It’s a little past round-up time but I’m hardly going to skip one of my favourite posts of the year because I’ve been busy and lazy. So without further ado, here are some of my favourite books of 2013:
HHhH by Laurent Binet
This was one of the first books I read in 2013, one that both floored me at the time and has kept me thinking since. Seriously, I have had two conversations about HHhH in the last week alone. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors and as a person who works on Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre newsletter, I have spent a fair bit of time thinking about how we relate to the atrocities of the Holocaust, and how we tell its stories. This book is ostensibly about Operation Anthropoid, following Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík and the operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, high-ranking Nazi and architect of the Holocaust. This would have been enough to create a dashing and exciting WWII thriller. But this book is so much more than that. Through his own uncertainty over his material, Binet asks questions about how a historical novel works, how much facts matter, how to tell a story that does justice to the real people involved, how one can write about the Holocaust at all. It’s a work that has kept me thinking all year about the way we construct stories and the way we try to comprehend the Holocaust.
Shire by Ali Smith
This has been a year of Ali Smith reading. I was lucky enough to be at the Edinburgh festival again this year and hear the incomparable writer talk and it prompted me to read four of her books over two weeks. Her writing is charming and witty and playful, beautiful and accessible but puzzling and enigmatic too. It is so easy to read but it made me think long and hard about many things. In Edinburgh Ali Smith read from this collection of four stories, a mix of her usual enchanting fiction and biography and autobiography, meditations on art and love and feminism. Hearing her read ‘The Poet’ highlighted the way her books speak to Scotland’s history and language and was one of my highlights from the festival.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Speaking of the festival, my favourite session was Rachel Kushner interviewed by Colm Tóibín. I also feel pretty confident in calling this my favourite book of the year but I’ve found it really hard to articulate why. I mean, not in the ‘I don’t know what’s so great about this book’: it’s not a mystery that it mixes a heap of my favourite things. It’s a coming of age story set in New York in the 70s where Reno is trying to establish herself as an artist and a person. It’s all about the parts we play and the surface we project, and how to connect with other people and be a part of something, and why, and whether it even matters. It lured me in with the promise of Land Art and Italian Futurism and The Flamethrowers moves so comfortably through these movements and many more. Rachel Kushner’s prose is so controlled and precise in capturing exactly what it needs to capture but I think more than any of this The Flamethrowers just speaks to me and the way I think.
So that’s my 2013. Happy new year and happy reading to all!