The Best of 2013

2013 was the book­worm’s year with the re­lease of stellar reads un­der ev­ery imag­in­able genre, set­ting the literary bar pretty high for 2014. Shreeja Ravin­dranathan lists 10 tomes 2014 should live up to

Friday - - Leisure -

The long-awaited se­quel

Doc­tor Sleep by Stephen King

It’s taken 36 years to dis­cover what hap­pened to Danny Tor­rance - the psy­chic boy-hero from King’s 1977 iconic spook-fest The

Shin­ing. And be­lieve us, the se­quel is equally dis­turb­ing, in­ven­tive and as nail-bit­ingly hor­rific as the orig­i­nal. It has enough back­ground so you won’t miss any­thing if you’ve not read The Shin­ing. Mid­dle-aged and an ex-al­co­holic Danny has rec­on­ciled with his ‘shin­ing’ pow­ers of min­dread­ing and telekine­sis. Still reel­ing from the psy­cho­log­i­cal scars of the hor­rors at the Over­look Ho­tel he works odd jobs at hos­pices, us­ing his pow­ers to help the ter­mi­nally ill. Evil, nev­er­the­less, is just around the cor­ner when Abra, a 12-year-old girl with ‘shin­ing’ pow­ers stronger than Danny’s con­tacts him to help save her from the True Knot - a vam­piric en­tourage of im­mor­tals who feed on the pow­ers of young shin­ers.

The critic’s dar­ling

Ghana must Go by Taiye Se­lasi

When Kwaku Sai, a Ghana­ian sur­geon dies, his chil­dren from first wife Fol­sade leave their suc­cess­ful, ac­com­plished, sep­a­rate lives in the US and re­unite for the fu­neral. Olu is a sur­geon, twins Taiwo and Ke­hinde are a lawyer and artist re­spec­tively and Sadie, the baby of the fam­ily, stud­ies at Yale. Hiding be­hind the fa­cades of their tal­ent and vic­to­ries are per­sonal de­mons they bat­tle - all of them rooted in childhood tragedies and the im­mi­grant past of their fam­ily that has crossed con­ti­nents in the quest for a bet­ter life. Through haunt­ing, fluid lan­guage Se­lasi’s Booker prize nom­i­nee de­but is a win­dow into ‘Afropoli­tanism’- cos­mopoli­tan African ex­pe­ri­ence and the cost it comes at. It lives up to the hype but then can you ex­pect any­thing less from ac­claimed au­thor Toni Mor­ri­son’s pro­tégé!

The in­spir­ing mem­oir

Lean In by Sh­eryl Sand­berg

The past year brought the spot­light back on women’s sta­tus in so­ci­ety. Face­book COO Sh­eryl Sand­berg’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy abet­ted the cause by

mak­ing the world sit up and no­tice the lack of, and need for, fe­male cor­po­rate heads in the work­place. Draw­ing from her per­sonal life and the lessons she’s picked up on her way to the top rung of the cor­po­rate lad­der, the book is bro­ken up into sim­ple easy-to-read chap­ters where Sand­berg shares anec­dotes about how she bal­anced a new baby and a de­mand­ing job. The mes­sage to as­pir­ing women lead­ers is to not just work hard but work smart seiz­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that comes your way. The glass ceil­ing does ex­ist, but if you lean in hard enough, it’s sure to crack.

The chick-lit de­light

Brid­get Jones: Mad about Boys by

He­len Field­ing

Brid­get’s hi­lar­i­ous dat­ing mis­ad­ven­tures, weight ob­ses­sions and so­cial awk­ward­ness pro­vided suc­cor to a gen­er­a­tion of 30-some­thing women in the 90s. When we last saw her in the Edge of Rea­son (1999), she’d met Prince Charm­ing a.k.a Mark Darcy and was look­ing for­ward to chang­ing lanes from sin­gle­ton’s woes to the mar­ried hap­pily ever af­ter. Four­teen years down the road, Brid­get at 51 is a wid­owed mother of two, grap­pling with dat­ing a 39-year-old and into so­cial me­dia, com­pul­sively count­ing Twit­ter fol­low­ers while ne­go­ti­at­ing school pol­i­tics. Note: happy, ap­par­ently isn’t ever af­ter. As ri­otous and rip-roar­ingly en­ter­tain­ing as its pre­quels Field­ing’s ge­nius for acute so­cial ob­ser­va­tions and hu­mor­ous recre­ation of real life sit­u­a­tions shines through. Top points for the sub­text that age shouldn’t de­fine how women live their lives.

The come-back novel

The Cuckoo’s Call­ing by J.K Rowl­ing/Robert Gal­braith

The Ca­sual Va­cancy (2012) was Rowl­ing’s square book of­fer­ing to fill the round Harry Pot­ter shaped hole in our hearts. It was un­der­whelm­ing. The Cuckoo’s Call­ing- la­beled one of the best de­tec­tive nov­els of 2013, saw Rowl­ing’s bril­liance re­turn al­beit un­der a pseu­do­nym and thrilled crit­ics and us to bits. Lon­don-based supermodel Lula Landry is found dead hav­ing fallen from her bal­cony. Un­sat­is­fied with the po­lice’s re­port, her brother John hires vet­eran turned pri­vate-eye Cor­moran Strike to in­ves­ti­gate her mys­te­ri­ous death. Rem­i­nis­cent of the tra­di­tional de­tec­tive se­ries such as Her­cule Poirot, Rowl­ing’s gutsy, un­con­ven­tional pro­tag­o­nist finds him­self in a vivid and glam­orous fash­ion world in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case. Fin­gers crossed that 2014 will see a Cor­moran strike se­ries to sat­isfy Pot­ter fans.

The For­eign lan­guage novel

The Rea­son I Jump by Naogi Hikashida (Trans­lated by David Mitchell)

We’ve read The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night time (2003) and watched Rain Man. But have they re­ally helped our un­der­stand­ing of autism? A first­hand ex­pla­na­tion of the con­di­tion

by se­verely autis­tic Hikashida when he was 13 at­tempts to an­swer ques­tions al­most ev­ery autis­tic per­son is asked such as ‘Why do you like spin­ning?’ ‘Why do you talk loudly?’. Writ­ten in sparse, sim­ple prose re­flect­ing the thought-line of an adolescent, the book con­tests sev­eral com­mon mis­con­cep­tions about the autis­tic. Al­though pub­lished in Ja­pan in 2007, English read­ers en­coun­tered this soul­ful, slen­der vol­ume of Q& A for­mat mem­oirs and short sto­ries in 2013 thanks to the trans­la­tion of ac­claimed nov­el­ist David Mitchell ( Cloud At­las) and wife KA Yoshida.

The laugh out loud book Truth in

Ad­ver­tis­ing by John Ken­ney

Fin­bar Dolan’s life is a mess at 39 – he see’s his job in a Man­hat­tan ad-agency for the sub­stance­less drudgery it is. Re­cently broke up with his fi­ancé, he is also es­tranged from his fam­ily and half in love with his of­fice as­sis­tant Pheobe but lacks the guts to tell her. When the boss hands him an ac­count for biodegrad­able di­a­pers, his Christ­mas trip to Mex­ico comes to a screech­ing halt. Topped by the news that his fa­ther is dy­ing Fin’s life goes com­pletely off-kil­ter. Drip­ping with dark hu­mour, witty one-liners and satir­i­cal grilling of the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, Ken­ney’s de­but novel puts his tal­ents as a hu­mourist for the New Yorker on full dis­play. This en­ter­tain­ing read is Mad­Men meets mid-life cri­sis bil­dungsro­man that had us in splits.

The mod­ern clas­sic

The Son by Philipp Mey­ers

This is the tome that has crit­ics singing praises unan­i­mously. Meyer’s sec­ond novel is an ab­sorb­ing-Western saga of vi­o­lence, blood­lust and con­quests chart­ing the evo­lu­tion of Texas through gen­er­a­tions of the McCul­logh dy­nasty – from Col. Eli McCul­lough’s me­te­oric but vi­cious rise from liv­ing with the Na­tive Amer­i­can Co­manches to land-grab­bing his way to es­tab­lish­ing an em­pire founded on the fall of the Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Mex­i­cans; his son Pete, the only moral char­ac­ter; to Jeanne Anne, the grand­daugh­ter who steers the fam­ily legacy to greater heights with the 20th cen­tury oil boom. The nu­anced, pre­cise writ­ing and vis­ceral char­ac­ters bring alive an unscrupulous his­tor­i­cal past and it’s com­plic­ity in cre­at­ing the present USA. We’re slot­ting this be­side Great Amer­i­can Nov­els like Cor­mac Mcarthy’s

Blood Merid­ian (1985) on our book­shelf.

The short story sol­lec­tion The Tenth of

De­cem­ber by Ge­orge Saun­ders

Short story vir­tu­oso Saun­ders’s fourth in­stall­ment proves that the genre still has it in it to keep read­ers hooked and en­grossed in the ex­is­tence and do­ings of the char­ac­ters how­ever, er, short-lived they are. A col­lec­tion of ten sto­ries as di­verse as the opener The Vic­tory Lap deal­ing with ab­duc­tion, mur­der and teenage delu­sions of gran­deur to the clos­ing tit­u­lar tale about a dy­ing man’s fi­nal wishes, the frag­ile, dys­func­tional char­ac­ters from dystopian small town Amer­ica are united in be­ing the vic­tims of cap­i­tal­ism. Marked by his trade­mark in­ven­tive lan­guage and ab­sur­dist el­e­ments of sci­ence fic­tion, th­ese nar­ra­tives re­flect­ing the dark­ness of post­mod­ern ex­is­tence are punc­tu­ated by mock­ing hu­mour and pos­i­tiv­ity typ­i­cal to Saun­ders’ sto­ries. This poignant yet zany col­lec­tion re­in­states the short story for­mat’s en­dur­ing charm.

The tril­ogy

Mad­dAd­dam by Mar­garet At­wood

The con­clud­ing work to the Mad­dAd­dam tril­ogy quenched our thirst for fic­tional postapoc­a­lyp­tic world. Mad­dAd­dam re­turns to the fu­ture in­tro­duced in pre­quels Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009) where a global pan­demic has wiped out most of hu­man­ity and the multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions and sur­veil­lance sys­tems that ran it. Jimmy, guardian of the hu­manoid crak­ers, the mad­dad­damites (fol­low­ers of Adam One the fig­ure who fore­tells the pan­demic) face the re­al­ity of reestab­lish­ing civil­i­sa­tion from scratch. Dan­ger still isn’t ex­tinct and they face the threat of the Pain­ballers – vi­o­lent ex-con­victs. Thrilling and imag­i­na­tively fer­tile, At­wood’s se­ries’ bril­liance lies in how the hor­rors it en­vis­ages holds a mir­ror to the world we live in thus en­ter­ing ech­e­lons of sci-fi master­pieces. No sur­prises that crit­ics have la­beled it as The Hunger Games for adults!

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