5-Star Fiction From 2013

I used Goodreads.com in 2013 to keep track of my reading.  Goodreads allows the reader to rate the books they’ve read on a 1-star to 5-star scale.  I’ve listed below the books I read in 2013 that I gave 5 stars.  They were not all published in 2013, but that is when I read them.  I’ve also posted a non-fiction list.


Bel CantoWritten by Ann Patchett and published in 2005.  I think this was, if not her first novel, then her breakthrough novel.  The novel is one of the best I’ve read about friendship, love, and the power of art and music.  Patchett has created wonderful characters of all nationalities and social and political classes all of whom come together while they are confined together as hostages to form a large sort of family.  Talent, skill, genius, intelligence is not confined to one particular race, class, etc., it can pop-up anywhere as it does in this book.  One young, uneducated gang member is a wonderful singer; another is a chess whiz; both untaught.  A buttoned-up bureaucrat in a Japanese corporation is discovered to be a excellent pianist, something that even his fellow corporate executives did not know.

Anthills of the SavannahChinua Achebe died earlier this year.  Until then I had not read any of his books.  I went to Common Good Books, Garrison Keillor’s bookshop in St. Paul, to get a copy of Things Fall Apart.  They were all out so I bought Anthills Of the Savannah and didn’t regret doing so.

Every Man Dies AloneOne man, not at all a significant person, decides to take a stand against Nazi Germany.  His method is unique.  Sadly, he eventually finds that his resistance has accomplished little, but he has taken a stand.  A compelling novel based on a true story.

Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery (Easy Rawlins #12)Easy Rawlins his back.  Resurrected from the dead by Walter Mosley.  The Easy Rawlins series is – I think – the best detective series currently being written.  The plots of these novels take a back seat to the characters and their development from book to book and through the years.  Excellent.

The Little FriendThis was the first book I’ve read by Donna Tartt.  I’ve been missing out.  I enjoy dense, lengthy novels, and The Little Friend is just that.  Tartt has depicted odd ball, low life characters that remind me of some of the characters that Dickens was so great at inventing.  My only quibble – a minor quibble – about the book is that Tartt tended to draw out dramatic scenes so that they end up being unnecessarily long.  I’ve noticed the same tendency in her latest novel – The Goldfinch – that I’m just getting started on.

Empire of the SunFinally, J.G. Ballard, Empire Of the Sun.

5-Star Non-Fiction From 2013

I used Goodreads.com in 2013 to keep track of my reading.  Goodreads allows the reader to rate the books they’ve read on a 1-star to 5-star scale.  I’ve listed below the books I read in 2013 that I gave 5 stars.  They were not all published in 2013, but that is when I read them.  I’ve also posted a fiction list.

The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4)Robert Caro is an outstanding biographer, historian, and writer.  The Passage of Power is the fourth volume of Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson and was the best book I read in 2013.  It centers around Johnson’s vice-presidency and the first months of his presidency after the Kennedy assassination.  Caro has published a book in this biography about one every decade.  Hopefully we’ll see the fifth (and concluding?) volume sometime around 2022.  A good thing to stay alive for (I’ll be in my mid-seventies in 2022.)

Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944Anna Reid recounts the siege of Leningrad during World War II.  During the siege, which lasted almost three years, around 750,000 people died, mainly from starvation.  Most of deaths happened during the first winter of the siege (1941 – 42) that turned out to be one of the most severe winters on record.  One of the great books about the titanic struggle between the twentieth century’s two varieties of murderous, totalitarianism.

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little BighornI enjoyed the The Last Stand for a number of reasons.  First, the cartography was the best I’ve seen in any book on military history.   Philbrick’s book has at least one map per chapter.  Each map includes every place-name and locates every event described in the chapter.  There is nothing to criticize about any of the maps.

Philbrick’s does an excellent job of interweaving the narrative of the battle on the Little Bighorn with biographies of Custer and Sitting Bull and other major characters.  One other point – there are a number of controversies surrounding The Last Stand.  Philbrick doesn’t take sides.  He describes the controversy and presents the facts.   It’s up to the reader to decide about the controversy.

A Choice of WeaponsI was engrossed with Gordon Park’s autobiography. I found this non-fiction work strikingly similar to the fiction of Walter Mosley.  The experiences and histories of Easy Rawlins and his friends and family are similar to those of Gordon Park’s.  Both relate the African-American experience in twentieth-century America.  I now realize that Mosley does not exaggerate to give his stories impact.  He describes in his fiction an actual world; a world that for me, who grew up in a lily-white city in the upper Midwest, was completely invisible.  The only way I know about it is through reading, whether fiction like Mosley or non-fiction like Park’s or Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth Of Other Suns.

Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie ParkerCrouch’s book describes not only Charlie Parker’s early life but also the early life of jazz.  He describes jazz and its development in easily understandable, gritty, and interesting ways.  He describes the dichotomies that are at the heart of jazz (e.g. the visceral vs. the intellectual).  He describes the feed back between dancers and musicians when jazz was popular dance music; good time music.  The book ends before the birth of bebop and the divorce of jazz from popular dance.  I would have been very interested in what Crouch would say about bebop and the direction that jazz took starting in the 1940′s.  A great book, but I thought it ended – prematurely, just when Parker was about to become a major artist.  I’m not sure I recognized any sort of turning point or significant event that marked where Crouch chose to end the book.  It just seemed to stop.  I wonder if Crouch is intending to some day continue the story.

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