Last year I joined list hysteria (“listeria”?) of end-of-the-year reading. At the end of 2013, I’m succumbing again. I’ll just quote myself from last year regarding the rather lengthy title to this post:
Since it would be silly to say these are the “best” books of 2012—”best” is impossible to determine, and considering I’ve read only about 20 books that were published this year, I’d be hardly one to determine it—these are, then, my “favorites of the books I read this calendar year that also happen to be published in 2012.” Not quite as catchy as “Best of 2012,” but far more truthful.
Sub 2013 for 2012, and we’re on—with one caveat. Because I read so few 2013 nonfiction books this year, it doesn’t seem fair to pick a winner—so I’ll keep my choices to fiction:
- The Infatuations, Javier Marías
This is the best novel I’ve read this year, by far. Marías is the most exciting novelist alive. He doesn’t wow with descriptions or aesthetics, but he picks the most challenging and interesting ideas and themes. His novels—which contain “systems of echoes”—are intricately plotted and brilliant. If I were on the Nobel committee, I’d pick him. (My review of this book is here.)
- The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vásquez
The latest novel by (for my money) the most promising South American novelist, Vásquez effortlessly blends history and narrative. Though it could have ended stronger, this novel opens wonderfully—and in a more interesting way—than many books I’ve lately read. (Review here.)
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra
This was my beach book, consumed while looking out at the Gulf of Mexico, which made Marra’s accomplishment—making me feel as if I was there, in a blown-out hospital in Chechnya—even more impressive. This has the best denouement of any 2013 novel I read. (Review)
- The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
What hasn’t already been said about this novel? Kushner showed great promise in Telex From Cuba, but The Flamethrowers has her in stride. There’s so much on the page and so much more between the lines. Kushner is not a strong plotter, but everything else that comprises a great novel—interesting settings, dynamic characters, relevant themes, aesthetic beauty, originality—she has in spades. I’ll read anything Kushner writes.