Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2013

You’ve perhaps heard of Top Ten Tuesdays, a meme hosted by the blog The Broke and the Bookish. Now, I’m not planning on posting on this theme every week and as you may notice, today is Monday not Tuesday. As a good post-modern I don’t feel bound to societal constructions. 😉

However, I liked the topic for last Tuesday and I took my time thinking about it. That is, what are the top ten books you’ve read so far in 2013? There are two main ways to go with this. One, confine yourself to books which you’ve never read before and which you just read this year, or Two, it doesn’t matter if you’ve read a book before or not, just pick the ones you’ve read so far this year which are top ones for you. I’m going with the second option, but feel free to define your own criteria.

1) Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Second reading of the book for me and to my view better than the first time. A much better appreciation of the characters and their different virtues and failings.

2) Martin Luther’s Christmas Book translated and edited by Reformation scholar Roland Bainton. Excerpts of various sermons Martin Luther gave on the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Luther focuses on the human realism of the events as well as their miraculous nature. (I read the book in January but still while it was the Christmas season.)

3) The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Fascinating and dismaying at the same time. Especially since I can recognize so much of myself in it. It has helped me reexamine my relationship to the Internet and how I interact with it. Having less to do with blogs is one example, despite the irony of posting this on a blog. 🙂

4) The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. The seventh and final book of The Chronicles of Narnia. I won’t say it’s the least favorite one of mine, but it is the one I read the least. Primarily because it’s about endings and the descent of what was once good and true and beautiful into falsity, despair, and decay. In other words, it reminds me of this present life. But it is also about redemption and rescue and the final victory.

5) Miracles by C.S. Lewis. Not the most accessible of Lewis’ works, perhaps. Still a cogent, logical defense of the reality of the miraculous.

6) The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton offers a history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity. C.S. Lewis credits this book with baptizing his intellect, as George MacDonald had baptized his imagination, and thus playing a prime role in his conversion from atheism to eventually Christianity.

7) The Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West–Recovering the Lost Traditions of Europe by Michael Drout. Slightly cheating here as this is actually a series of lectures published as an audiobook. Drout shows how Tolkien’s work is firmly rooted in the foundations of Western culture and literature and how that tradition still resonates with us today.

8) Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien. Farmer Giles meets a dragon and wins his fortune. A comic story using lots of philological humor.

9) Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien. A dramatization of several Tolkien stories including Farmer Giles, Smith of Wootton Major, Leaf by Niggle, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. I listened to it a couple of years ago and didn’t really like it, but listening to it again this year, I found it more engaging.

10) Who Killed Homer: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath. An examination of why the foundations of Western Civilization are no longer being taught in our universities and who brought it about, i..e. who killed Homer. Hanson and Heath argue it was an inside job. Thought provoking albeit a bit of a slog to get through.

There it is for me. Please jump in with your top ten books so far this year!



33 thoughts on “Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2013

  1. I haven’t read very many books so far this year, but I am currently reading “Life” by Keith Richards. IMO, it’s not an easy read as it is almost 550 pages and there is a lot of detail. He does spend quite a bit of time on the technicalities of playing/writing music, which is a bit over my head since I don’t play any sort of instrument. I am enjoying the “rock star” stories, however, and it is remarkable how The Stones got started and that they have been going strong for 50 years. One thing that took me by surprise is that he’s only been married once and is still married to Patti Hansen after 30 years. And that he’s an avid reader. He has a huge library in his Connecticut home. Wonder if he’s got HP in his collection?

  2. Ooh, the ten best. Going off my Goodreads list, in a flaming hurry:

    1. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
    2. Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley
    3. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
    4. Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card
    5. Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    6. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
    7. Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
    8. Once was Lost by Sara Zarr
    9. Cinder and 10. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

    That’s not counting re-reads like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, of course. 😉

    P.S. I LOVE it that you have Sense and Sensibility on your list. 😀

  3. Wait, why isn’t The Blue Sword on my Goodreads list?? That should definitely be in the top ten… I DID read that, and DID review it. Weird. That makes me wonder what else I’ve overlooked.

  4. Gosh, as I scan your reading lists compared with mine I realize I’ve been hitting the World War themed books pretty hard this year. I’m not sure why, it’s just one of those one thing leads to another reading trends. I probably need to lighten up, but even though its sometimes grim, my best of 2013 to date includes some amazing books:

    1. Regeneration; Pat Barker
    2. To Serve Them All My Days; RF Delderfield
    3. Pebble in the Sky; Isaac Asimov
    4. Emma; Jane Austen (it wasn’t all grimsville!)
    5. The Winds of War; Herman Wouk
    6. Journey into Fear; Eric Ambler
    7. Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself; Sheila Bair
    8. Funeral in Berlin; Len Deighton
    9. The Captain; Jan de Hertog
    10. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam; Robert McNamara

    I think I definitely should get off this kick — perhaps Right Ho, Jeeves would be the right cheering potion 🙂

  5. I am also going with option #2 because I am a re-reader, but I won’t count my re-reads of half the Harry Potter series (Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban and Deathly Hallows). So here are my top ten for the first half of 2013, in no special order:

    Among Others by Jo Walton
    This was a re-read of a book that has found its way onto my list of all time favorite books. It is a wonderful coming of age story, as well as an ode to books, especially science fiction and fantasy books. I can’t think of any other novel that talks about books so much. It also has a great main character.

    Erebos by Ursula Poznansky
    This is an SF/thriller kind of book about a bunch of teenagers who get addicted to a video game that mixes virtual reality with reality in a strange kind of way. I am no gamer, but this was a page turner which I really enjoyed.

    The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner
    Another page turner which starts out as a murder mystery novel and later develops into a rather weird science fiction story. It’s not for the faint-hearted, though.

    Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
    Another re-read and one of my very favorite Diana Wynne Jones books about a girl who is about to go to college and who finds out that she has two sets of memories she doesn’t know what to make of. We are then told the story of how this came to be – it all started when she was ten and gate-crashed a funeral in the neighborhood on Halloween. This is Jones’s take on Tam Lin and it’s absolute first rate stuff.

    Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer
    One of my favorite Sawyer books, a courtroom drama with an alien defendant charged with murder. This time, I listened to the unabridged audiobook which came out last year (the book itself is from the 90s).

    How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
    The first book in the Hiccup series, telling the story of how Hiccup and Toothless met. I listened to this one which is very aptly read by David Tennant with a wonderful Scottish accent. This alone made it worth my time, but I liked the story a lot, too.

    John Green: The Fault in Our Stars
    I really enjoyed this book which isn’t anything I would have normally picked up. It is about two teenagers who are suffering from cancer, but it’s not cheesy at all.

    The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross
    A modern take on the “lost heir” theme, involving parallel worlds and a very peculiar family trade. The first book in a trilogy.

    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    I listened to the unabridged audiobook of this historical time travel fantasy for the first time (I already read the book some ten years ago) and fell in love with it again.

    The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
    Another old favorite of mine – this was also an audio “re-read”. Not unlike Harry Potter, Will Stanton discovers on his 11th birthday that he is special.

  6. I’ve read too many books this year that ended up being mediocre. I’m not even sure if I can remember ten that can be classified as best. Here are the books that I can remember as important to me this year, that I would recommend, not in any particular order:

    1. Dark Nights of the Soul, by Thomas Moore. I really enjoyed this book on the beauty and gifts of dark times in our life.

    2. Not Out of Africa, by Mary Lefkowitz. I had to read this book for a class I took on “Women in the Ancient World.” Lefkowitz is a scholar refuting Afro-centrist claims that Ancient Greece stole all of their ideas from Egypt.This book is not about women and I did not understand why it was required reading, nor did I want to read it. Nevertheless, I ended up finding it fascinating. I’ve heard so many things about Ancient Egypt bandied about over the years, about its “mystery schools” and “magic.” Lefkowitz points out how these myths about Egypt originated in 18th century Europe and were perpetuated by the Masons in order to shroud their organization in mystery and claim that it had roots in ancient Egypt.

    3. Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander. I know, I know. The title is stupid, and neither the spirit world nor the afterlife can be proven. However, I really enjoyed Alexander’s story of his life, the atheism that came from his trust in science as a neurosurgeon, and the near-death experience he had while in a coma. It’s a short read, but I found it inspiring and interesting.

    4. The Effect, by Linda Hoy. I got this book from Amazon in the U.K. Hoy is an English woman who was also a confirmed atheist, who had a series of experiences and “coincidences” that eventually convinced her of the presence of spirit and availability of spiritual help in our world. I enjoyed her personal story and also her further studies and ideas.

    5. Mary Shelley, by Miranda Seymour. A comprehensive biography on the author of Frankenstein (and many other works), daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. I enjoyed learning her story and also a lot about the poets of the Romantic Age— I had great empathy for Mary, who lived through much tragedy and many difficulties.

    6. Of Water and Spirit, by Malidoma Patrice Some. Fascinating autobiography of a West African man who was kidnapped at age five from his family and village by a Catholic priest, raised in a boarding school, and then in a seminary for African boys. He eventually escaped and returned to his village, after no contact with his family for fifteen years, and learned the spiritual ways of his own people.

    7. The True Secret of Writing, by Natalie Goldberg. This is not Goldberg’s best book, but I enjoyed it very much. I’ve read most of her others and it was interesting to hear her voice in this later role as well-known and respected teacher.

    Actually those seven are all that are coming to mind right now that I’ve read this year and really enjoyed. If I think of three more, I will add them later!

  7. For some reason all the comments so far except for Jenna’s have gotten caught in the spam catcher. I’ve released them, but if anybody’s further comments don’t show up, let me know & I’ll look for them. george69336 at msn .com


  8. Oh, wow, Minerva, I forgot about The Fault in Our Stars. I read that, too, this year, and loved it! (I also read Fire and Hemlock recently, but I think it was last year).
    Another novel that was pretty good that I read this year was Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle.
    And right now I am re-reading (on CD by Stephen Fry, that is) The Deathly Hallows. I think it’s about my fifth time through it, and I am truly am amazed. It is an incredible book. Jo Rowling is a true genius!

  9. Another book I forgot that I read this year was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and cancer researcher. The book gives a detailed and riveting history of cancer treatment through the ages, of what we know and of how much we still do not understand about cancer.
    (I learned about this book from reading The Fault in Our Stars; author John Green recommends Emperor of All Maladies in an afterward.)

  10. I am glad our comments didn’t vanish into thin air, but only got caught in the spam filter. 🙂

    phoenixsong58, I know what you mean when you mention mediocre books. I get the impression that the older I get and the more I read, the more difficult it becomes to achieve this “sense of wonder” I had as a child. But fortunately, we still come across those books from time to time. I have already read quite a few good books this year, though, so I can’t complain.

    Oh, and I am also listening to Stephen Fry at the moment, but to Goblet of Fire. I have recently finished a re-read of Deathly Hallows on my Kindle.

    1. I would tend to agree with that, Minerva. The only series in the last 15 years or so that’s grabbed me in the same way Narnia & Middle-Earth did when I was in elementary school has been Harry Potter. Well, and also Till We Have Faces by Lewis.

      1. I have never even heard of that one. Might have a look at it, though I am not a fan of Narnia (should have read those as a child but never came across them).

  11. Minerva, do you find Deathly Hallows even more amazing each time you read it? I’ve thought about all the layers and layers of topics that the Harry Potter books cover, never being heavy-handed about any of them, all of them woven seamlessly into the fantastic stories. Fantastic plots, subplots and story lines, magic, mystery, suspense, humor, good vs. evil, imagination, mythology, alchemy, friendship, loyalty, learning from mentors, being wrong and making mistakes, misunderstandings, disagreements with others, human flaws, emotions, anger, depression, trust and faith, supernatural help, life after death, fear and courage, choices, danger, trauma, death, sadness and loss, grief, dealing with difficult people and different kinds of people, abuse of power, control issues, shame, our need to be understood and accepted, bullies, cruelty, materialism, appearances, shallowness, risk taking, painful childhoods, abandonment, remorse, friendships with foreigners or “the other,” relationships with animals, reputation, the media, unfairness, rumours, truth and lies, cover-ups, popularity and social issues, attraction, infatuation, romantic love, parental love, love between friends, the meaning of life.
    I’m sure there are more. I see JKR’s genius more with each reading.

    1. What amazes me about Deathly Hallows is that I can’t find anything I would cut from it, not even the parts that other people find boring (like the “camping” or the epilogue). It reminds me of what I have just read in “Repotting Harry Potter” by James W. Thomas. He said that he didn’t like Order of the Phoenix very much when he first read it, but after re-reading it several times, he couldn’t find anything he would want to cut. JKR says OoP is bloated, but I don’t want it to be shorter either. Everything has its place in it in my opinion.

      Personally, I am very satisfied with the ending of the series and I have stopped to listen to people saying that the last two books are rubbish. 😉

  12. Let me add to that: education, the difference between good teachers and bad teachers, the joy of learning and books, growing up, adult/child relationships, the importance of children’s stories.

  13. Hi Minerva — I found your list very inspiring: I loved How to Train Your Dragon but I have not read any of the other authors. I’ll definitely give you list a try.

    1. You know what? I was feeling a bit embarrassed about not reading many “academic” books at the moment. My list seems so … light. I haven’t read a lot of non-fiction this year, and while I enjoyed what I have read, none of those books has made it on to my top ten list. And apparently I am not very good at finding many new books that will make it into my favorites either, since most of my list consists of re-reads (six out of ten books).

      1. I feel like I go through time periods when all I want to read is fiction. Other times, I try several mediocre novels in a row, and then I turn to non-fiction for inspiration.
        When I am reading fiction, I so often prefer young adult fiction. I have tried to figure out why this is. To me, so many of the novels written for adults have overly quirky characters for no reason, or presume to be sophisticated or avant-garde for no good reason, or have characters that are too jaded or depressed or “stuck.” Books written for young people, or about young people, often feel fresher, more alive, to me. The characters are always learning, growing. They are full of curiosity and imagination. Most of my favorite writers of all time, the number one being Jo Rowling, wrote for young people.

        1. You have a point here. Now that you mention it… The older I get, the more I turn back to books written for young adults for the very same reason you do. I also think those books tend to focus more on the story itself and on the things that really matter in life.

          I do enjoy a “popcorn” book from time to time, but it’s a bit like sugar, like “empty” calories with no nutritional value. Non-fiction also got me through times when I wasn’t able to find a novel that could hold my interest, but that was mainly before the Internet took off and my choice was limited. I am happy to say that in the last ten years, I haven’t experienced one of those abysmal fiction “droughts”. In fact, the very last one happened right after reading the Harry Potter books in 2000. I just couldn’t focus on anything else – they were best books I had read in a long time! At the time, I turned to non-fiction and fan fiction, but I still read a lot (instead of not at all for a while).

  14. I think you’ve said it, Minerva. Great young adult fiction focuses more on the story, and also on the things that really matter in life. By the way, I always look at your recommendations, and I’m going to re-read Among Others, a recommendation I got from you a year or two ago and that I really loved.

    1. I will keep those recommendations coming, then. I like keeping track of what I read, and writing comments about it helps me remember all the stuff, even if I don’t write long reviews like I did a couple of years ago. I just can’t remember when I found the time then to do that. 😉

  15. Minerva said, “You know what? I was feeling a bit embarrassed about not reading many “academic” books at the moment. My list seems so … light. I haven’t read a lot of non-fiction this year, and while I enjoyed what I have read, none of those books has made it on to my top ten list. And apparently I am not very good at finding many new books that will make it into my favorites either, since most of my list consists of re-reads (six out of ten books).”

    I usually tend to read mostly fiction and the non-fiction I read is usually not ‘academic.’ I’ve read a selection of new books this year which I’ve enjoyed, like Austenland by Shannon Hale or Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, but they haven’t risen to top ten level.

    I also have so many new books to read that I sometimes, well, most times, get a sort of book paralysis & simply go back to familiar books. I know what I’m getting & I know that I’ll enjoy it as opposed to investing myself in something new.

    As for book recommendations, here’s a good spot to see what people are reading. 🙂

    1. I always look at what you post on the forum, and that’s exactly why I get the impression that you read a lot of non-fiction. I might be mistaken, though. 😉

  16. I’ve been taking some Tolkien classes this year, so I’ve mostly been reading books by and about him, but here are a few titles (new to me) I really enjoyed outside of that project (in no particular order):

    *LUD-IN-THE-MIST by Hope Mirrlees, a vintage work of fantasy & faerie

    *SONG OF THE INNKEEPER by Peter S. Beagle, fantasy by the author of The Last Unicorn

    *DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis, time travel to the Middle Ages

    *ZOO CITY by Lauren Beukes, work of uniquely South African urban fantasy featuring animal familiars, by Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner

    *CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller, classic & thought-provoking sci-fi concerning the cycles of civilization & religion

    *WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin, seminal 1921 Russian dystopian novel

    *KALLOCAIN by Karin Boye, classic 1940 Swedish dystopian novel

    *GENESIS by Bernard Beckett, New Zealand sci-fi concerning Plato, Socrates, humanity & society. A quick read, too!

    1. I have only read Doomsday Book from your list. I love Connie Willis’s Oxford time travel novels and I am also a fan of her short fiction.

      I have Zoo City on my TBR, maybe it’s time to move it to the top? I should also read another Peter Beagle, haven’t read him in a long time but usually loved what I read.

  17. One new series I’ve enjoyed is “The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein,” which includes “Book One: This Dark Endeavor” and “Book Two: Such Wicked Intent,” by author Kenneth Oppel. See the website’s description for “This Dark Endeavor” below:

    “Victor Frankenstein leads a charmed life. He and his twin brother Konrad and their beautiful cousin Elizabeth take lessons at home and spend their spare time fencing and horseback riding. Along with their friend, Henry, they have explored all the hidden passageways and secret rooms of the palatial Frankenstein chateau. Except one. The Dark Library contains ancient tomes written in strange languages, and filled with forbidden knowledge. Their father makes them promise never to visit the library again, but when Konrad becomes deathly ill, Victor knows he must find the book that contains the recipe for the legendary Elixir of Life. The elixir needs only three ingredients. But impossible odds, dangerous alchemy, and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn. Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love – and how much he is willing to sacrifice.”

    Book one was a literal jaw-dropper for me and book two, equally good!

  18. With LOTS of help from the Tolkien Professor,
    I have JUST completed the Silmarillion. I not only completed it, I actually GET IT!

    Since The Tolkien Professor said the Lord of the Rings will make much more sense after reading and understanding the Silmarillion, I am now prepared to start from the Hobbit through to the Return of the king.

    But I have to admit, there are a bunch of books listed above that sure do sound as if they could be next on my list. 🙂

  19. Is anyone else following the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo? Probably my top book so far in 2013 is the second in the trilogy – Siege & Storm. I also really enjoyed Dan Brown’s Inferno and a biography – The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family. The Mitford’s were absolutely fascinating. I also enjoyed All Roads Lead to Austen.

    That’s about it, though. I think I’ve been slogging through a lot of things I wanted to read that have turned out to be fine, but not super noteworthy.

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