2013’s Top 10 Books According To The Washington Post

November 26, 2013

CaptureThe Washington Post has announced its list of the top 10 books of 2013. You’ll find all the titles to be familiar but in case you haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, the Post’s nod might give you more incentive. As Ron Charles, the book critic at the paper, says: “We’re not worried so much about making the perfect choices (those don’t exist). We just want to make sure our choices provide a rich investment for your time.”

FICTION

A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together. “On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Havaa, eight years old, hides in the woods and watches the blaze until her neighbor, Akhmed, discovers her sitting in the snow. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, and there is no safe place to hide a child in a village where informers will do anything for a loaf of bread, but for reasons of his own, he sneaks her through the forest to the one place he thinks she might be safe: an abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded. Though Sonja protests that her hospital is not an orphanage, Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction)
From the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade and who must pass as a girl to survive. Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town with Brown, who believes he’s a girl. Over the ensuing months, Henry, whom Brown nicknames Little Onion, conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, one of the great catalysts for the Civil War. An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.


The Woman Upstairs
by Claire Messud
From the “New York Times”-bestselling author of “The Emperor’s Children,” a brilliant new novel: the riveting confession of a woman awakened, transformed, and betrayed by passion and desire for a world beyond her own set in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Son by Phillip Meyer
The first male child born in the newly established Republic of Texas, Eli McCullough is thirteen years old when a marauding band of Comanches storms his homestead and brutally murders his mother and sister, taking him captive. Brave and clever, Eli quickly adapts to life among the Comanches, learning their ways and language, answering to a new name, becoming the chief’s adopted son, and waging war against their enemies, including white men–which complicates his sense of loyalty and understanding of who he is. But when disease, starvation, and overwhelming numbers of armed Americans decimate the tribe, Eli finds himself alone. Neither white nor Indian, civilized nor fully wild, he must carve a place for himself in a world in which he does not fully belong–a journey of adventure, tragedy, hardship, grit, and luck that reverberates in the lives of his progeny. Intertwined with Eli’s story are those of his son, Peter, a man who bears the emotional cost of his father’s drive for power, and Jeannie, Eli’s great-granddaughter, a woman who must fight hardened rivals to succeed in a man’s world. Philipp Meyer deftly explores how Eli’s ruthlessness and steely pragmatism transform subsequent generations of McCulloughs. Love, honor, even children are sacrificed in the name of ambition as the family becomes one of the richest powers in Texas, a ranching-and-oil dynasty of unsurpassed wealth and privilege. Yet, like all empires, the McCulloughs must eventually face the consequences of their choices. Harrowing, panoramic, and vividly drawn, The Son is a masterful achievement from a sublime young talent.

How The light Gets In by Louise Penny
Christmas is approaching, and in Québec it’s a time of dazzling snowfalls, bright lights, and gatherings with friends in front of blazing hearths. But shadows are falling on the usually festive season for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department, his old friend and lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir hasn’t spoken to him in months, and hostile forces are lining up against him. When Gamache receives a message from Myrna Landers that a longtime friend has failed to arrive for Christmas in the village of Three Pines, he welcomes the chance to get away from the city. Mystified by Myrna’s reluctance to reveal her friend’s name, Gamache soon discovers the missing woman was once one of the most famous people not just in North America, but in the world, and now goes unrecognized by virtually everyone except the mad, brilliant poet Ruth Zardo. As events come to a head, Gamache is drawn ever deeper into the world of Three Pines. Increasingly, he is not only investigating the disappearance of Myrna’s friend but also seeking a safe place for himself and his still-loyal colleagues. Is there peace to be found even in Three Pines, and at what cost to Gamache and the people he holds dear? How the Light Gets In is the ninth Chief Inspector Gamache Novel from Louise Penny.

NON-FICTION

The Guns At Last Light: The War In Western Europe 1944-1945 by Rick Atkinson
It is the twentieth century’s unrivaled epic: at a staggering price, the United States and its allies liberated Europe and vanquished Hitler. In the first two volumes of his bestselling Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson recounted how the American-led coalition fought through North Africa and Italy to the threshold of victory. Now, in The Guns at Last Light , he tells the most dramatic story of all–the titanic battle for Western Europe. D-Day marked the commencement of the final campaign of the European war, and Atkinson’s riveting account of that bold gamble sets the pace for the masterly narrative that follows. The brutal fight in Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the disaster that was Operation Market Garden, the horrific Battle of the Bulge, and finally the thrust to the heart of the Third Reich–all these historic events and more come alive with a wealth of new material and a mesmerizing cast of characters. Atkinson tells the tale from the perspective of participants at every level, from presidents and generals to war-weary lieutenants and terrified teenage riflemen. When Germany at last surrenders, we understand anew both the devastating cost of this global conflagration and the enormous effort required to win the Allied victory. With the stirring final volume of this monumental trilogy, Atkinson’s accomplishment is manifest. He has produced the definitive chronicle of the war that unshackled a continent and preserved freedom in the West.

Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel
In Thank You for Your Service , Finkel has done something even more extraordinary. Once again, he has embedded with some of the men of the 2-16–but this time he has done it at home, here in the States, after their deployments have ended. He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments as they try to recover, and in doing so, he creates an indelible, essential portrait of what life after war is like–not just for these soldiers, but for their wives, widows, children, and friends, and for the professionals who are truly trying, and to a great degree failing, to undo the damage that has been done. The story Finkel tells is mesmerizing, impossible to put down. With his unparalleled ability to report a story, he climbs into the hearts and minds of those he writes about. Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding, and it offers a more complete picture than we have ever had of these two essential questions: When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? And when they return, what are we thanking them for?

Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston
In Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, award-winning journalist Anne Dowsett Johnston combines in-depth research with her own personal story of recovery, and delivers a groundbreaking examination of a shocking yet little recognized epidemic threatening society today: the precipitous rise in risky drinking among women and girls. With the feminist revolution, women have closed the gender gap in their professional and educational lives. They have also achieved equality with men in more troubling areas as well. In the U.S. alone, the rates of alcohol abuse among women have skyrocketed in the past decade. DUIs, “drunkorexia” (choosing to limit eating to consume greater quantities of alcohol), and health problems connected to drinking are all rising–a problem exacerbated by the alcohol industry itself. Battling for women’s dollars and leisure time, corporations have developed marketing strategies and products targeted exclusively to women. Equally alarming is a recent CDC report showing a sharp rise in binge drinking, putting women and girls at further risk. As she brilliantly weaves in-depth research, interviews with leading researchers, and the moving story of her own struggle with alcohol abuse, Johnston illuminates this startling epidemic, dissecting the psychological, social, and industry factors that have contributed to its rise, and exploring its long-lasting impact on our society and individual lives.

Book Of Ages by Jill Lepore
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians, a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister and a history of history itself. Like her brother, Jane Franklin was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator. Unlike him, she was a mother of twelve. Benjamin Franklin, who wrote more letters to his sister than he wrote to anyone else, was the original American self-made man; his sister spent her life caring for her children. They left very different traces behind. Making use of an amazing cache of little-studied material, including documents, objects, and portraits only just discovered, Jill Lepore brings Jane Franklin to life in a way that illuminates not only this one woman but an entire world–a world usually lost to history. Lepore’s life of Jane Franklin, with its strikingly original vantage on her remarkable brother, is at once a wholly different account of the founding of the United States and one of the great untold stories of American history and letters: a life unknown.

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative ability to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology. At the book’s center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion. And his successor, David Miscavige–tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church after the death of Hubbard. We learn about Scientology’s complicated cosmology and special language. We see the ways in which the church pursues celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and how such stars are used to advance the church’s goals. And we meet the young idealists who have joined the Sea Org, the church’s clergy, signing up with a billion-year contract. In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of this constitutional protection. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observation, understanding, and shaping a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that reveals the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.

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