What I learned this week, December 07, 2013

The 10 most crucial books of the year.


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100 Notable books of 2013 – From the New York Times, edited (reduced down) by me.

FICTION & POETRY

THE ACCURSED. By Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Oates’s extravagantly horrifying, funny and prolix postmodern Gothic novel purports to be the definitive account of a curse that infected bucolic Princeton, N.J., in 1905 and 1906.

BLEEDING EDGE. By Thomas Pynchon. (Penguin Press, $28.95.) Airliners crash not only into the twin towers but into a shaggy-dog tale involving a fraud investigator and a white-collar outlaw in this vital, audacious novel.

THE CIRCLE. By Dave Eggers. (Knopf/McSweeney’s, $27.95.) In a disturbing not-too-distant future, human existence flows through the portal of a company that gives Eggers’s novel its title.

CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $25.95.) Danticat’s novel is less about a Haitian girl who disappears on her birthday than about the heart of a magical seaside village.

THE COLOR MASTER: Stories. By Aimee Bender. (Doubleday, $25.95.) Physical objects help Bender’s characters grasp an overwhelming world.

THE DINNER. By Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett. (Hogarth, $24.) In this clever, dark Dutch novel, two couples dine out under the cloud of a terrible crime committed by their teenage sons.

DIRTY LOVE. By Andre Dubus III. (Norton, $25.95.) Four linked stories expose their characters’ bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses.

DISSIDENT GARDENS. By Jonathan Lethem. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Spanning 80 years and three generations, Lethem’s novel realistically portrays an enchanted — or disenchanted — garden of American leftists in Queens.

DOCTOR SLEEP. By Stephen King. (Scribner, $30.) Now grown up, Danny, the boy with psycho-intuitive powers in “The Shining,” helps another threatened magic child in a novel that shares the virtues of King’s best work.

DUPLEX. By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.

THE FLAMETHROWERS. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $26.99.) In Kushner’s frequently dazzling second novel, an impressionable artist navigates the volatile worlds of New York and Rome in the 1970s.

THE GOLDFINCH. By Donna Tartt. (Little, Brown, $30.) The “Goldfinch” of the title of Tartt’s smartly written Dickensian novel is a painting smuggled through the early years of a boy’s life — his prize, his guilt and his burden.

THE GOOD LORD BIRD. By James McBride. (Riverhead, $27.95.) McBride’s romp of a novel, the 2013 National Book Award winner, is narrated by a freed slave boy who passes as a girl. It’s a risky portrait of the radical abolitionist John Brown in which irreverence becomes a new form of ­homage.

A GUIDE TO BEING BORN: Stories. By Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead, $26.95.) Ausubel’s fantastical collection traces a cycle of transformation: from love to conception to gestation to birth.

I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE: Stories. By Jamie Quatro. (Grove, $24.) Quatro’s strange, thrilling and disarmingly honest first collection draws from a pool of resonant themes (Christianity, marital infidelity, cancer, running) in agile ­recombinations.

MADDADDAM. By Margaret Atwood. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $27.95.) The survivors of “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” await a final showdown, in a trilogy’s concluding entry.

METAPHYSICAL DOG. By Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) To immerse oneself in these poems is to enter a crowd of unusual characters: artistic geniuses, violent misfits, dramatic self-accusers (including the poet himself).

THE SON. By Philipp Meyer. (Ecco/Harper­Collins, $27.99.) Members of a Texas clan grope their way from the ordeals of the frontier to celebrity culture’s absurdities in this masterly multigenerational saga.

THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING. By Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Translated by Anne McLean. (Riverhead, $27.95.) This gripping Colombian novel, built on the country’s tragic history with the drug trade, meditates on love, fate and death.

TENTH OF DECEMBER: Stories. By George Saunders. (Random House, $26.) Saunders’s relentless humor and beatific generosity of spirit keep his highly moral tales from succumbing to life’s darker aspects.

WANT NOT. By Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Miff­lin Harcourt, $26.) Linking disparate characters and story threads, Miles’s novel explores varieties of waste and decay in a consumer world.

NONFICTION

THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY: How the Other Half Still Lives. By Sasha Abramsky. (Nation Books, $26.99.) This ambitious study, based on Abramsky’s travels around the country meeting the poor, both describes and prescribes.

THE CANCER CHRONICLES: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery. By George Johnson. (Knopf, $27.95.) Johnson’s fascinating look at cancer reveals certain profound truths about life itself.

ECSTATIC NATION: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877. By Brenda Wine­apple. (Harper, $35.) A masterly Civil War-era history, full of foiled schemes, misfired plans and less-than-happy ­endings.

THE FARAWAY NEARBY. By Rebecca Solnit. (Viking, $25.95.) Digressive essays, loosely about storytelling, reflect a difficult year in Solnit’s life.

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. By Sheri Fink. (Crown, $27.) The case of a surgeon suspected of euthanizing patients during the Katrina disaster.

THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. By Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $40.) The final volume of Atkinson’s monumental war trilogy shows that the road to Berlin was far from smooth.

THE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. By Margalit Fox. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.)Focusing on an unheralded but heroic Brooklyn classics professor, Fox turns the decipherment of Linear B into a detective story.

THE SKIES BELONG TO US: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking. By Brendan I. Koer­ner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.

THE SLEEPWALKERS: How Europe Went to War in 1914. By Christopher Clark. (Harper, $29.99.) A Cambridge professor offers a thoroughly comprehensible account of the polarization of a continent, without fixing guilt on one leader or nation.

THOSE ANGRY DAYS: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941. By Lynne Olson. (Random House, $30.) The savage political dispute between Roosevelt and the isolationist movement, presented in spellbinding detail.

TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. By Evgeny Morozov. (PublicAffairs, $28.99.) Digital-age transparency may threaten the spirit of democracy, Morozov warns.

THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New America. By George Packer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) With a nod to John Dos Passos, Packer offers a gripping narrative survey of today’s hard times; the 2013 National Book Award winner for nonfiction.


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