Best Books of 2013

Our editors choose their favorite reads of 2013.

The Flamethrowers

by Rachel Kushner

 Rachel Kushner’s second novel accomplishes a rare feat in fiction: an exploration of political identities and political concerns–Marxism; misogyny; feminism; the meaning of war and the intersection of politics and art–while still being a complete work of fiction, a dive into another strange time, an exploration of (many) singular consciousness(es). The Flamethrowers decimates that old, tired paradigm of art vs. politics and shows that both are possible in a single work, and that the question of whether they can coexist is ultimately beside the point. —Kaitlyn Greenidge

Detroit: An American Autopsy

by Charlie LeDuff


Before I had even picked up Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit, I had gone to the titular city. Upon seeing its devastation, I returned with a cautious interest in failed cities and how they came to be. LeDuff’s book, in all its madness, history, intrigue, personal narrative, and savage description, describes a Detroit with its heart torn out. LeDuff, whether aware or not, has been charged with putting it back in. Thank goodness for that. —Matthew Daddona

The Spinning Heart

by Donal Ryan


Winner of the Guardian first book award and longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Donal Ryan’s debut novel, The Spinning Heart, is a trenchant examination of the human impact of the financial crisis on a community in a small Irish town. Most compelling is the way his characters and their predicaments draw us in—a son in financial ruin that turns sinister thoughts on his father, a prostitute alienated from her family and a mother with an illegitimate child. Each forms a unique perspective threaded together to make The Spinning Heart an important story about Ireland that is also incisively universal. —Kate Gwynne

A Questionable Shape

by Bennett Sims

A Questionable Shape

In the spirit of joy and merriment that ideally accompanies the holiday season, I have decided to simply pick the book I enjoyed the most this year. Hands down that book was Bennett Sims’s “zombie novel” A Questionable Shape. Perhaps what I love most about the book is Sim’s decision to not write some zombie-as-metaphor novel/tract/cartoon, but rather a book that takes the idea seriously. If the novel as a form is an attempt to make meaning, to give meaning in life to suffering and death (and it is), then what better way to ponder such things than to consider the zombie? “I could stand here all night, frozen in apophatic paralysis—and still be no nearer to an understanding of what he was. Or of what it would be like to be him,” says one character of the undead. It’s a lovely moment, real, empathetic, and horrific at the same time. Which describes much of Sim’s book, a story of fathers and sons, apocalyptic malaise, and the everyday reality of death, peppered throughout with philosophical footnotes that at least once ponder even the zombification of their own text buried at the bottom of the page. Plus it’s funny. And it was published by Two Dollar Radio, one of the best indie publishers in the country. I feel compelled to also say Sims wrote the short story I enjoyed most this year: “White Dialogues,” in Electric Literature. Honestly, I can’t wait to read what he does next. And what’s more enjoyable than that for a reader? —Scott Cheshire


The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

by Adelle Waldman

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

In the six months since the release of Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., the novel’s eponymous hero has become shorthand for a recognizable type of New York literary man, who desperately hopes that his insights are deep and doesn’t care if his relationships are superficial. The op-eds written in the novel’s wake have sometimes been as lame and tortured as one of Nate’s self-justifications, but it’s easy to see why the novel has generated so much discussion: the characters feel both universal and particular, the observations are as funny as they are painful, and the ambiguous ending makes it clear that Waldman is a novelist of consummate skill. —David Burr Gerrard





One comment

  1. John Gilmore

    Loved TheFlamethrowers!!

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