This last year has been short on cinema and long on literature, and it has all gone by far too quickly. But what a great year for literature it has been. I set for myself the goal of reading (more or less) a book a week and I surpassed it by one. Most of the books I read were new to me, and the majority of them ranged from quite good to simply breathtaking. The following are the ten (er, technically eleven) best books of fiction I read for the first time in 2013.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Thank you so much, Professor Jacobs. I’d been meaning to read more Dickens for years, and your post spurred me into tackling this wonderful, wonderful book. Tell them my opinion of it.
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. My wife has already written extensively about this one. Maddening as its protagonists are, they are ineffably human. Between this and Bleak House, I’ve been left in awe of the ability of two writers, centuries and hemispheres apart, to convey the weight, in anything but minor detail, of life’s pageant.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Without a doubt, I will return to this one. As sure as I am that I’m missing significant depths of meaning, I was unmistakably astonished by the richness and complexity plainly evident on the surface. I’ve no doubt that it will reward further contemplation.
Tales of Civilians and Soldiers and Other Stories by Ambrose Bierce (edited by Tom Quirk). This was the most pleasant surprise of the year for me. Bierce’s range is amazing, and I was as moved by his calculated portraits of cosmic cruelty as I was delighted by his macabre sense of humor.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Can you believe I made it this long without reading this? The prose is pure pleasure, and it manages to be empathetic without embracing solipsistic hedonism.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. Sure, Heinlein’s forays into Platonic dialogues are a bit hoary, but there’s a vibrant power in the sheer commitment to his looney prophetic vision. He stares the messiness of revolution in the eye, then sticks out his tongue.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Another one that will likely disclose more layers upon revisiting, but an impressive feat at first glance, if nothing else than for the stylistic mastery of different voices.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. Impeccably constructed and radiating compassion, even as it claws and scratches as the darkness infecting the land we’ve made for ourselves. Hopeful but anti-saccharine.
Nostromo by Joseph Conrad; Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (tie). Stunning tapestries of corruption, violence, and misguided teleologies anchored by different incarnations of The Right Man For The Job, who are inevitably crushed under the burden of civilizations’ dreams — which are, of course, nightmares.