by Sarah Pinsker
My Favorite Books of 2013 (not in order).
1. Hild by Nicola Griffith
This is a magnificent book. I have a habit of sometimes reading to finish a book, rather than reading to experience it. I lived this novel, the grit and the grime far more than the glamour. It is a lush imagining, an act of deft, from-the-ground-up worldbuilding. I love how everyone has things to do, whether they are men, women, nobles, farmhands: there are herbs to collect, sheep to shear, cows to be milked, people to be healed, cloths to be woven. I love that the women have purpose and agency, and that every single character has wants and needs of his or her own. Hild herself develops organically from bright, observant child into larger-than-life seer. Some of the names get a little confusing at times, and I was grateful for the genealogy at the beginning, but it didn't matter when I was swept up in it.
2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
This is a hell of a first novel. A protagonist who is also a thousands-years-old ship, which is also the thousands of troops (so-called "corpse soldiers") on board, and is also one particular subset of those troops. A narrative that jumps seamlessly between past and distant past and present, and between the "I" of Breq, chasing a particular gun, and the "I" of the ship Justice of Toren, and the many "I"s of One Esk. The result is a peculiar first person narrative that can describe events that take place across time and space and seemingly private conversations to which it might not have been privy. It isn't omniscience, just the broadest definition of the first-person perspective that I've ever seen. Brilliant.
3. The Tide King by Jen Michalski
The Tide King has a central maguffin that is very much genre - an herb that bestows immortality - that is used to explore some very weighty topics. Capital letter stuff: Life, Death, Love, Power, War, Time. Perhaps most poignantly, it explores belonging. All four of the main characters in this book are people who are out of step with the world. For two that is a product of magic; for the other two, it is simply the result of life and circumstance. The Tide King wouldn't stand without the immortality herb, and it wouldn't stand without the complex, careful weaving of points of view and points in time, and it wouldn't stand without the author's elegant observations of life. It is a literary novel with a magical, immortal, bittersweet heart.
4. The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata
A first-rate piece of military near-future science fiction, featuring enhanced soldiers, reality television, the information cloud, information control. Thrilling and chilling. It feels far too believable.
5. A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
This is a gorgeous slow-burn of a novel. The prose is lush but not overwritten. Like Cathrynne Valente, Samatar commits poetry in prose. There are books within this book: hidden histories, poems, songs.
6. The Golem And The Jinni by Helene Wecker
Set in New York at the turn of the century, this is the story of two unusual inadvertent immigrants and their struggle for identity in a new world.
7. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I was late for everything because I couldn't put this down until I finished it. I've been a fan of Karen Joy Fowler from the very very beginning - I have her story collections and read all of her early novels as they came out. Her most popular book, the Jane Austen Book Club, didn't quite have the substance of the previous books, and the one that followed didn't win me over either. I was prepared not to read this one for fear of disappointment. I'm glad I gave it a chance. This is a wonderful fictional family, and my heart broke along with theirs.
8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A pure and simple joy of a story. No subplots, just one moment in one child's life, as viewed through the prism of adulthood. And a manta wolf, which gets one line of description but haunted my dreams last night. Manta wolf.
9. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
The book itself is a lovely little volume, with beautiful cover art. I like the short chapters and the headings and the vast western territories between lines and chapters and thoughts. I like the voice and the ridiculous, jealousy-inducing patented Valente twists of syntax and phrase. I love the way she transposed the key and changed the arrangement so that this version of Snow White is different in style and tone from every other fairy tale retelling I've ever read. And I love the way we get up close and personal with this Snow White, so we really feel her loneliness and loss and cope and strength. Gorgeous.
10. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell)
I didn't read a ton of nonfiction this year, and what I did was mostly disappointing, with this exception. The author is a young man with autism who dictated the entire book letter by letter. His questions and answers help the reader see the world through his eyes. Though he answers many questions with a "we" that assumes his experience of autism is that of others, it doesn't matter. It's eye-opening.
Note: I didn't quite get to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah – I’m just starting it now - but if the first ten pages are any indication, it would surely have made my list if I had read it in time.
Bonus: My favorite short story of the year: "If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love," by Rachel Swirsky. Apex Magazine. Poetic and devastating.