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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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Romancing a Stone

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

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Across the cover and down the spine of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., young Brooklyn women “bursting with vibrant, almost aggressive good health” are profiled in silhouette, their pixie cuts and power bangs offering a taxonomy of the species, like butterflies pinned under glass. These are the conquests of Nate Piven, our antihero. Nate’s romantic history sounds like a lost verse of “Mambo No. 5”: a little bit of Hannah, Elisa, Juliet, Kristen, Justine, Kelly, Jean, Beth, Cara, Emily, another Emily, and a third Emily. With his frumpy Harvard intellectualism and his overblown self-regard, Nate has collected so many aggrieved ex-girlfriends that they could file a class action lawsuit. But they’ll have to settle for this book.

Adelle Waldman’s debut novel raises a wickedly fun question. Can a woman of Nate Piven’s demographic—Waldman is a young Brooklyn journalist with a book deal, just like Nate and all the sad young literary men he stands for—summon the empathy, imagination, and vocabulary required to turn the hipster Lothario of Fort Greene into a decent, relatable human being? The genius of Waldman’s question is that she wins either way. If Nate turns out to be redeemable, then Waldman will have proved that she is a masterful writer, capable of humanizing the devil himself. If he is unredeemable, then Waldman gets to flay him for her readers’ enjoyment.

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