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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.

See other Books that Mattered in 2013.

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A Personal Inventory, Ctd

It may not be Binders Full of Women or Texts From Hillary, but it seems like Brian started something like a meme with his reflections on bookshelves a few weeks back. How else to interpret the recent groundswell (relatively speaking) of articles appearing about shelves and the books they hold?

On October 11th, The Global Mail featured Geraldine Brooks addressing the “People of the Bookshelf” and talking about her shelving habits:

I start out conventionally enough, alpha by author. But while I take account of the first letter of the writer’s surname, I have other ambitions for my shelves that transcend the conveniences of mere alphabetical accuracy. It’s impossible for me to place one book alongside another without thinking about the authors, and how they would feel about their spine-side companion.

One week later, The New Yorker’s Page Turner blog had Brad Leithauser talking about the big books that taunt him, unread, from his shelves —

If your bookshelf speaks to you, it’s likely to be uttering reproaches. Or so my experience runs. All those unread books!

— and how those reproaches led him to tackle Charles Dickens.

I should also acknowledge the original pioneer, and keeper of one of the more awe-inspiring walls of books I’ve ever seen in real life, Bill at Insulted by Authors.

What about you? What do your shelves say to you? What do they look like? Do you alphabetize? Color code? Chronologicalize? What would the guy who comes to every party and stares at the bookshelves think? Have you ever won someone over with your shelving technique?

We want to know and we want to see.

– Michael Moats

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