Category Archives: Books that Mattered in 2013

Books that Mattered in 2013: The Price of Inequality

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The Price of Inequality, published in 2012, was one of the first and most prominent books to address the increasingly important topic of income inequality, and helped to expand the conversation beyond the rag-tag group of squatters in Zucotti Park and into the larger civic discourse. Miley Cyrus and all the healthcare.gov trouble will be remembered as major things that happened last year, but the steady drumbeat of attention paid to inequality and its effects was the most sustained and meaningful topic of 2013.

President Obama is talking about it. Pope Francis is talking about it, saying that “Inequality is the root of social ills.” Fast food workers are marching for a raise in the minimum wage, an issue that is getting serious consideration in places like Bloomberg Businessweek.

BBBW Minimum Wage

The New York Times ran a series called The Great Divide, while the New Yorker mapped income inequality along the city’s subway map. In November, Switzerland held a vote to forbid companies from paying their highest paid employee more than 12 times what they pay the lowest compensated — on the premise that no one person should make more in a month than someone else makes in a full year. The referendum failed, but the issue is not going away.

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Extraordinary Books by Women

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The last 12 months were crammed with great and celebrated books. The Flamethrowers. Men We Reaped. The Goldfinch. Life After Life. Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The Interestings. Lean In. MaddAddam. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. Booker prize winner The Luminaries. Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal. Tampa. Night Film. Bough Down. The Lowland. Speedboat. The Woman Upstairs. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roose­velt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.  

If you’re not too busy trying to read them all, you might want to go see the adaptation of Catching Fire in the theater. While you’re out, you may also feel the urge to pick up some Alice Munro following her well-deserved Nobel Prize in Literature.

Then, if you get a chance, you might see if any of the books written by men in 2013 are worth reading.

As we suspected back in August, 2013 was the Year of Women. This year, offerings from Thomas Pynchon, Dave Eggers (both of whom, FYI, wrote books with female protagonists), and even the darling George Saunders we’re overshadowed by the excitement around The Luminaries, by 28-year-old Elanor Catton, or The Flamethrowers, the second novel from Rachel Kushner. Allie Brosh had ’em laughing, and dressing up in costume, at readings of Hyperbole and a Half around the country, and Joyce Carol Oates’ annual novel The Accursed was said by many to be one of her best, or at least one of her strangest. The trend was so strong that J.K. Rowling tried to release The Cuckoo’s Calling under a man’s name, only to be swiftly revealed as her true female self.

Strangely, no one seems to have much noticed The Year of Women, or wagered a guess as to why so much of the interesting and ambitious writing of the past year came from women. We welcome your ideas, but for now we’ll go ahead and take this as a good sign. The books above were never labeled or categorized as “great women’s books” — they’re just great books that people loved. It’s the best rebuke to all the Sad Literary Men and Great Male Narcissists since, well, Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., and has made for an extraordinary year of reading.

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Catching Fire

Catching Fire

Because an original work of American fiction earned $730 million at the box office.

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Books that Mattered in 2013: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Because it drove people into bookstores and prompted big discussions like “Why Every American Should Read The Great Gatsby, Again” and “Five reasons ‘Gatsby’ is the great American novel” and “Why I Despise The Great Gatsby.” Is there any writer who’ll be making this much hullaballoo 88 years from now?

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Because 37 years after its original publication, Renata Adler’s ahead-of-its-time novel Speedboat has gone from cult favorite to undisputed classic. In the process, Adler is being reevaluated as one of the great curmudgeons of literary criticism.

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Libra

Libra

Because 50 years after the Kennedy assassination, it’s still the most revealing text we have—not about the shooting itself, but about the intricate and conflicting motives beneath it, and our obsession with documenting the aftermath.

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