Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thirteen memorable books

I’m not going to list all the books I’ve read in 2013, nor the “best” books (too hard to determine), nor necessarily all my favorites. And many of the books I read in 2013 were published in earlier years. But here, just FWIW and in no particular order, are 13 books I read in ’13 that have stuck with me for one reason or another:


Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. A brilliant professor develops early-onset Alzheimer’s. As she loses her memory and her career, what remains of her identity? This story has stayed with me—and based on conversations I’ve had with other readers, I’m not the only one.

Birthmarked, by Caragh M. O’Brien. Gaia works as a midwife just outside the Enclave, the protected community she serves. But when officers of the Enclave imprison her parents, she starts to question the rigid rules of her society, especially the forced reassignment of children to new parents. A good book about power and the possible consequences of environmental destruction. Also includes some code-breaking!

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. Two boys trying to set a record for the world’s longest kiss form the central story, but the plotlines weave through several characters’ lives, tying together the generation of men lost to AIDS and the generation for whom coming out is more common—but not necessarily easy.


Plume, by Kathleen Flenniken. This is a book about betrayal, loss, and invisible dangers made visible. Centering on the community of Hanford, Washington, and the various forms of radiation exposure its citizens experienced, it’s a horror story and a discovery story and a love-of-family story. I reread it almost immediately; it still grips me, weeks later.


Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. Vivian Maier was a nanny who spent most of her free time perfecting her amateur-photography skills, capturing the world around her. When she died, she left behind thousands of photographs and negatives, a small fraction of which were assembled in this collection. The images are stories in themselves.


The Test: Living in the Shadow of Huntington’s Disease, by Jean Barema. There was a 50-50 chance the author had inherited the incurable, degenerative disease known as Huntington’s. This book chronicles his agonizing over whether to get the genetic test, his siblings’ and mother’s experience with the disease, and his countdown to his own test and receipt of the results. Even those of us who don’t fact Huntington’s confront many of the same questions about mortality, and the physical losses that may come with age.

Days That I’ll Remember: Spending Time with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, by Jonathan Cott. This book captures Lennon in his post-Beatles life, dealing with couplehood and parenthood, exploring new creative frontiers. It’s a relief to see a book that doesn’t vilify Ono as the woman who “broke up the Beatles,” but rather explores the artistic and political views that she and Lennon shared and kindled in one another.

Rapture Practice, by Aaron Hartzler. Hartzler grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. But much of what he was drawn to (partying, rock music, dating), his family viewed as sinful. This book records his ever-more-painful attempts to please the family he loves, while unable to resist exploring the music and relationships that call to him.

Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Boylan shares her own experience parenting before, during, and after her transition from male to female, and she also interviews so many other parents that the result is a rich and diverse exploration of what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a child, and how gender does (or doesn’t) affect parent-child relationships. Plenty of food for thought here.

Stories from Jonestown, by Leigh Fondakowski. I blogged about this book here—an unforgettable look at a movement that started out in hope, peace, and brotherhood, and ended in the tragedy of murder and suicide.

Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter, by Beth Kephart. Kephart explores all kinds of friendships: how those bonds form, and how they strengthen, and how and why they sometimes dissipate. And it’s as beautifully written as all her books.

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A. J. Jacobs. Jacobs attempts to follow the Bible literally. He immediately confronts a few problems: which version of the Bible? How to interpret passages that are unclear or conflicting? What to do about actions that are now illegal (like stoning people)? But in studying and trying to live the Bible, he discovers plenty about both God and humankind.

Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Concise, poetic, and meditative, this is a book that’s meant to be savored and reread. It records the kind of deep pondering, the questions and discoveries, that can come to mind when we let ourselves stop and think and reconnect with the natural world.

source of recommended reads: all from library, except Gift from the Sea, Plume, and Two Boys Kissing, which were purchased.


  1. I haven't read any of these, which says I probably haven't read nearly enough this year. I'm currently reading Donna Tartt's THE GOLDFINCH at a family member's recommendation.

    1. I find that my reading ranges far and wide, so I doubt many people have read the same books I have. But if any sound good to you, definitely pick them up.

  2. My reading has taken such a dip and I miss not being caught up in books. If I do make a resolution this year, it will be to seek out some of your suggested books and indulge myself.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.