Books: What you read in 2013 and what you are planning for 2014

Surely literature is a sufficiently large part of our human experience to have more than just the standard monthly thread here on QT3. I thought it would be fun to list the books (or, rather, the best books) we read in 2013 and why, and then what we are planning to read next year (hopefully I am not the only one that plans ahead like this).

What I read in 2013 (abridged):

Victor Hugo - Les Miserables: The impending release of yet another remake of this film made me summon the courage to take on this 1000+ page behemoth. Until then I had not been exposed to the plot before, nor much of French history during that period. It is also worthwhile noting that my own background is as a left-leaning Christian. After taking several months of methodical reading to get through this, I have come to the conclusion that this book was written just for me. The amount of religious and political insights in this book exceeded well beyond my expectations, I was adding kindle notes left right and centre throughout. Combine that with the wonderfully detailed characters, the intricate and epic storyline, and also the thoroughly interesting historical context of the novel, and we have a recipe for the favourite novel that I have thus far read. The interplay between all of these features, the way that the text ebbs and flows, arriving at poetic and powerful moments at surprisingly frequent intervals; extraordinary.

Norman Davies - Europe: A History: After a high school education that left large holes in my knowledge, this year I knew it was time to correct my inconsistent understanding of European history. After reading many reviews of single-volume histories, I knew that this work by Norman Davies would fill in all of those holes. I was not expecting, however, for it to be so damn entertaining in the process. I have read a fair few history books over the last decade, and I often find that the book is holding my interest despite the lack of effort from the writer. An extremely interesting part of history is extremely interesting, whether it’s being delivered by a good history writer or not. This work excels, though. The presence of colour in a text like this is laudable, considering the sheer amount of content and broad strokes that must be included. He often has these ‘sidebar’ boxes that focus on a small yet interesting thing relevant to the history of the surrounding pages, and I believe these went a long way in giving the history a life in the mind of the reader. Great stuff.

[U][B]What I plan to read in 2014:

[/B][/U]Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace: Like Les Miserables, this is another large historical novel that has been on my list. The setting of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is sufficiently interesting to draw me in, it’s being written by a guy that is a historical figure in his own right, and I have heard nothing but good things. The length of this beast has always dissuaded me, but I am finding that with my Kindle large books are not as disheartening as they once were.
John Reed - Ten Days that Shook the World: If War and Peace goes well, I might continue this Russian/historical theme and keep it going with this one. After reading a fair few scholarly accounts of historical subjects, I think it would be nice to start reading some first hand accounts.
I might update this later if other books come to me.

Please share!

The thread sounds far too highbrow for me, but my daughter has to read Huck Finn for her English class this next semester, which inspired me to pick it up again before setting it down on my nightstand. It is sitting there, waiting.

I’m not really sure what the point of this thread is. What, exactly, is wrong with the monthly threads? They cover what we’re reading right now. There’s no way I could list everything I’ve read in a year without deliberately keeping records, and I don’t read to keep score, I read for pleasure.

Similarly, I don’t plan a year’s reading in advance. I don’t have a backlog, rather I often end up re-reading books because I’m not finding enough new books. What I read in a year depends on what gets published, though sometimes I’ll encounter a reference to something older that I overlooked.

I’m not much interested in “literature” per se. I read SF for the most part, because I read for recreation, not to better myself in some way. Most of what I encountered in English classes seemed impossibly dull to me. When they’d cover a genuinely interesting book like 1984, it seemed to be almost by accident.

I only read on my kindle, so i have 3 folders for years 2011 which has 122 books in it, 2012 which has 131 books in it and 2013 which so far has 112 in.

I am looking forward to reading more pulp, sci fi, horror, serial killer stuff. I am totally in to low brow stuff mostly.

You keep the books on the Kindle after you’re done reading them? I tend to clear them. Not because they take much space, they don’t, but mostly for organization reasons, so only unread books show up. Now and then I’ll go back to re-read something, but in that case I’m fine with browsing my Internet library and re-downloading what interests me.

The physical-book analogy is that my reader (iPad/iPod most often) is my headboard with current books, and my Amazon off-device library is my bookshelves.

Man, two anti-lit responses right off the bat? Would anyone raise an eyebrow at a Best of The Year thread for games?

My favorite books of the year were:

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
Emma Donoghue, Room
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
Lewis Hyde, Common As Air

Lewis Hyde you might know from The Gift, which is a good book to give any artist friend of yours. But Common as Air is about intellectual property and how important the public domain is to society. If you liked the video series “Everything is a Remix”, I guarantee you’ll like this book.

Arcadia is a great play – short, funny, and about thermodynamics. (Very impressed at how Stoppard dramatized entropy.)

Room is the best pageturner I’ve seen in years, inspired by those terrible stories about kidnapped women living in dungeons. Timely considering the Ariel Castro story, but this book was probably inspired by John Fowles’ The Collector, which was a good one.

Songlines is one of those kitchen sink books that I like, similar to Lewis Hyde’s work. There’s some anthropology, history, literary criticism, and travelogue all rolled together. It’s about aboriginal culture in Australia.

I’d never read Ted Chiang before, but it seems like he’s a big deal in the world of science fiction short stories. I get why – a bunch of really interesting stories in here. I like his ideas better than his prose, so a few of the stories didn’t land with me, but a very easy recommendation for people who are into philosophy.

I have nothing on my docket really, but I hope this thread will give me some ideas. The Norman Davies history does sound intriguing.

It’s a matter of volume. I encounter a lot more books than games. Reemul mentions over a hundred books a year - who has the time to play a hundred games a year? The implication of “listing the books we read that year” is that it’s practical to list and discuss them all. If he’d said “best” that would have been more reasonable, but he didn’t say best. It honestly sounded like he only read a few books last year, and only plans on reading a few this year.

Also consider that a really excellent game can consume a hundred hours or more, and that is bound to have a large impact compared to the typical 6-7 hour book experience. A really great book like A Fire Upon the Deep has a disproportionate impact, but how often do you encounter those?

As for being “anti-lit,” it depends on the book and the author. To me, books are about plots, character, emotions, and sometimes ideas. An awful lot of books that are considered “great literature” fail in all those respects, being plodding things with completely uninvolving characters. I haven’t read Victor Hugo or Tolstoy, but I have been forced to read Thomas Hardy, Sumerset Maugham, and Herman Melville. To my eye, the emperor is naked, even if my English teachers told me his raiments were glorious.

I think a thread on books we were forced to read but liked anyway would be interesting.

Here are mine:
How Green was my Valley
Seven Days in May
Slaughterhouse Five

Hmmmmm… Not a very long list but I am probably forgetting one or two more.

Classics that I loved but picked up on my own:

Anything about King Arthur, Robin Hood, and I have read The Three Musketeers several times (the book is so much better than the movies).

I haven’t read Seven Days in May or Slaughterhouse Five, but I suspect I’d enjoy them, from what I’ve heard.

1984 I’ve mentioned, though I can’t say I was forced to read it, since I’d already done so. Likewise Animal Farm.

Dumas is considered literature? He was writing popular fiction, and he’s wordy because he was paid by the word. I’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo and enjoyed it. Hmmm, Dickens is considered literature, and he wasn’t just writing popular fiction, he was writing serials. I remember enjoying The Pickwick Papers.

Let’s see, I hope to read books 6 and 7 of the Song of Fire and Ice Series. Also book three of the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.

Of course the odds of those being available are pretty long.

Well, you’re doing some close reading there, so your English teacher gave you that much.

As for being “anti-lit,” it depends on the book and the author. To me, books are about plots, character, emotions, and sometimes ideas. An awful lot of books that are considered “great literature” fail in all those respects, being plodding things with completely uninvolving characters. I haven’t read Victor Hugo or Tolstoy, but I have been forced to read Thomas Hardy, Sumerset Maugham, and Herman Melville. To my eye, the emperor is naked, even if my English teachers told me his raiments were glorious.

What do you gain from having such a definition of what a book is or should be? (Moby Dick has all those things you look for, I think.) Reminds me of those people who get worked up about the “gameness” of something like Dear Esther… they seem genuinely irked by its existence. It’s interesting that you reference the emperor’s new clothes, as if these dusty classics have any real force in our culture. Don’t worry, you are not the lone voice saying what everyone else is too cowed to say. Maybe a (few) decade(s) ago someone made you read these books, but why hold onto that grudge? In my class, we just read the cliff notes and moved on.

Communication. I was describing in relatively few words what I find enjoyable in a book. What else could it possibly be?

Seriously, what are you trying to say? You seem to be trying to imply something insulting, merely because I don’t agree with your taste in books, but the logical constructions I can make from it don’t make any sense, or imply a complete inability to understand how humans think. There must be something I’m missing.

Like all normal humans I know, I enjoy something, and then use words to attempt to capture what I enjoyed. The enjoyment comes first, words like “plotting” and “characterization” are analytical tools to describe why after the enjoyment.

You seem to have twisted this completely ordinary process into the idea that there’s an artificial construct that a book must meet before it can be enjoyed. Why would you do that?

Not remotely. It’s long, but remarkably little really happens. The characters are cardboard cutouts, not human beings. Ahab is irrational vengeance personified, and that alone. We see nothing else about him as a person. Nor do gain much better understanding of the other actors. It’s chock-full of endless ramblings that further nothing, not the story nor our understanding of the people in it.

If it has any virtues, it’s in the use of language itself, but that’s very thin gruel for my taste.

It’s not something I think about unless someone else brings it up. But when you do bring it up, I remember. And in remembering, I think about what was wrong with those books, and I try and articulate it rather than brush it off without supporting my points.

If being clear sounds like a “grudge” to you, that’s your responsibility, not mine.

I also hated Moby Dick, although I like quite a few classic novels. Melville takes forever to get to any semblance of a point, and in no entertaining fashion either. Most overrated book evar!

We appear to consume books very differently! Nothing wrong with that. I could have made it clearer but my intent was to only select the best ones for 2013, which is why I wrote “list the books (or, rather, the best books) we read in 2013”. Oh well.

It’s interesting that you say that about ‘great literature’, as I used to feel the same way. I used to read many classics because I heard they were brilliant, not because I was particularly enjoying them myself. If I was honest about it, I didn’t often get much out of their message either. That has gradually turned around for me, though, especially after exposure to a number of truly fantastic books that have an engaging story and profound subtext (the best of both worlds). To list a few examples, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Stranger (Camus), Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky), and as I tried to explain in the original post, Les Miserables. Perhaps you could include one of these in your book backlog ;)

Not remotely. It’s long, but remarkably little really happens. The characters are cardboard cutouts, not human beings. Ahab is irrational vengeance personified, and that alone. We see nothing else about him as a person. Nor do gain much better understanding of the other actors. It’s chock-full of endless ramblings that further nothing, not the story nor our understanding of the people in it.

If it has any virtues, it’s in the use of language itself, but that’s very thin gruel for my taste.

Moby Dick has got a playfulness to it that I wouldn’t have expected. Before I read it, I only heard the kinds of thing mentioned in this thread already.

Least of all, did Flask presume to help himself to butter. Whether he thought the owners of the ship denied it to him, on account of its clotting his clear, sunny complexion; or whether he deemed that, on so long a voyage in such marketless waters, butter was at a premium, and therefore was not for him, a subaltern; however it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!

So many good ideas in that book,too.

It’s not something I think about unless someone else brings it up. But when you do bring it up, I remember. And in remembering, I think about what was wrong with those books, and I try and articulate it rather than brush it off without supporting my points.

If being clear sounds like a “grudge” to you, that’s your responsibility, not mine.

My point had to do with the intriguing phenomenon in which people remember their English required reading as bitterly as they remember their bullies. Or maybe it’s more like someone who gets irritated when brussel sprouts are mentioned because he or she was force fed them as a kid.

Yeah, as I said, it depends on the book. For example, I’m really fond of Jane Austen. I have no idea if she’s considered “great literature” or not, and of course it’s easy to joke about some aspects of her work, since she wrote exclusively about the minor nobility, and they lived in a distorted reality. Yet she knew people very well, and she poked some very sharp sticks some personality types that we all recognize today.

Well one benefit of keeping my books in read folders is i can go backa nd see what i have read and also where i sit with many of my favourite authors. Reading so much stuff means it is easy to lose track of books ive read and who wrote them.

I used to be able to go in to my library at home and just spend time browsing, however when m y 2 kids came along my library and 10,000+ books had to go, the kindle was a great replacement for it.

Good stuff I have read this year to get it back on track.

Virgil Flowers books by John Sandford, great set of books.
Charlie Parker books by John Connolly, re read all as well as his new ones, really love this series wish thbey would turn it in to a tv or film series.
Dave Robicheaux, first 5 books by James Lee Burke, really enjoying this series.
River of the Dead - Robert Pobi
Alex - Pierre Lemaitre
Reviver - Seth Patrick

To add it does seem like I have read quite a lot of mediocre stuff that going through my list i could hardly remember reading.

A few I am about to read are

Fat Vampire - Johnny Truant
The Frozen Sands - Steven Johnson
Gods of Guilt by Michael Connolly

To add I am and always have been a fan of Vampire novels any and all outside the romantic type ones, anything violent, dark and aggressive is always my cup of tea. Horror is my favourite but there seems very little decent stuff to read these days.

I love the kindle because I can get a sample that I put in my sample folder; that becomes my future books to read list.

I just switch to the cloud to see the list of books I have read. What is happening now from time to time, is having an older book change its title (that happened on a few older mysteries I like and an Alistair McClean story I was trying to find).

This is the hoity-toity thread I was hoping for. Feel free to bump it by arguing whether it’s worthwhile or not.

Here are my year’s highlights:
The first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Highly recommend.
Huge amounts of poetry that don’t divide into books. Some highlights include: Louis Zukofsky, Nada Gordon, Ron Silliman, Michael Palmer and Christian Bok (umlaut over the ‘o’).
Parts of several of Jaron Lanier’s books.

I’ve been reading mostly dead Russians this year. In 2013 I finished Anna Karenina and Fathers and Sons. I’m working my way through Crime and Punishment right now. My plan for 2014 is to get to The Brothers Karamozov, Dead Souls, make a good try at War and Peace and then maybe Eugene Onegin and Notes From the Underground.

Why: I realized last year that I’d not read a single one of the great Russian novels and I felt like I should. So far it’s been extremely rewarding…Anna Karenina definitely lives up to the hype as does Crime and Punishment, though I haven’t finished yet.