Revisiting 4 of My Top Books from 2013: A Reading List
It’s hard to believe that 2013 was ten years ago. At that point, I was twenty-four years old. I lived with a boyfriend and a few others in a big apartment just outside of Boston. I worked two jobs, went out drinking in Boston multiple times a week, and had more energy than I can even fathom right now. Back then, I was also reading like mad, my reading list eternally growing due to my job as a library clerk. A lot of the books I read were from previous years. However, there were a fair number of recent releases in there too. Here is a reading list of four books published in 2013 that I still think about a decade later.
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The Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater (Book 2 in the Raven Cycle)
I love The Raven Cycle, but wasn’t an enormous fan of the first book. Don’t get me wrong, it was good. I remember reading it on the T late at night and enjoying the story. The ancient Blink-182 sticker on an abandoned car in the woods stung a little, but so be it. But I finished it thinking, I hope this picks up in Book Two, which was next on my reading list.
And holy shit, did it.
The Dream Thieves focuses on Ronan, the tortured, salty member of this crew of elite high schoolers. He’s got the ability to pull things from his dreams, to beautiful or horrific effect. And, as he and his friends search for the ancient king Glendower, this secret might destroy him. Stiefvater’s writing is sensuous and fantastical, but also extremely funny. The characters and their relationships with one another more than make up for the plot holes in the series, at least in my opinion. Digging deep into Ronan’s world was a great way to up the stakes from the end of Book One and I remember this being one of the best books I read in 2013.
Right now I’ve got Stiefvater’s recent spinoff series, The Dreamers Trilogy, on my shelf. But I may revisit the original before I get started on that one.
Nevada – Imogene Binnie
(Note: Nevada originally came out from Topside Press in 2013, but was reissued by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2022.)
Nevada is a hard read. It’s about a trans woman named Maria who, after she discovers her girlfriend has cheated on her, steals her car and goes on a cross-country road trip. Along the way, Maria has these long internal monologues about life as a trans woman and the world around her. It’s got a great rambling style that works well for the story, but can be difficult to absorb as you’re reading it. And then there’s occasional switches to other characters’ POVs, which help to develop Maria’s character even more.
I appreciate the fact that Maria is not a particularly likable person. She’s the protagonist, but she’s not a hero. She’s extremely self-centered and over-intellectualizes everything. In my original review when I first read it, I said that some of the dialogue read too much like an essay and I still feel that. But Maria isn’t written to teach cis audiences about trans women. She’s not meant to be “good representation” or a checkmark for diversity. She’s a human being who wants love and connection, even if she’s not great at it. And Binnie is telling a very honest, edgy (in the good way) story about her.
If you haven’t read Nevada, I urge you to add it to your reading list. It’s a great blend of stylish young people in New York, a road trip, and an exploration of being a human in a world that doesn’t want you to be who you are.
Just One Day – Gayle Forman
I never should have gone back and reread this. The first time I read it, I loved it. Like Stiefvater, Forman uses all of your senses to build these mesmerizing worlds. I finished Just One Day as I sat on a bench in a T station, letting train after train pass by me. Then I went and reread it as part of my MLIS program several years later and was heartbroken to discover it didn’t hold up. But it meant a great deal to me when I read it for the first time in 2013, so I’m adding it to this reading list with a caveat.
Just One Day is about a recent high school graduate named Allyson, who is studying abroad in England. She’s a cautious person who always needs to know the schedule. But then she meets Willem, a dashing actor who persuades her to drop her plans and go to Paris with him. They have a wonderful day and night together. Then she wakes up and Willem is gone. This all happens early in the book and the main story follows her coming of age during her first year of college, developing the confidence that Willem sparked in her.
My problem is that unfortunately, the story itself is weak. While Allyson has her struggles, things fall into place too easily for her as she builds the life she wants. Plus, Willem was quite grating as a character, which is difficult to get over since he’s so integral to the plot. He was too perfect to feel at all authentic. This is definitely a matter of reading taste, since the Raven Cycle has some big story weaknesses as well. But in that case, the strong characters outweighed the plot issues.
The Reenactments – Nick Flynn
Nick Flynn is a poet and the author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, one of my all-time favorite books. That one is a memoir about working in a Boston homeless shelter when his father comes in looking for a bed. It was later turned into a movie called Being Flynn. And The Reenactments is about Flynn’s experiences watching his first memoir become a movie. It’s a surreal journey that blends past and present, reality and fantasy throughout the creation of the movie. Flynn meditates on memory and how malleable it is. After all, he’s watching Julianne Moore play a version of his mother and now his original memories are becoming less solidified.
This is the second of what’s now four memoirs from Flynn, but of the three I’ve read, it’s the most surreal. It’s fascinating to see his take on something that so few people get to experience. Of course I’ve had that author fantasy of seeing my books adapted to the screen, but not my life. He has screenwriters adapting his life and personality to be more relatable to both Hollywood producers and audiences (There’s a scene where he tells the screenwriter he doesn’t have a “regular laundromat” that I think of every time I realize something I bought at a thrift shop is dry clean only) and dreamlike sequences that revolve around big names like Robert DeNiro and Paul Dano.
Flynn is one of my favorite authors and has been for more than the decade that’s passed since this book came out. His prose is as sharp, haunting, and frustrating as his poetry is and I take a lot of inspiration from him, even if my style is completely different.
It’s been ten years since these books came out. They were just some of the many books I read that year and only a drop in the sea that were published. And yet, they’ve all been permanently etched into my memory and reading history. They’re not just a reading list, they’re titles that were very important to that year of my life.
What about you? What 2013 releases still linger in your thoughts?