Whether you’re looking for literary gifts, need something to bury your head in while spending quality time with the family or are stocking up on reading material for sober January, so many good books were published in 2013 that you have plenty to choose from. Here are seven of our favorites–and check out our recent round-up of notable music books, our non-fiction picks and our summer reading recommendations for page turning fun).
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
The New Yorker staff writer’s Scientology exposé is filled some some absolutely frightening details. (Did you know that Scientologists have infiltrated various sectors of the government that monitor and critique the Church? Or that the Church’s clergy, Sea Org, are facing human trafficking charges?) Wright acknowledges the power of belief systems and that some people may have benefited from the religion’s teachings, but his book is ultimately an indictment of institutions that use the freedoms granted by the First Amendment to mask wrongdoings. –Justin Levine, powerHouse Arena
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (out Jan. 28)
Some of us have been waiting a very long time for a new Jenny Offill book, but I, at least, could never have predicted that she’d follow 1999’s Last Things with Dept. of Speculation. This tiny jewel of a book is pensive, heartbreaking, glorious and deftly, impeccably pieced together. Our narrator, known only as the wife, makes her way through endless everyday challenges: a crying baby, a shaky marriage, the neverending task of reconciling the person you thought you’d be with the person it seems you actually are. Ovid, Rilke, Kafka, astronauts, I Can Has Cheezburger–the things woven into her observations and consolations are familiar, but Offill’s brief, poignant snippets of a life are anything but ordinary. This little book is hard to explain and impossible to put down; at about 175 pages, you can devour it in one cold wintry night. –Molly Templeton, WORD
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When you’ve got the love of Beyonce, the NYT Book Review (a Top Five fiction pick for 2013) and Hullabaloo Books, it is your moment. Meet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. That is her lovely, resonant voice intoning feminism in the middle of Beyonce’s “Flawless.” And her new novel, Americanah, serves up astute commentary on U.S. race and socioeconomic class relations without sacrificing attention to plot, characterization, imagery, or humor. The book even has star-crossed lovers: Ifemelu and Obinze, sweethearts during their teenage years in Nigeria, lose and find (and lose and find) each other as Ifemelu moves to the U.S. for college; Obinze finds ways to survive in London; and Nigeria struggles under and after a military dictatorship. The plot hooks you while excerpts from Ifemelu’s blog about race in America will make you laugh, squirm and wonder. –Michael de Zayas, Hullabaloo Books
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
The launch of Gary Shteyngart’s debut memoir, Little Failure, is a literary event. The writer of a million jacket blurbs, collaborator with James Franco and Jay McInerny, and incidentally author of three bestselling and acclaimed novels (Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, and Super Sad True Love Story), turning his heartbreaking comedy on his own life? It’s priceless. And judging by the high praise from fellow authors including Nathan Englander, Zadie Smith, Mary Karr and a host of others, this is no vanity project–it’s Shteyngart at his self-deprecating best, revealing and composing the story of a little boy from Leningrad who became a revered author but still struggles with feeling like a worthwhile human being. Despite the title–a nickname given by his mother–Shteyngart knocks it out of the park with a book that will take his literary reputation to the next level. –Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
Thought I was done with Pynchon after grad school, but the guy is still making me laugh and scratch my head in equal measure. Set during “the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11,” by Pynchon standards, this one is a relatively straightforward read but it provides plenty to chew on. Previously bona fide private investigator Maxine Tarnow, as fun as The Crying of Lot 49’s Oedipa Maas, investigates a web company that didn’t “go under.” Her investigation corkscrews into murder mysteries, money laundering, talk of time travel and her journey draws her to the Deep Web at the end of late capitalism. Early in the book, we get this line: “Paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen, right, you can never have too much.” Pynchon manages to use it as leverage over the reader while also employing it as a way to get us to look back at the desperate attempts to make sense of our post-9/11 world. If that sounds too intense, Pynchon’s humor is the perfect antidote. –Lon Koontz
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
Author Adelle Waldman has an acute understanding of what it’s like to be a female author in today’s literary climate, but in her debut novel, she delves into the mind of her contemporary counterpart: a Brooklyn writer basking in the success of a breakthrough novel and navigating all the doors of opportunity that are suddenly swung wide open–her protagonist just so happens to have XY chromosomes. Nate Piven finds himself an object of desire for both editors and women in a way he never was before, and while it seems he’s finally got things figured out professionally, his personal life is quickly becoming littered with the broken hearts of women who feel he’s done them wrong. Nate’s dating life is symbolic of New York’s current dating culture where women outnumber men to such an extent that affairs of the heart are not so easily navigated. But is romance really dead? Consisting almost entirely of Nate’s romantic ruminations, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. gives much more insight into the inner workings of the single male psyche, not to mention human nature and current social culture, than say, perhaps, He’s Just Not That Into You. You will laugh more than you cry reading this book, but depending on how you feel about your current love life, you might want to stay away from this one around Valentine’s Day to be safe. –Jordan Galloway
The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna
As we ready ourselves for Mayor Bloomberg to hand the reins over to Mayor-elect de Blasio, New York feels perched on the edge of a new era. We will beat back the tide of of glassy condo towers and ever-rising rent while keeping the city safe and prosperous? Will it be possible to carve out a piece of New York for yourself without a six-figure salary? It’s easy to forget that the fundamentals of this debate have always been in play–we’re just living in the current iteration. The Revolution of Every Day takes place in the 90s in Alphabet City, during a previous phase change in New York’s character. It traces the stories of a group of urban homesteaders, idealists who took over abandoned buildings in the late 70s and early 80s, kicking out drug dealers and junkies, and rebuilt them into homes with running water and electricity while squatting there for more than a decade. The novel comes in at the moment that the city, after years of indifference, decides that it might want to sell those long-occupied plots of land to developers. It’s also a juicy read, filled with secret trysts, unexpected pregnancies and mysterious personal histories (and one cringe-worthy subplot that’s easily ignored). Giuliani sent NYPD tanks (yes, they have tanks) into Alphabet City to oust the squatters who were responsible, at least in part, for making the neighborhood livable again, and while this is a fictional account, it truly takes you back to an earlier version of the same old New York struggle over class, space and the right to make a home for yourself in this city. —Annaliese Griffin
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