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
Congratulations to AM Holmes who has taken out the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) for her satire on modern American Life May We Be Forgiven. The book was described by Miranda Richardson, chair of the judging panel, as “so fresh and so funny – darkly funny – and so unexpectedly moving.”
Holmes, an American, beat the much-fancied favourite Hilary Mantel whose Bring Up The Bones has already taken out two of the trifecta of major prizes, the Man Booker and the Costa.
Irrespective of whether you think there needs to be a separate prize just for books written by women, the 2013 list includes an impressive array of talent. It’s also a great example of the old reader’s saying “so many books, so little time.”
As would be expected, writers like Barbara Kinsolver, Michele Roberts, Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson, AM Holmes and Zadie Smith all make it. But there are also some intriguing less well-known writers,
Dellarobia Turnbow has put on her second-hand boots and is climbing the steep wooded hillside behind her remote Appalachian home to start a love affair, “risking everything, pointing her little chin up that hill and walking unarmed into the shoot-out of whatever might be.”
But it is not the affair that is going to transform her life. Before she can even meet up with her would-be lover, she is brought to a standstill by the valley blazing “with its own internal flame” of “trees turned to fire” “a valley of lights”.
The orange that Dellarobia first thought was fire is millions and millions of orange Monarch Butterflies hanging in vast living curtains from the trees. To some locals they are unwanted intruders lying in the way of plans to raze the hillsides to earn desperately needed money. Others see them as a potential tourism attraction.
But to the scientists they are a portend of environmental disaster. The butterflies would normally be congregating in Mexico but clear felling their habitation has disrupted their life cycle. They have instead being lulled into a false sense of security by the warm summer months. And soon, the season change will create a harsh climate that will inevitable annihilate them, potential fatally disrupting the biological chain of which they are a part.