Tag Archives: anthony marra

Of the books I read published in 2013, these are my favorites.

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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)
  4. 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.

New York Times’ 100 Notable Books.

It’s getting to be my favorite time of the year—at least as far as book lists go. The New York Times’ notable “100 Notable Books” is the monarch of lists, and it’s a good one. I can recommend several titles on the list, a few of which I’ve reviewed before:


  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra (review)
  • Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem (my review is upcoming)
  • The Infatuations, Javier Marías (probably the best novel I’ve read this year; my essay)
  • The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri (my review upcoming)
  • The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabríel Vásquez (my review upcoming)
  • Tenth of December, George Saunders (review)


  • My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor (review)

For more “best” books lists go here.

Review of “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.”

constellation-marraMy review of Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is now live at the Lincoln Journal-Star. Review in one paragraph:

Moving back and forth through the 1990s and 2000s, Marra slowly assembles the tragic puzzle of how these characters are linked together in far greater ways than they ever realize. Tension builds a little too slowly, but the elegant, stomach-dropping, emotional conclusion — to say more would be dull its sharpness — is one of the most satisfying I’ve recently read.

It’s worth reading.