Best and Not Best Books of 2013

My overall total number of books read in 2013 was down considerably this year. I spent 2013 reading a lot about technology and web development, most of which didn’t come in between two covers. I managed 38 books this year and it was totally the year of the series. Almost everything I read was part of a series of books, some of which I only read because I felt committed to following through with the storyline. (I should revisit that policy in 2014.) I also re-read some favorites (shout out Harry Potter) and I’m leaving those books off this year’s list. I think this is the first time the Not Best books have outnumbered the Best books. I just wasn’t very impressed this year. As always, my list is completely subjective and in no particular order.

Read moreBest and Not Best Books of 2013

Nadia Bolz-Weber, We Saw Her

Here awhile back, over a year ago, because I watch way too much online video, I found one of a woman named Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was speaking at some sort of youth rally and her message was really captivating, it got my attention, and I related to a lot of what she was saying. I admit I was somewhat surprised to learn she is a Lutheran minister. I know zero about being Lutheran, but she looked and sounded like what I’m used to, so I Googled her name, which led me to the website for her church in Denver: House for All Sinners and Saints.

Google revealed that Nadia is also a Patheos blogger and I was already reading a few blogs over there, so I subscribed to hers, too. So yeah, for a little over a year now I’ve been reading her blog/listening to her sermons. Well, I was super excited to find out a few months ago that she was writing a book and even more excited to find out there was a book tour, and even more more excited to find out that NYC was going to be a stop on the tour. As soon as there was a date, I made plans to go.

My husband agreed to go with me and we made our way waaaay uptown to West End Collegiate Church. There wasn’t as big a crowd as I thought there would be, but I’m always wrong about these things so I shouldn’t have been surprised. As much as I enjoy Nadia online, and as much as I enjoyed reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, seeing/hearing Nadia speak live in person was a lot better. She’s way laid back and it felt pretty low-key. I’ve never been to an event on any author’s book tour, so I had no idea what to expect. She read a few passages from the book and then she took questions. (She also raffled off a container of cotton candy, a Ramones cassette, a loaf of bread, a tattoo, and a ham. We didn’t win anything.)

There were a lot of clergy there, a lot of Lutheran clergy, so the Q&A at the end tended to be about Lutheran-y, minister-y things. It was pretty interesting, even to someone who is not 1) going to seminary, 2) planning to go to seminary, 3) currently a minister, or 4) Lutheran. Afterward, there was a book signing, but since I only had the ebook on my phone and you really can’t sign that, we didn’t stay. That could have been awkward.

I recommend Pastrix as a fascinating, humorous, and moving memoir. I also recommend hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, either in real life or online. I promise you will be entertained, but you’ll also hear some very important things about God and grace.

My tiny head is in this image that I grabbed from Nadia's FB page.
My tiny head is in this image that I grabbed from Nadia’s FB page.

Best and Not Best Books of 2011

I keep track of the books I read all year and then divide them into two groups at the end.  Instead of worrying about favorite and least favorite books, I just choose which ones I would likely recommend to friends and which ones I probably wouldn’t.  My list is completely subjective and not in the least scientific.  It’s not even in any particular order!

Best Books

Half Broke Horses – Jeannette Walls
The Memory of Running – Ron McLarty
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
Zeitoun – Dave Eggers
Bossypants – Tina Fey
Magyk – Angie Sage
Room – Emma Donoghue
Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell
Decoded – Jay-Z
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell
Just Kids – Patti Smith
The Financial Lives of the Poets – Jess Walker
The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
The Passage – Justin Cronin
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie – Wendy McClure
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Curse of the Wendigo – Rick Yancey
Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo
50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days — Dean Karnazes
Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
Lies My Teacher Told Me – James Loewen
Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town – Nick Reding
The Isle of Blood – Rick Yancey

Not Best Books

Chinatown Beat – Henry Chang
The Hangman’s Daughter – Oliver Potszch
Brainbox – Christian Cantrell
The Second Ship – Richard Phillips
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Pagan Christianity: Exposing the Roots of Our Church Practices – Frank Viola
Mr. Peanut – Adam Ross
Here on Earth – Alice Hoffman
Love Wins – Rob Bell
Island of Lost Girls – Jennifer McMahon
Summer at Tiffany – Marjorie Hart
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
Flyte – Angie Sage
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
A Little Death in Dixie – Lisa Turner
I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
22 Britannia Road – Amanda Hodgkinson
Death Wore White – Jim Kelly
The Gospel of Anarchy – Justin Taylor
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King
The Last Town on Earth – Thomas Mullen
Shine – Lauren Myracle
The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

I use Goodreads to keep track of what I read and what my friends read.  I definitely recommend it!

Movie Tie-In Book Covers

I hate ’em.

I doubt more books are being made into movies now than previously, but over the past couple of years there have been a large number of books I’ve personally read adapted for the big screen. That in itself gets annoying, but what’s starting to really get on my nerves are the book covers that change after the movie is made.

For example, this is what the book looked like when I read The Road:

The Road

This is what it looked like when the movie was made:

The Road - post-movie

This is what Water for Elephants looked like when I read it:

Water for Elephants

This is what it looks like now that there’s a movie:

Water for Elephants - post-movie


Seriously…I. Hate. Them.  I hate them for three reasons.

1)  The artistry of the cover is lost.  There are generally covers designed for various editions and/or countries and each has its own charm.  The movie tie-in covers are often no more creative than taking a frame from the movie and slapping some text on top of it.

2)  The movie tie-in cover shows the emphasis of the movie script, which is often completely independent of the plot of the book.  There are very few film adaptations that are true to their books.  Misleading covers are the result.

3)  Using a frame from the movie forever associates a book with the stars on its cover.  I understand that the new covers are being marketed to people who probably won’t read a book unless it has been a movie first and they’ve already seen it, really I get it.  But the actors are playing a role and they’ll move on; the book’s character lives on without changing.  Half the time the actor cast in an adaptation doesn’t even remotely resemble any description of the character they’re portraying.

I’ll own up to being a bit of a snob:  Those of us who read a book for the sake of reading it and NOT because it became a movie already have an idea of that the characters look and sound like before script and casting ever happen.  It’s entirely possible that my deep dislike for these covers is tied in to a general dislike for film adaptation.  But I don’t think so.

Check Out Book, Read on Phone

I just finished reading The Financial Lives of the Poets, which will go down in my personal history as the first digital book I’ve ever checked out from a library.  All the dozens and dozens of e-books I read previously came from Amazon or from Project Gutenberg or a smattering of other sites that offer free books.  The problem was that I had no way to read ePub books.  Kindle doesn’t support that file type–yet–and I have been unwilling to shell out dollars for another reader, just to be able to access library books.

Luckily, my long-time web surfing habit served me well this month, when I discovered txtr.   From what I can tell, txtr is a German company that is partnering with Adobe Digital Editions, which handles ePub books for both the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library.  Prior to txtr, I would have had to read any library book I checked out on my laptop, which totally doesn’t appeal to me.  But txtr has an Android app that somehow makes Adobe recognize my phone as a supported device.  I can then read the library ePub book on my phone.

It seemed to good to be true when I initially read about it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it.  I installed the app on my phone, perused the BPL website, chose a book, downloaded it, and then walked through the steps to get the book on my phone.  Guess what?  It worked!  Sort of.  I mean, it did work, but it wasn’t the greatest reading experience.  The default font size isn’t huge, but there are weird “margins,” so the default font means seeing only a few words on the screen at a time.  Since I was reading a book with “poets” in the title, I really did think for awhile that I was reading a long poem.  Really.  I did.

When I figured out what was going on, I made the font as small as possible and then I was seeing a decent strip of text down the middle of my screen, but I had to squint sometimes to read it.  The app doesn’t appear to save your place, the way the Kindle and Google readers do.  But it has bookmarks–yay!  But the bookmarks don’t work–boo!  I basically had to always stop reading at the end of a chapter and use the table of contents to locate my spot.

I daresay I won’t be reading library books all the time using txtr, but I’m watching for app updates.  I did send an outline of its problems to the feedback address on the txtr website.  I hope the creators find it helpful and we see a really good reader very soon.


Here is a shot of the Android app with books listed. My version is in English, of course.

Extra stuff:

txtr does a few other things.  It allows file sharing, uploads, and downloads.  It lets you clip parts of webpages to save for later.  (Similar to Instapaper, if you’re familiar with that.)  And it does have a store.  You can buy books there, but all the prices are in euros and the text is in German.  Handy if you’re in Germany, maybe not so much if you’re anywhere else.