5 of the best books I read in 2013

I was recently asked for a list of five of the best books I read in 2013. I say “of the best” and not “the best” because of course I read many more than five truly excellent books last year. But these are some of the ones that made particular impressions, and that I thought were especially worthy of noting and sharing here.

  1. Jamie Quatro, I Want to Show You More (Grove, 2013). This debut collection of stories–mostly taking place on the border of Tennesee and Georgia–truly captures the rawness and realness of American culture—where and when experiences of Christianity, faith, adultery and sex are no longer distinguishable. In reading Quatro, I find narratives of what I have been theorizing in my own writing as “pornographic faith.”
  2. George Saunders, Tenth of December (Random House, 2013). Who hasn’t read Saunders’ latest collection of stories?! Like Quatro, he impeccably takes the beat of beaten-down and humiliated Americans. In most of these stories, the setting is central New York State—its own northern Appalachia. Having grown up in Utica, I know. So does Saunders; who teaches at Syracuse and who writes so tenderly about the absurd yet indefatigible dignity of life “upstate.”
  3. Hilton Als, White Girls (McSweeney’s, 2013). With beautifully and variously styled essays on Truman Capote, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Richard Pryor and Malcom X, Als completely gets us to detach racial and gender signifiers from their typical identities. Who’s a white girl? Who desires, idolizes, mimics, betrays and befriends white girls? See the list above.
  4. Kathleen Winter, Annabel (Anansi, 2010). Given to me as a gift this past Christmas, I finally got to read this celebrated novel. I most appreciated the simplicity of the story’s telling, and the remarkable ways in which trans-gender identity and the villages and forests of Labrador are made to resonate, in a mutual foregrounding of the other.
  5. Stacey D’Erasmo, The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between (Greywolf Press, 2013). Part of a series of short books on the art, craft and technique of writing, D’Erasmo writes beautifully, poetically and with tremendous theoretical insight about the distance that structures any sense intimacy and the spaces of shared encounter. Having just completed my own monograph on the space of ethical and aesthetic separation that is “the decision between us,” reading this book felt like it own rendezvous with intimacy in writing.

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