Best Reads of 2013

Here are my best reads in English during 2013. It was a really good year for quality, though I didn't read very much: 41 books, twelve of which were e-books. The latter number was boosted by the Humble E-Book Bundle that I bought at Junior's recommendation (sadly no longer up for sale). Find me at Goodreads!

  • Pirate Cinema. Cory Doctorow 2012. A fun, engaging and optimistic piece of polemic fiction, slightly preachy in parts, about the social and artistic consequences of intellectual property law.
  • Old Man's War. John Scalzi 2005. Energetic co-ed military sf.
  • Stiff. The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach 2003. Excellent non-fic about the things our remains go through after death.
  • Stories of Your Life and Others. Ted Chiang 2002. Short stories: idea-based scifi.
  • Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Carl Sagan 1997. Interesting and, again, just a little preachy.
  • Elves in Anglo-Saxon England. Alaric Hall 2007. What did they actually believe about elves and how did it change over time?
  • The Best of Saki. 1950. Short stories: misantropic, perceptive, elegant.
  • The Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham, vol. 2. 1951. Short stories: empathic, humorous, elegant.
  • Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. Howard P. Lovecraft 1939. Short stories: horror and Dunsanian fantasy, most of it great, some of it silly.
  • Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. Nicholas Ostler 2006. Magisterial on the political history of not empires, not states, not nations – but languages.
  • Dangerous Visions. Ed. Harlan Ellison 1967. Short stories: ambitious and edgy sf.

Dear Reader, what were your best reads of the year?

Here’s my list for 2012.

More like this

I grew up loving Saki; then relatively recently I reread some of his things and found them disturbingly cruel and snobbish. Some humor ages poorly.

By Jonathan Lubin (not verified) on 31 Dec 2013 #permalink

"Stiff" is good. I recommend another by Mary Roach "Bonk", about the study of sex. I just finished it.

Yeah, I liked Bonk, and Packing For Mars as well. She's got a new one out that I haven't read: Gulp -- Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013).

I liked the elf book but couldn't help noticing the image it left me of the original Anglo-Saxon elf was awfully close to Tolkien's. I personally like the idea that stories of mythological peoples might be based on memories of actual contact with different real peoples, remembered as taller or shorter, lighter or darker, with different technologies and clothes and art that must have seemed mysterious and became otherworldly through retelling and the human compulsion to invent origin stories.

Glen Cook will publish the fourth volume in his "Instrumentalities of the Night" series March 2014. A very different kind of Fantasy. The previous three volumes are definitely my best reading of the year.
Great North Road by Hamilton is the best "space opera" of 2013. Alas Iain Banks passed away in 2013. So did Jack Vance.
The last month I have been reading "Misquoting Jesus". Apparently a lot of famous stuff was inserted in the gospels a century or more after they were originally written. No "cast the first stone" in the original, for instance.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 03 Jan 2014 #permalink

I think "Dangerous Visions" had a story with a "Crying Game"-style twist. Controversial? Yawn. (Try reading Farmer's "A Feast Unknown" for shock value instead)
I am currently reading a book with an AI surviving in a human mind.
Lots of good Brit detective fiction, but latest Val McDermid was rather predictable.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 03 Jan 2014 #permalink

I actually found the Crying Game story quite shocking. Not for the twist ending but because the protagonist reacts with violent hostility, which the author seems to find completely in order.

Reading suggestion: Glen Cooks tetralogy Instrumentalities of the Night begins with the highly recommended “The Tyranny of the Night” (review at British Amazon is confusing it with another title, see American Amazon)
The writing skill of Cook easily trumps that of Robert Jordan, Raymond Feist, Hobb et al.
The era resembles our 12-13th centuries, with a flashback to 10th century Norway. The geography is the same as our world with different names. The problem is there are so many names the reader may be overwhelmed.
-At you can find a useful list of names at “Most useful customer reviews” by E.Allen…
Some minor geographical alterations: Memphis and Cairo are represented by a single city. Alicea (Carrara) is to the east of Sonsa (Pisa) instead of the west. Dropping sea levels are merging Corsica and Sardinia to the island Artecipia. Andequelez (Petra) is not quite as old as stated. Tariq’s rock (Gibraltar) is joined to North Africa by a narrow isthmus. The distances of the Arctic probably prevented arctic hunters from having a single, common god of winter (Kharoulke the Windwalker, possibly a Wendigo).

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 07 Jan 2014 #permalink

That's it. I'm changing my name to "Kharoulke the Windwalker, possibly a Wendigo".

Suppelemntal list of names for Glen Cook's novel:
Sturlanger = Vikings, Gedanke = Siegfried / Sigurd, Eiref Erealsson = Eric Bloodaxe of Norway. Shallow Sea = Baltic. Grand Marshes = Pagan territories near the southern Baltic.
Dreanger = Egypt. Ruins of Andesqueluz = Petra? Lucidia = Syria /Ottoman Turks subject to Caliphate of Baghdad. Calzir = Moorish state in southernmost Italy.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 07 Jan 2014 #permalink

Missed that Humble Bundle, but got another one with Cory Doctorow's Little Brother which was very good, plus some other rather forgettable stuff.

I read and enjoyed John Scalzi's Redshirts, although the shine was somewhat taken off that when I caught up with my Red Dwarf viewing as it turns out that Back to Earth (which predates Redshirts) has a rather similar plot.

I tend to Audible things rather than reading actual books these days, and when that works well it's one of those experiences that makes you want to run around grabbing people by the shoulders and shouting "YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS! NOW!", of which the ultimate embodiment is the Ben Aaronovitch "Rivers of London" series, read perfectly (a word I don't use lightly) by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. So that's one – or rather four now, as the series is getting longer – recommendation. If you liked Good Omens (though you came to it rather late, says she with the authority of one who has been devouring the words of the Great Pratchett since about 1987), you'll enjoy these, as they mix humour, ethical issues and pathos in a similar way. They're also a great way to immerse yourself in modern English culture in all its crapness (the fact that I had to google the Ford Asbo is a pretty good indicator that I left the country at the right time).

I used to enjoy Saki; I'll have to have another go although I think I might well agree with Jonathan about the stories being dated.

On the subject of alternative history type things, I read – listened to – SM Stirling's Nantucket series which is mainly set in the Bronze Age (specifically 1250 BC and shortly thereafter) and enjoyed the depth of research that he apparently brought to them, although I felt that [slight spoiler alert] the end of the final book was a bit disappointing; kind of "I'm fed up writing these now so I'll just think of a quick way out".

And finally, my proudest book-related achievement for 2013: I'm apparently the only person in the universe who has still not read, listened to or watched any of the Harry Potter books/films.

What do you do while listening to audiobooks? I listen to podcasts during housework, commuting and walks. Listened to a few novels in the 90s and 00s while sieving dirt and driving long distances.

I think you and I discovered Pratchett at about the same time. Good Omens last year was a re-read after >20 years.

Stirling's novels sound interesting!

Potter is OK, I read the first five books and found them quite enjoyable. But book 2 is just a re-run of book 3, and book 5 is way, way too long. The movies tend to assume (wrongly in my case) that the viewers want to spend as much time as possible at Hogwarts, but there are a lot of great actors in them.

Everything that I feasibly can do - driving, walking the cat (!), trying to become a runner despite the fact that my body doesn't want me to... also it's a great way to get through some long boring job like painting the cellar.

I did think it was odd that you wouldn't have read Good Omens before. I'm just about to reread the Hitchhiker's Guide books which I read as they came out in paperback, reread until they fell to pieces and finally lost at some point, by which time I practically knew the first three novels off by heart. I came across the new edition in a bookshop recently and found that I had finally forgotten some of it. So it will be interesting to see if I still enjoy it.

Stirling's novels are OK; there's a bit too much gung-ho Americanness in places but the underlying story is quite good.

I was a little disappointed when I re-read Hitchhiker's as a grownup. They're very episodic. But if you want plotted novels from Adams, he did write the Dirk Gently books.

Add me on Goodreads, willya?

Ugh social media, no ta! I can quite happily find ways of wasting my time on the Internet without having to Like stuff. If I come across anything I think you'd like to read I'll comment!

I just use Goodreads to get book recommendations on the basis of what I've told it I like to read and from people I know. Its on-line community function isn't very prominent and it's fully optional.

Hmmm... well, OK. I can always delete it again!