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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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5 Amazing Books to Give (and Receive) for the Holidays

Jingle All the Way

Time is running out. The big box stores have been looted. Shopping malls lie in ashes. But a little shop on the corner is still open. Warm light pours from the windows. It’s your friendly neighborhood bookstore! The holidays are saved!


Where You AreWhere You Are: A Collection of Maps That Will Leave You Feeling Completely Lost

Easily our favorite gift of 2013, this boxed set of 16 original works by the likes of Geoff Dyer, Sheila Heti, and Tao Lin is like a towering stack of beautifully wrapped presents flattened into one. Each piece folds out to become a sprawling map, or flips open to reveal artwork and essays. Dyer’s piece, for instance, is a huge Google map of his hometown in England, annotated with an elaborate legend that explains the autobiographical significance of specific places. Where You Are amounts to an elegant theory of mapping. The world is daunting, so we organize it on the page, and the result is… not a solution, exactly, but a better place to get lost in.


JezebelThe Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things

The writers at Jezebel have one of the most bawdy, intelligent, and entertaining voices on the Internet. Here they assemble their favorite jabs and profoundest wisdom in a fully illustrated encyclopedia. Entries like Page, Bettie (1923-2008) are incisive mini-essays that flaunt their coolness while updating feminism for the millennial set. The entry for nachos simply reads “Yes, please.”


The Wes Anderson CollectionThe Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

If you don’t like Wes Anderson, we can still be friends. But you’re wrong and you should go away now. For those of us who can’t get enough of the sumptuous worlds that Wes Anderson creates, Matt Zoller Seitz has put together a big, glossy tribute, replete with stills, behind-the-scenes photos, a touching introduction by Michael Chabon, and interviews with Wes himself. Anderson is an elusive dude. While Seitz is gushing over the films, Anderson seems to escape out a back door.


JessJess: O! Tricky Cad and Other Jessoterica by Jess

Born in 1923, Jess was a pioneer of collage art. His visual mash-ups of old magazine ads, Dick Tracy cartoons, and obscure diagrams are as subtle, bizarre, and funny as anything that’s come since. This book includes several unpublished works, an extra 20-page facsimile booklet, and a fold-out dust jacket.


S.S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

We don’t know if it’s pleasurable—or even possible—to actually read this book, but it sure is a dandy object to flip through. J. J. Abrams seems to think he invented the idea of constructing a novel out of notes and marginalia (evidently nobody told him about Pale Fire, House of Leaves, Griffin and Sabine, etc.) but he does a fine job of marshalling Little, Brown’s designers to carry out his vision. S. is the story of two young scholars who fall in love by trading notes in the margins of a novel within the… whatever. The postcards and handwritten scraps are fun to explore, and it’ll look great on your shelf.

– Brian Hurley

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