Ten Best Books of 2013

It’s Tuesday, December 31– New Year’s Eve!– and what am I doing? Twerking at the bar and downing Jell-O shots, of course!! With four thousand of my closest friends who also love Jell-O shots! Cause I am so AWESOME!!

Yeah, that’s so not my life. But for all the people who live that life: thank you! I couldn’t be a writer if we all enjoyed the same things! There wouldn’t be anything worth talking about– which means we’d never have any stories to tell– talk about suck!

But thankfully, we have plenty of stories to tell, and that’s what I’m thinking about tonight.

I’m evaluating the books I read this year, and trying to decide which stories moved me the most to make a Top Ten List for 2013. What am I drinking? Water. Tap water. Durango has awesome tap water– and now that I’ve proven what an out-of-control party mama I am, who knows what crazy books I’ll put on my list!

So let’s start with some fireworks–










And more fireworks–


Breathtaking, isn’t it? Behold the magic of pixels!

And now on to my Top Ten Books of 2013— I saved my big reveal for after the pixel show, of course!

I read 62 books this year (fiction and nonfiction) and I might have read more, but this was also the year I self-published my first two novels, and that consumed a lot of my reading time. But even with only 62 books to pick from, this was a hard list to make, cause I read REALLY GREAT books. 2013 was a stellar reading year!

I tried to be coldly analytical about this at first, but that got me nowhere. So I chose my Top Ten based solely upon how deeply my heart was moved by the time I reached the last page, and whether I read chunks of the book again immediately after I finished, which is another sign of how oh-my-God good a book is. So here they are, in increasing order of induced heart palpitations:

Number Ten:

This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz, published Sept. 11, 2012

This short story collection by genius-boy Diaz left me starstruck, and none more so than the first three stories that grace this book. Oh so gorgeous. Diaz writes a sentence with such startling ingenuity and control, the words thump inside me like a second heartbeat. There is no other word than amazement for what he can do with language. This book turned my writer-heart into mush.

Number Nine:

Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed, published 2012

Heart-wrenching, just heart-wrenching. I devoured this collection of Dear Sugar essays in two days. The raw honesty, the brilliance, the truth on these pages. Deeply moving. I would get tear-induced headaches though, some of these people with their letters would just rip my heart out. This is a gorgeous book about how dirty and ugly and beautiful life is.

Number Eight:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, published 2012

This award-winning YA novel about two Mexican-American boys who become friends and, ultimately, lovers, is one of those books I did not want to end. How much did I not want this story to end? Enough that I re-read the last 20 pages or so about 15 times, again and again and again. I think I kept hoping there would be more pages each time. So then I went back to page one and started reading again. It’s just that kind of book. So good. So rich. So sweet. It deserves every one of those amazing literary awards. This book is a beautiful gift to the world.

Number Seven:

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker, published July 9, 2013

This nonfiction book really opened my eyes to so many dark, dirty parts of America. I learned a lot about what modern prostitution is like, and how frighteningly vulnerable modern prostitutes truly are. I learned how quickly the “big money” they make is spent on drugs, which is a necessity for numbing the psychological pain brought on by their work. And I learned how little their lives are worth, not just by society, but oftentimes by their own families. This book is about a serial killer who is still at large, probably killing more impoverished, desperate young girls right now, and this book is a beautiful piece of journalism. I give so many props to Robert Kolker for writing it. The stories of these young women, and the man who persevered in finding their bodies, had a huge impact on me. This book is tremendous.

Number Six:

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, published April 14, 2003

This novel explores the terror of giving birth to, and raising, a sociopath. And not a manageable psychopath child, but a son who grows up to be a school shooter. Readers cannot help but examine the nature/nuture debate over childrearing, because the story is intended to highlight everything we currently know about parenting. Personally, I think Kevin was “born bad” in this book, but plenty of other readers feel differently. What this book made me question forever: how society blames the parents of school shooters for the actions of their children, as if adults can read the minds of their kids. News flash: no parent can read the mind of his or her child. I loved this novel. SO MUCH. It made me feel, made me think, made me change some of my ideas about life. It’s a brilliant book, but oh so painful to read, so full of love and longing and shattered hopes. Lionel Shriver is truly a genius.

Number Five:

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb), published October 8, 2013

I learned so much about how inept the Pakistan government is while reading this memoir. I also learned a lot about how the Taliban was able to take control of large parts of Pakistan because of the government’s ineptitude, or outright collaboration with, these fundamentalist terrorists. Malala is living in England now and I hope she goes to college. She is a magnificent human being, and I loved reading her book.

Number Four:

Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel, published Sept. 26, 2013

David Finkel is SUCH a good writer. This nonfiction book is an amazing work of art, and it’s also incredibly agonizing to read. I learned so much about the United States military by reading this book, which follows a collection of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, and every other physical and psychological damage caused by war. This book is unflinching with the truth. The honesty on these pages ripped me the hell up. It’s a book that just made me want to scream and scream and scream, though I didn’t scream, I just kept reading pages, stunned by the complete horror I felt, a horror that never lessened, but only seemed to build and build and didn’t end until I reached the last page. I loved every man, woman and child in this book. I wept for them. I want them all to be okay. But the truth is, they’re not okay. And that is the point of this book.

Number Three:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo, published Feb. 7, 2012

I read this book in June, in one sitting, in one of those fever-states of a book-gasm, and I had to wait many months to borrow the library’s copy, which was why I didn’t get to read this book last year (when it was published). It’s nonfiction, it’s so gorgeously written, and it was my #1 read for most of the year. I didn’t think I would read anything better than this book in 2013, it’s such a phenomenal book.

But then two novels bumped Boo’s book to Number Three, which totally shocked me, as Boo’s book is SO AMAZING GOOD that I didn’t even think that was possible.

But it was.

Number Two:

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, published May 1, 2012

Oh, Billy Lynn. How much I love you. I will love you forever, Billy Lynn. This is a novel about an Iraq combat soldier. He is one of the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad, and while it’s still early in the war, public opinion is starting to dip. So the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad are sent on a drum-up-support-for-the-war “victory tour” across America before they report back to active duty. And the last day of the trip is Thanksgiving Day, when Bravo Squad is to be part of the halftime show during the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game. This novel blew me away. Fountain’s prose is so beautiful, so exquisite, so poignant. I’m tearing up just typing this, just thinking again about how much I love this book. It’s so beautiful. So incredibly beautiful. I will love you forever, Billy Lynn.

Number One:

The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, published 1984

Some books are so powerful, they just make your soul hum. They vibrate through your body like you’ve been given new life, like you’re awake for the first time, like you cannot believe you ever existed without these words you are now reading. So it was with me and this book. The Lover is categorized as a novel, but the author has confessed it’s really an autobiography. Set in 1929, in French colonial Vietnam, a young woman who is fifteen and a half falls in love with a 27-year-old Chinese man. The story is not really so much about their affair as about the life of this woman. Her adult life, her childhood, and her relationship with her family. Reading this book left me breathless, amazed, and stunned by a brutal poetry and consuming darkness that I wanted to climb inside and live in forever. I found my own blood in these pages. Reading this book was transformative. Like giving a heathen a Bible and telling him Heaven is real. This book triggered something inside me, and for the rest of my life, I’ll still be figuring out what.

And so concludes my Top Ten!

What’s on your Top Ten Book List this year? I hope you’ll share them with me! (After all the twerking and Jell-O shots, of course. And watching the fireworks!)

Hugs and kisses everyone, and a Happy New Year!!

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