Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Best of 2013: Annual Year in Review

Previous yearly wrap-ups: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 

The year turns once more and it's time to look back on the past's reading, to think about which books really stood out and to reflect on the year in general. Let's begin with pie!

As usual, ChartGo did the data-baking, and nonfiction dominated. This year was heavy on civics and society, economic and political philosophy, and bicycles; when I drew up a 'top twenty' list,  most of the books fell into these categories. Toward the end of the year I also got into outdoors-adventure books, including a lot of cycling memoirs.

The great theme that emerged from my reading this year was civics, society, and living humanely.  Not only did I read a great many books about the material arrangement of society, like those on city planning, but I also considered thoughtful works on other aspects of society:  culture, politics, economics, and more. Diverse authors who never met one another, who may have not have even heard of one another, have worked in concert inside  my head to prompt a sea change therein. In trying to understand how society works,  so that I might do my part to help create more resilient, healthier communities, I have developed a sharp aversion to the large-scale, top-down, and heavy-handed approaches I once favored, instead now preferring smaller, locally-oriented, and 'organic' tacks that emphasize healthy relationships between people, connect them to their physical place, and promote inner reliance or autonomy.  And so, the best from this sweeping category, books in bold indicating membership on the Top Ten Favorites for the year.

Now some highlights from other genres:

General Fiction



  • The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, Brian Fagan
  • Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal
  • Your Inner Fish; The Universe Within, Neil Shubin.  
  • Two Sides of the Moon, David Scott and Alexei Leonov

Historical Fiction

I read Pride and Prejudice largely so I could read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which started out hilarious and then drifted toward the merely silly. I did enjoy Austen, especially for the language. Kerr is a new author to me, and one I'll read more of;  I've read three works by him so far, and all were police dramas/international mysteries set in Germany, often around the 1930s. Dark humor abounds.

Speculative Fiction
  • From History's Shadow, Dayton Ward.  Treklit and historical fiction, this history of the United States' attempts to investigate claims of alien life begins shortly after 1947 and 
  • 1632, Eric Flint. What happens when you drop a Pennsylvanian mining town into the middle of 17th century Germany? Good times.

In the long run I think I'll remember this year most for introducing me to one Wendell Berry, an aging gentleman-farmer from Kentucky whose ideas on the good life are expressed in both essay collections and novels. I encountered Berry first when one of his essays, "Health is Membership", appeared in The Plain Reader, a collection of essays on the simple life, many of them rooted in the Quaker tradition.  He writes reverently of the need to conserve and live a life grounded in Nature, mindful of the limits it would suggest for the scale of our activities. He champions a nation based on family farms, small towns, and decentralized political power; he writes against and mourns the destruction caused by agribusiness, urban sprawl, and big stick approaches to little problems. His essay collections are wise and often godawful funny, while the novels are painfully beautiful. I read Jayber Crow back in June, and not a day goes by that I don't think of it-- quote aloud from it, even.  Wendell Berry joins the very-elite club of featured authors for me, alongside Isaac Asimov and Bernard Cornwell.


  1. That's a *very* even spread. My chart would be nothing like that! [grin]

  2. Indeed; 7% seemed to be a magic number. Usually I have two or three big clumps (history and religion/philosophy always ranking) and then a lot of smaller categories..

    You reviewed a lot of books last year that I missed when you made the original posts -- huge year for British history!

  3. British (and mainland European) History is my passion ATM. Much more to come too - including my next review on Monday!


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