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
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
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.
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!