Posted in History, Readathons-Challenges-Memes

Best Reads 2013

John Wiswell at The Bathroom Monologues is hosting Best Reads again. He’ll have a linkup on the 28th and the official hashtag on Twitter is #bestreads2013. Join us! We all need longer TBR lists, right?

The Speculative Fiction Crew

1414 by Peter Clines – What I assumed would be a horror novel was instead a Lovecraftian sci-fi story with enjoyable characters. I was especially impressed with the female cast. They were smart and capable and individual.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy byĀ  Brian Hodge – Speaking of Lovecrafitian, Whom the Gods Would Destroy was probably the creepiest thing I read this year. Hodge mixes science with the occult. What is an incredibly technologically advanced being to us other than a god? And what if that god is truly amoral? These are unsettling questions.

In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker – With this anthology, I was dipping into a sci-fi world that I knew nothing about. This could have gone poorly. Instead, I got immortals that aren’t emo, and the mortalsĀ  that get wrapped up in their hi-jinx. These stories are enjoyable, but gently tinged with melancholy.

If one word could sum up the Spec-Fic Crew, it would be surprise. Science fiction/fantasy were in the minority for me this year and my choices were pretty random. I came away with a great group of books and that is a little amazing. I’d like to think that it wasn’t just luck; that there is a whole slew of good adult spec-fic waiting to be gobbled up.

The Classic

Selected PoemsSmoke and Steel & Slabs of the Sunburnt West by Carl Sandburg

“I have ransacked the encyclopedias
And slid my fingers among topics and titles
Looking for you.”

Reading Carl Sandburg is as close to the early 1900s in the Midwest as I can get without building a time machine. The sights, sounds, smells. Urban and rural. He makes me homesick for somewhere that isn’t quite my home.

The Gothics

The SeanceThe Seance by John Harwood – Prophetic visions? Check. Crumbling manse? Check. Hidden diaries? Check. Spiritualism and bizarre science experiments? Check. This novel has all the makings of the best Hammer horror film ever. Reading Harwood’s novels is like being led through a cemetery after dark. You know there’s nothing there that can hurt you, but it doesn’t mean you’re not scared.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield – Subtitled “A Ghost Story,” this novel is probably the best fantasy world I’ve had the privileged to live in for a while. Truly, Setterfield builds her slightly magical world up around the reader in the narrative of Bellman’s life. It’s a quiet, gray world.

I love a good haunted house story, but I think the soul of gothic literature is the haunted person. These two novel present ghosts that are not entities, but histories. We all have histories…

The Magicians

Obviously, the biggest “genre” of literature I read this year involved magic. Fiction, non-fiction, related subjects. I didn’t care. I don’t care. I still have a shelf full that I haven’t gotten to.

Magic Shelfie
“Magic” Shelfie – With other research materials.

The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard – I love novels with a solid sense of place and this mystery put me smack-dab in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The magic and mystery were both solid. The characters were fun and well-handled. It was one of the few contemporarily set pieces of magic fiction that I came across this past year. I’m looking forward to another Eli Marks mystery in the future.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen by David Gold – My favorite fiction novel of the year. It took me a while to get into this story, but I’m glad I did. I came to love the characters, even if they are full of faults. It’s fiction that lives in history and that’s something I want to read more of and to write as well. When I finished it, I didn’t think it was a book I’d want to reread. But it stuck in my head. Now, I own it and if I reread anything in 2014, it will be this book.

The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American WizardsHiding the Elephant and The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer – I joked before that half of my 2013 top ten list would be Jim Steinmeyer. I ended up reading four of his books and all were good. All could be on this list, but I picked two. Steinmeyer loves his subjects and it’s not hard to be enthusiastic too. These books have taught me a lot about magic (Hiding the Elephant) and magic history (The Last Greatest Magician). They’ve also been pretty instrumental in furthering my thoughts about how we use narratives. Magic tricks are performed within the flow of a narrative and are backed by the narrative of their history. There are even narratives, true and false, told in order to explain illusions.Ā  Many magicians have their own history as well as the history they create for themselves. Magic is a veritable onion of stories.