Despite the doomsayers, I am a giddy optimist about the future of good writing: books, short stories, poetry, and essays. Most times, it is enough to just feel things are going to be ok. But there are also those welcome tangible incidents of reassurance. John Freeman is the highly respected former president of the National Book Critics Circle, editor of Granta until 2013 and regular contributor of stories and reviews to major publications.
For the first time I kept a list of the books I read during past year and looking back over the months, 2013 was a rich year for literary pleasure. In total I read 76 books. That averaged out at about six books a month I only managed three in June yet nine in May (that’s the luxury of holidays). Apart from reading all the books on the Booker Prize shortlist there was no particular rhyme or reason to my selections. Sometimes I would just see a book in a book shop, other times it was the book selected by my book club. Sometimes it was a review or a news item in a newspaper or magazine or because an author was appearing at a literary festival I was attending (Dublin, Hay-on-Wye in England and Byron Bay in Australia).
Despite all that, I when I read other people’s end-of-year Best Of book lists I was stunned at the number I had not even heard of let alone all those wonderful authors whose books are sitting on my bedside table or in my e-reader but which I haven’t got around to reading yet. I did live up to the promise I made myself to read more collections of short stories and was richly rewarded. I read a pathetically small number of non-fiction which I hope to remedy in 2014. There were one or two which, if it were not for the “I’ve started so I’ll finish” rule, would have immediately been relegated to the bottom of the book pile but thus is the delicious serendipity of reading.
So, before the clock ticks over to a new day and new year, here is my top ten for 2013
It had started as a perfectly normal day for Joe Coutts, still slightly amazed at the recent transition into his teens, awaiting the return of his mother Geraldine to their home on a fictional Ojibwe nation reservation in North Dakota.
When Geraldine doesn’t return it doesn’t take long for alarm bells to ring for Joe and his father, Bazil, a tribal judge. “Women don’t realize how much store men set in the regularity of their habits,” says Joe, who is the voice of The Round House “ … our pulse is set to theirs and as always on a weekend afternoon we were waiting for my mother to start us ticking away on the evening.”
But Geraldine has been violently attacked and raped, narrowly escaping with her life. She withdraws emotionally and physically from her family and the world, refusing to leave her bedroom and giving no details of the attacks. There is a stifling sense of resignation among the community that the perpetrator will never be properly hunted and brought to legal justice.