Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top Three Books We Read in 2013

Chris: For the past two years, I’ve done a breakdown of the top 10 films, albums, and books I’ve read during the year. However, because Holly and I have blended our blogs and writings, I’m changing things up quite a bit.

For one, I’m not doing the films or albums this year. Not only was I unable to see many of the films that I’d wanted to--or even the ones I was curious about--but I also don’t feel like this was that noteworthy of a year for film. When I think back over what was released and what I watched this past year, nothing stands out that truly blew me away. (It will probably be a pretty rough year for Oscars methinks.) Yes, I had fun with many of the films, from Pacific Rim to The Croods to my most recent viewing of American Hustle, but I just don’t feel like I saw enough to make a good call on the list.

For two, with how lackluster the films were this year, the music scene more than made up for it, as we saw some huge releases and some truly fantastic albums this year. Honestly, there are too many good ones to really narrow it down. However, I would highly recommend “Like Clockwork…” from Queens of the Stone Age, “Hesitation Marks” from Nine Inch Nails, “Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend, and “False Idols” from Tricky.

For three, when it comes to the books, these are now books that Holly and I both read this year, so you’ll be getting her thoughts as well. Also, for once, all of the books came out this year.

For four, it’s only the top three this year--in no particular order--instead of the organized top-ten. Take them as you will.

The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway

Holly: This book is so much more than its bleak exterior. It gets to the heart of small town life and what it's like to grow up around such a homogeneous pool of people that you don't even have the luxury of picking friends that might actually understand you. Adam lives in the kind of place where you either get stuck forever or your dreams float you somewhere bigger. But he's found a third option: to kill himself. Life, as we all know, is much too complicated for what should be such a straightforward decision. Galloway very beautifully illustrates the tenuous threads that hold people together and tie them to one another.

Chris: I’ve already reviewed this, twice, on Goodreads. So I will leave it at this: This book destroyed me in the best possible way. It ripped me apart, but when I reassembled the pieces, I was much better off for it. This is a phenomenal book that shouldn’t be missed.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Holly: Neil Gaiman can do no wrong in my eyes, and with good reason. From the Sandman series to Coraline, he's never once let me down, and TOatEoTL is no exception. This is a dark tale spun from magic and suspense, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Though quite mystical at times (as most of Gaiman's works are), I also saw my own past laid out. Gaiman forces you to recall how maddening it can be for no one to believe you, simply because of your age. And how quickly a young mind can go from thinking in black and white to a murky gray when adults, the very people you've always believed you could cling to betray you in horrifying ways. There's something very real in Gaiman's magic, and I think you'll be just as spellbound by it as I was.

Chris: Really, I could probably just say, “It’s Neil Gaiman. What more do you want?” And in many ways, that really sums it up. But if you haven’t read any of his work before, this is a good place to start. It’s a beautiful novel that’s filled with his signatures: the wondrously grotesque, poetic phrases and imagery, and an imagination that is both haunting and heart-warming all at the same time. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story that is all sorts of fantastic and fantastical, and for me, that’s all I can ask for in a novel.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Holly: Love is hard. Being a teen is hard. Mix the two, and you've got a science fair-worthy volcanic eruption on your hands. Rainbow Rowell infuses this age-old trope of two very different lives colliding with enough tenderness and humor to make it feel very fresh and (best of all) genuine.  I fell for these quirky and well executed characters faster than they could fall for each other.

Chris: This was one of those novels that felt as if it was plucked straight from my head. Not that I ever would’ve been able to have written it, but the characters are both people that I would’ve loved to have hung out with in high school. These are my kind of people, the outsiders, the ones on the sidelines, and it was hard not to see the life they deserved and want them to be happy together. It was one of those novels that I didn’t want to put down. It made me laugh, and it broke my heart. Most important, it made me FEEL, and too many books these days simply are fun or entertaining. At their best, I may dwell on their themes and ideas presented, but they rarely make me truly feel anything for them, as I did with this novel. It’s fantastic. If you’re into YA or contemporary stories in general, you should make time for this one. Soon.

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