100 Notable Books of 2013

 

Johnny Kelly

Published: November 27, 2013

The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

FICTION & POETRY

THE ACCURSEDBy Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Oates’s extravagantly horrifying, funny and prolix postmodern Gothic novel purports to be the definitive account of a curse that infected bucolic Princeton, N.J., in 1905 and 1906.

ALL THAT ISBy James Salter. (Knopf, $26.95.) Salter’s first novel in more than 30 years, which follows the loves and losses of a World War II veteran, is an ambitious departure from his previous work and, at a stroke, demolishes any talk of twilight.

AMERICANAHBy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Knopf, $26.95.)This witheringly trenchant novel scrutinizes blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain.

BLEEDING EDGEBy Thomas Pynchon. (Penguin Press, $28.95.) Airliners crash not only into the twin towers but into a shaggy-dog tale involving a fraud investigator and a white-collar outlaw in this vital, audacious novel.

CHILDREN ARE DIAMONDS: An African ApocalypseBy Edward Hoagland. (Arcade, $23.95.) The adventure-seeking protagonist of Hoagland’s novel is swept up in the chaos of southern Sudan.

THE CIRCLEBy Dave Eggers. (Knopf/McSweeney’s, $27.95.) In a disturbing not-too-distant future, human existence flows through the portal of a company that gives Eggers’s novel its title.

CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHTBy Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $25.95.) Danticat’s novel is less about a Haitian girl who disappears on her birthday than about the heart of a magical seaside village.

THE COLOR MASTER: StoriesBy Aimee Bender. (Doubleday, $25.95.) Physical objects help Bender’s characters grasp an overwhelming world.

A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENABy Anthony Marra. (Hogarth, $26.) Odds against survival are high for the characters of Marra’s extraordinary first novel, set in war-torn Chechnya.

THE DINNERBy Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett. (Hogarth, $24.) In this clever, dark Dutch novel, two couples dine out under the cloud of a terrible crime committed by their teenage sons.

DIRTY LOVEBy Andre Dubus III. (Norton, $25.95.) Four linked stories expose their characters’ bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses.

DISSIDENT GARDENSBy Jonathan Lethem. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Spanning 80 years and three generations, Lethem’s novel realistically portrays an enchanted — or disenchanted — garden of American leftists in Queens.

DOCTOR SLEEPBy Stephen King. (Scribner, $30.) Now grown up, Danny, the boy with psycho-intuitive powers in “The Shining,” helps another threatened magic child in a novel that shares the virtues of King’s best work.

DUPLEXBy Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.

THE END OF THE POINTBy Elizabeth Graver. (Harper, $25.99.) A summer house on the Massachusetts coast both shelters and isolates the wealthy family in Graver’s eloquent multigenerational novel.

THE FLAMETHROWERSBy Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $26.99.) In Kushner’s frequently dazzling second novel, an impressionable artist navigates the volatile worlds of New York and Rome in the 1970s.

THE GOLDFINCHBy Donna Tartt. (Little, Brown, $30.) The “Goldfinch” of the title of Tartt’s smartly written Dickensian novel is a painting smuggled through the early years of a boy’s life — his prize, his guilt and his burden.

THE GOOD LORD BIRDBy James McBride. (Riverhead, $27.95.) McBride’s romp of a novel, the 2013 National Book Award winner, is narrated by a freed slave boy who passes as a girl. It’s a risky portrait of the radical abolitionist John Brown in which irreverence becomes a new form of ­homage.

A GUIDE TO BEING BORN: StoriesBy Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead, $26.95.)Ausubel’s fantastical collection traces a cycle of transformation: from love to conception to gestation to birth.

HALF THE KINGDOMBy Lore Segal. (Melville House, $23.95.) In Segal’s darkly comic novel, dementia becomes contagious at a Manhattan hospital.

I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE: StoriesBy Jamie Quatro. (Grove, $24.) Quatro’s strange, thrilling and disarmingly honest first collection draws from a pool of resonant themes (Christianity, marital infidelity, cancer, running) in agile ­recombinations.

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLSBy Andrew Sean Greer. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) A distraught woman inhabits different selves across the 20th century in Greer’s elegiac novel.

THE INFATUATIONSBy Javier Marías. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. (Knopf, $26.95.) Amid a proliferation of alternative perspectives, Marías’s novel explores its female narrator’s relationship with the widow and the best friend of a murdered man.

THE INTERESTINGSBy Meg Wolitzer. (Riverhead, $27.95.) Wolitzer’s enveloping novel offers a fresh take on the theme of self-invention, with a heroine who asks herself whether the ambitious men and women in her circle have inaccurately defined success.

LIFE AFTER LIFEBy Kate Atkinson. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $27.99.)Atkinson’s heroine, born in 1910, keeps dying and dying again, as she experiences the alternate courses her destiny might have taken.

LOCAL SOULS: NovellasBy Allan Gurganus. (Liveright, $25.95.) This triptych, set in Gurganus’s familiar Falls, N.C., showcases the increasing universality of his imaginative powers.

LONGBOURNBy Jo Baker. (Knopf, $25.95.) Baker’s charming novel offers an affecting look at the world of “Pride and Prejudice” from the point of view of the Bennets’ servants’ hall.

LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISHBy David Rakoff. (Doubleday, $26.95.) Rakoff completed his novel-in-couplets, whose characters live the title’s verbs, just before his death in 2012.

THE LOWLANDBy Jhumpa Lahiri. (Knopf, $27.95.) After his radical brother is killed, an Indian scientist brings his widow to join him in America in Lahiri’s efficiently written novel.

THE LUMINARIESBy Eleanor Catton. (Little, Brown, $27.) In her Booker Prize winner, a love story and mystery set in New Zealand, Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, while creating something utterly new for the 21st.

MADDADDAMBy Margaret Atwood. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $27.95.) The survivors of “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” await a final showdown, in a trilogy’s concluding entry.

A MARKER TO MEASURE DRIFTBy Alexander Maksik. (Knopf, $24.95.) Maksik’s forceful novel illuminates the life of a Liberian woman who flees her troubled past to seek refuge on an Aegean island.

METAPHYSICAL DOG. By Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) To immerse oneself in these poems is to enter a crowd of unusual characters: artistic geniuses, violent misfits, dramatic self-accusers (including the poet himself).

OUR ANDROMEDABy Brenda Shaughnessy. (Copper Canyon, paper, $16.) In these emotionally charged and gorgeously constructed poems, Shaughnessy imagines a world without a child’s pain.

SCHRODERBy Amity Gaige. (Twelve, $21.99.) In Gaige’s scenic novel, a man with a long-established false identity goes on the run with his 6-year-old daughter.

THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGSBy Elizabeth Gilbert. (Viking, $28.95.) In this winning novel by the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a botanist’s hunger for explanations carries her through the better part of Darwin’s century, and to Tahiti.

SOMEONEBy Alice McDermott. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Through scattered recollections, this novel sifts the significance of an ordinary life.

THE SONBy Philipp Meyer. (Ecco/Harper­Collins, $27.99.) Members of a Texas clan grope their way from the ordeals of the frontier to celebrity culture’s absurdities in this masterly multigenerational saga.

THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLINGBy Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Translated by Anne McLean. (Riverhead, $27.95.) This gripping Colombian novel, built on the country’s tragic history with the drug trade, meditates on love, fate and death.

SUBMERGENCE. By J. M. Ledgard. (Coffee House, paper, $15.95.) This hard-edged, well-written novel involves a terrorist hostage-taking and a perilous deep-sea dive.

SUBTLE BODIESBy Norman Rush. (Knopf, $26.95.) Amid dark humor both mournful and absurd, former classmates converge on the hilltop estate of a friend who has died in a freak accident.

TENTH OF DECEMBER: StoriesBy George Saunders. (Random House, $26.)Saunders’s relentless humor and beatific generosity of spirit keep his highly moral tales from succumbing to life’s darker aspects.

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIEBy Ayana Mathis. (Knopf, $24.95.) Mathis’s deeply felt first novel works at the rough edges of history, within a brutal and poetic allegory of a black family beset by tribulations after the Great Migration to the North.

THE TWO HOTEL FRANCFORTSBy David Leavitt. (Bloomsbury, $25.) In Leavitt’s atmospheric novel of 1940 Lisbon, as two couples await passage to New York, the husbands embark on an affair.

THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENTBy Amy Tan. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $29.99.) This wrenching novel by the author of “The Joy Luck Club” follows mother and daughter courtesans over four decades.

WANT NOTBy Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Miff­lin Harcourt, $26.) Linking disparate characters and story threads, Miles’s novel explores varieties of waste and decay in a consumer world.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVESBy Karen Joy Fowler. (Marian Wood/Putnam, $26.95.) This surreptitiously smart novel’s big reveal slyly recalls a tabloid headline: “Girl and Chimp Twinned at Birth in Psychological ­Experiment.”

WE NEED NEW NAMESBy NoViolet Bulawayo. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $25.) A Zimbabwean moves to Detroit in Bulawayo’s striking first novel.

WOKE UP LONELY. By Fiona Maazel. (Graywolf, $26.) Maazel’s restlessly antic novel examines the concurrent urges for solitude and intimacy.

THE WOMAN UPSTAIRSBy Claire Messud. (Knopf, $25.95.) Messud’s ingenious, disquieting novel of outsize conflicts tells the story of a thwarted artist who finds herself bewitched by a boy and his parents.

NONFICTION

AFTER THE MUSIC STOPPED: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work AheadBy Alan S. Blinder. (Penguin Press, $29.95.) The former Fed vice chairman says confidence would have returned faster with better government communication about policy.

THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY: How the Other Half Still LivesBy Sasha Abramsky. (Nation Books, $26.99.) This ambitious study, based on Abramsky’s travels around the country meeting the poor, both describes and prescribes.

THE BARBAROUS YEARS. The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675By Bernard Bailyn. (Knopf, $35.) A noted Harvard historian looks at the chaotic decades between Jamestown and King Philip’s War.

THE BILLIONAIRE’S APPRENTICE: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge FundBy Anita Raghavan. (Business Plus, $29.)Indian-Americans populate every aspect of this meticulously reported true-life business thriller.

THE BLOOD TELEGRAM: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten GenocideBy Gary J. Bass. (Knopf, $30.) Bass reveals the sordid White House diplomacy that attended the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

BOOK OF AGES: The Life and Opinions of Jane FranklinBy Jill Lepore. (Knopf, $27.95.) Ben Franklin’s sister bore 12 children and mostly led a life of hardship, but the two corresponded constantly.

THE BOY DETECTIVE: A New York ChildhoodBy Roger Rosenblatt. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $19.99.) In his memoir, Rosenblatt recalls being a boy learning to see, and to live, in the city he scrutinizes.

THE BULLY PULPIT: Theodore Roose­velt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of JournalismBy Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Simon & Schuster, $40.)Historical parallels in Goodwin’s latest time machine implicitly ask us to look at our own age.

THE CANCER CHRONICLES: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest MysteryBy George Johnson. (Knopf, $27.95.) Johnson’s fascinating look at cancer reveals certain profound truths about life itself.

CATASTROPHE 1914: Europe Goes to WarBy Max Hastings. (Knopf, $35.) This excellent chronicle of World War I’s first months by a British military historian dispels some popular myths.

COMMAND AND CONTROL: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of SafetyBy Eric Schlosser. (Penguin Press, $36.) A disquieting but riveting examination of nuclear risk.

COUNTRY GIRL: A MemoirBy Edna O’Brien. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) O’Brien reflects on a fraught and distinguished life, from the restraints of her Irish childhood to literary stardom.

DAYS OF FIRE: Bush and Cheney in the White HouseBy Peter Baker. (Doubleday, $35.) Baker’s treatment of the George W. Bush administration is haunted by the question of who was in charge.

ECSTATIC NATION: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877By Brenda Wine­apple. (Harper, $35.) A masterly Civil War-era history, full of foiled schemes, misfired plans and less-than-happy ­endings.

EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI: The Concubine Who Launched Modern ChinaBy Jung Chang. (Knopf, $30.) Chang portrays Cixi as a proto-feminist and reformer in this authoritative account.

THE FARAWAY NEARBYBy Rebecca Solnit. (Viking, $25.95.) Digressive essays, loosely about storytelling, reflect a difficult year in Solnit’s life.

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged HospitalBy Sheri Fink. (Crown, $27.) The case of a surgeon suspected of euthanizing patients during the Katrina disaster.

GOING CLEAR: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of BeliefBy Lawrence Wright. (Knopf, $28.95.) The author of “The Looming Tower” takes a calm and neutral stance toward Scientology, but makes clear it’s like no other church on earth.

THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945By Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $40.) The final volume of Atkinson’s monumental war trilogy shows that the road to Berlin was far from smooth.

THE HEIR APPARENT: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy PrinceBy Jane Ridley. (Random House, $35.) He was vain, gluttonous, promiscuous and none too bright, but “Bertie” emerges as an appealing character in Ridley’s superb book.

A HOUSE IN THE SKYBy Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. (Scribner, $27.) A searing memoir of a young woman’s brutal kidnapping in Somalia.

JONATHAN SWIFT: His Life and His WorldBy Leo Damrosch. (Yale University, $35.) A commanding biography by a Harvard professor.

KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR: The Path to a Better Way of DeathBy Katy Butler. (Scribner, $25.) Butler’s study of the flaws in end-of-life care mixes personal narrative and tough reporting.

LAWRENCE IN ARABIA: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle EastBy Scott Anderson. (Doubleday, $28.95.) By contextualizing T. E. Lawrence, Anderson is able to address modern themes like oil, jihad and the Arab-Jewish conflict.

LEAN IN: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadBy Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell. (Knopf, $24.95.) The lesson conveyed loud and clear by the Facebook executive is that women should step forward and not doubt their ability to combine work and family.

LOST GIRLS: An Unsolved American MysteryBy Robert Kolker. (Harper, $25.99.) Cases of troubled young Internet prostitutes murdered on Long Island add up to a nuanced look at prostitution today.

MADNESS, RACK, AND HONEY: Collected Lectures. By Mary Ruefle. (Wave Books, paper, $25.) The poet muses knowingly and merrily on language, writing and speaking sentences that last lifetimes.

MANSON: The Life and Times of Charles MansonBy Jeff Guinn. (Simon & Schuster, $27.50.) Guinn’s tour de force examines Manson’s rise and fall, the 1960s music industry and the decade’s bizarre ambience.

MARGARET FULLER: A New American LifeBy Megan Marshall. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) Fuller’s extensive intellectual accomplishments are set in contrast with her romantic disappointments.

MEN WE REAPED: A MemoirBy Jesmyn Ward. (Bloomsbury, $26.) A raw, beautiful elegy for Ward’s brother and four male friends, who died young in Mississippi between 2000 and 2004.

MISS ANNE IN HARLEM: The White Women of the Black RenaissanceBy Carla Kaplan. (Harper, $28.99.) A remarkable look at the white women who sought a place in the Harlem Renaissance.

MY BELOVED WORLDBy Sonia Sotomayor.(Knopf, $27.95.) Mostly skirting her legal views, the Supreme Court justice’s memoir reveals much about her family, school and years at Princeton.

MY PROMISED LAND: The Triumph and Tragedy of IsraelBy Ari Shavit. (Spiegel & Grau, $28.) Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, expresses both solidarity with and criticism of his countrymen in this important and powerful book.

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: An AdventureBy Artemis Cooper. (New York Review Books, $30.) The British wayfarer and travel writer is the subject of Cooper’s affectionate, informed biography.

THE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: The Quest to Crack an Ancient CodeBy Margalit Fox. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.)Focusing on an unheralded but heroic Brooklyn classics professor, Fox turns the decipherment of Linear B into a detective story.

THE SKIES BELONG TO US: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking.By Brendan I. Koer­ner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.

THE SLEEPWALKERS: How Europe Went to War in 1914By Christopher Clark. (Harper, $29.99.) A Cambridge professor offers a thoroughly comprehensible account of the polarization of a continent, without fixing guilt on one leader or nation.

THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD: And How They Got That WayBy Amanda Ripley. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) A look at countries that are outeducating us — Finland, South Korea, Poland — through the eyes of American high school students abroad.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICEBy David Finkel. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Finkel tracks soldiers struggling to navigate postwar life, especially the psychologically wounded.

THE THIRD COAST: When Chicago Built the American DreamBy Thomas Dyja. (Penguin Press, $29.95.) This robust cultural history weaves together the stories of the artists, styles and ideas that developed in Chicago before and after World War II.

THIS TOWN: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded CapitalBy Mark Leibovich. (Blue Rider, $27.95.) An entertaining and deeply troubling view of Washington.

THOSE ANGRY DAYS: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941By Lynne Olson. (Random House, $30.) The savage political dispute between Roosevelt and the isolationist movement, presented in spellbinding detail.

TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE: The Folly of Technological SolutionismBy Evgeny Morozov. (PublicAffairs, $28.99.) Digital-age transparency may threaten the spirit of democracy, Morozov warns.

TO THE END OF JUNE: The Intimate Life of American Foster CareBy Cris Beam. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.) Beam’s wrenching study is a triumph of narrative reporting and storytelling.

UNTHINKABLE: Iran, the Bomb, and American StrategyBy Kenneth M. Pollack. (Simon & Schuster, $30.) The Mideast expert makes the case for living with a nuclear Iran and trying to contain it.

THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New AmericaBy George Packer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) With a nod to John Dos Passos, Packer offers a gripping narrative survey of today’s hard times; the 2013 National Book Award winner for nonfiction.

THE WAR THAT ENDED PEACE: The Road to 1914By Margaret Mac­Millan. (Random House, $35.) Why did the peace fail, a Canadian historian asks, and she offers superb portraits of the men who took Europe to war in the summer of 1914.

WAVEBy Sonali Deraniyagala. (Knopf, $24.) Deraniyagala’s unforgettable account of her struggle to carry on living after her husband, sons and parents were killed in the 2004 tsunami isn’t only as unsparing as they come, but also defiantly imbued with light.

WILD ONES: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in AmericaBy Jon Mooallem. (Penguin Press, $27.95.) Mooallem explores the haphazard nature of our efforts to protect endangered ­species.

YEAR ZERO: A History of 1945By Ian Buruma. (Penguin Press, $29.95.) This lively history shows how the Good War turned out badly for many people and splendidly for others less deserving.

 

 

 
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