence here: sublime, perceptive, cutting, haunting, beguiling, utterly brilliant — hold on while I get my thesaurus — oh nevermind. I really enjoy her novels, if you can’t tell yet, so pick up her previous (and related) book Gilead as well.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
I think about this book every time my hands or feet get cold outside. It is the incredible story of the 1996 climbing disaster on mount Everest where a number of people lost their lives, told from the perspective of one of the survivors. I found it nearly impossible to put down, and yet difficult to read at the same time – these are real people, real lives, and terrible deaths. I have never been into thin air at above 20000 feet, but I have been to Nepal, have seen Everest and the Himalayas on the horizon, and can just begin to imagine what would drive people to put themselves through unspeakable pain, discomfort, and peril, to simply climb to the top. The classic answer of course comes from George Mallory, the first man known to attempt to climb it: “Because it’s there.”
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Reading Sutton got me thinking about the whole idea of mixing non-fiction with fiction. I did a bit of research and discovered that in 1966 a book was written by Truman Capote that is considered to be the first ‘non-fiction novel.’ It is the story of the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in rural Kansas by two criminals who didn’t even know them. It was very well written and certainly interesting, but with little to offer in terms of redemptive value.
Orr: My Story by Bobby Orr
After decades of silence regarding his unparalleled career, Bobby Orr finally wrote his story down. This book had loads of priceless moments, both funny and moving, but Bobby Orr is gracious and polite to a fault. I would have loved to hear him share what he really thinks a bit more often and bit a less sugarcoated. Nevertheless, it familiarized me with an era of hockey that I never got to watch, and I gained a lot of appreciation for those athletes. Orr had lots of good things to say about youth hockey and the NHL, and frankly if you love hockey you should read this.
The Son by Philipp Meyer
My wife got this book out of the library for me, and once again she proved that she has great intuition. Meyer was highlighted in 2010 in the New Yorker’s list of top 20 authors under the age of 40. This book is breathtaking in its scope, spanning five troubled generations of a Texan family, from the settling of an untamed land to the building and collapse of a cattle and oil empire, from cold and empty mansions to eating raw Buffalo liver with Comanche Indians. It’s won a whole slew of awards and with good reason; it paints a powerful critique of the American dream, the pursuit of money and power, and human nature in general. As a follower of Jesus I only wish that the bleakness of the picture could have been set beside the brilliance of the One who showed humanity a better way.
Evangellyfish by Douglas Wilson
A grim satire about the Evangelical world from a gifted writer. A fun and incisive read for anyone in ministry who has a sense of humor.
Playing the Enemy by John Carlin
The book behind the movie Invictus, which tells the story of Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It was well written, flowed seamlessly from start to finish, and captured a truly remarkable moment in history.
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
I haven’t read the Sherlock Holmes books yet (I just got them for Christmas: Thanks Dad!) but I picked this one up as an audiobook and really got into it. It’s an imaginative take on Watson and Holmes’ final years, with a twist. I didn’t actually care for the twist all that much, but loved the ride. I’m sure hearing it in ge-nu-ine British accents helped the experience as well.
If you are still reading this lengthy post, you are surely a fellow reader! So thanks for reading, first of all, and please leave a comment sharing your favorite reads this year – I’m always looking for a good book to add to the reading pile.