December 6, 2013

December 6, 2013

FY 2013 Books of the Year

Now that you’ve had some time to digest the also-rans, and now that I’ve had time to present them to friend-of-blog P for her birthday, allow me a moment to discuss three of the best books I read this year. It’s holiday shopping season, after all, and few things* make better gifts than books. Keep in mind that my reading tastes may not match yours, though keep in mind I have excellent taste in books.

NON-FICTION

Dad Is Fat
A collection of comedic essays on parenting by Jim Gaffigan. Before reading this book, I knew Gaffigan only as the guy who played a version of young David Letterman (Indiana weatherman-cum-funny-guy) on a short-lived sitcom a few years ago. I’d never seen the Hot Pockets bit or any other of his routines. And I obviously wasn’t looking for something to increase my appreciation of parenting, because the No Babies Here policy remains in full effect.

Which is why I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this book. I laughed. A lot. Because Gaffigan is the rare** parent who realizes that parenting is terrible. It’s loud, messy, and exhausting all at once. It’s expensive and logistically difficult, especially when you live in a large city. In short, this is a book written by a parent BUT with sympathy towards non-parents.

The best book I read this year in the biographical, comedic, and essay collection genres.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
My 2013 was full of trivia. Even more so than usual. I participated in the World Quizzing Championships. I won scads of money on a TV quiz show. I tested for Mensa.*** I found myself needing to know a lot of things about a lot of things, and my modus operandi in these situations has always been to read voraciously. Among the books about history, biology, and geography, I consumed this gem about the elements.

It’s probably been a while since you considered the periodic table, if ever you did. (I myself was always more of a biology person, because classification soothes my inner obsessive compulsive.) But it turns out that that grid contains some fascinating characters. Learn how they got their names, how they were discovered, and some of the freaky things they can do.

The best nonfiction book I read this year, and the better of the two I read specifically on the periodic table.


FICTION

 
Calling Me Home
One of the authors I greatly admire posted her summer reading list online, and I tried to read every book on it. Alas, they tended mostly towards vaguely-romantic fiction. Couples separated for various reasons, kids estranged from parents, and the like. If I’m going to read about kids, I want them thrown into an arena fighting to the death.

But calling me home, about an interracial relationship in a pre-Civil Rights Era America, managed to rise above the fray. It’s a little like The Help.**** There’s a big twist about ¾ of the way through, and it made me sob like a ridiculous person. The novel simultaneously tells stories set in the past and in the present, and they show both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But all that Big Idea stuff aside, it’s just a good story.

The best fiction book I read this year (that I also feel good about recommending to people).

So that’s me. What did you read and like this year? My roster for 2014 needs filling.

* Cash, property, vacations, and vital organs excepted.
** As far as I can tell, anyway. If I never again hear from a parent about how wonderful their kid is, it will be too soon. Unless I’m related to it, I don’t want to know. Sometimes not even then.
*** Results not in as of press time.
**** This year’s Gone Girl was Before I Go to Sleep, which I read with a growing sense of dread. I didn’t want to stop reading, but I also didn’t want to keep reading. Open at your own risk.

1 Fish in a Sea of Diet Coke:

I'm glad to see you mention The Disappearing Spoon- I had been wondering about that one. Another fantastic book in the same vein is Periodic Tales. Witty, interesting cultural tidbits aplenty.