The 10 Best Books We Read in 2013 (So Far)

Books Lists

We’ve read and reviewed a lot of books here at Paste. Of course, we’re certain there are great ones we’ve missed, so give us your recommendations in the comments section. What follows is a list of our favorites so far, compiled by Paste books editor Charles McNair, whose own novel, Pickett’s Charge (due out Sept. 20 on Livingston Press) is my actual favorite book I read in 2013.—Josh Jackson, editor-in-chief

cansville.jpg10. Cansville
By Alan Flurry
Independently published e-book
Alan Flurry, a filmmaker in Athens, Georgia, and author of Cansville, knows that art ultimately requires not just its pound of flesh … but all the artist’s flesh, along with soul and mind. Flurry examines creative process in this short novel focused on a historic theatre in Louisville. Toby Alameda, a promising, award-winning young director, gets a commission there to perform a daunting task: Make something new to save something old. A new play’s the thing, of course, and Flurry offers worthwhile philosophy on art, creation, and invention. Full Review by Charles McNair

skininthegame.jpg9. Skin in the Game
R.P. Finch
Livingston Press
Bob Finch left legal life after a quarter-century, partnering in an Atlanta firm and handling a lot of M&A work. We may now officially think of that career as an extended MFA program, to judge by the lessons Finch brings from the legal world to his debut novel. He serves up highbrow and lowbrow comedy sans apology, somehow successfully blending realms of law, strip clubs, CIA, the mob and—yes—quantum science into a funny, ready-for-TV joyride. His descriptions hit the funny bone. Consider a stripper (casually naked of course) telling her boss in his seedy office that she’s looking for work elsewhere: “… Tito, I already put out some feelers.” “But we got plenty of feelers right here.” She rose with an adhesive sound. “And a new sofa wouldn’t kill you.” Full Review by Charles McNair

eat-drink-delta.jpg8. Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South
Susan Puckett
University of Georgia Press
Paste likes a good, smart foodie guidebook as much as the next magazine. Former journalist Susan Puckett, in the words of our reviewer Wendell Brock, “may be the only American writer today who uses the Mississippi hot tamale as her North Star and stops to admire a lemon ice box pie as if it were a natural wonder soaring toward a sky of meringue.” Puckett shares local history with tasty takes on everything from Memphis barbeque to Deep South catfish to Vicksburg tomato sandwiches. Can you gain pounds simply reading? You can if you eat pages after you read them. Full Review by Wendell Brock

dirtyville-rhapsodies.jpg7. Dirtyville Rhapsodies
By Josh Green
Parkgate Press
This book joins terrific 2013 collections by Karen Russell, Alice Munro, and George Saunders, among others, that promise to make this an annus mirabilis for short stories. Green sets most of his pieces in Atlanta, shape-shifting among characters from high and low places, quirky and auspicious spaces. The cover tells a lot about the content: Set before an Atlanta skyline, a merry circus clown dandles a pistol—it’s a jaunty symbol of the comedic/tragic mix simmering under the book’s blood-red cover. Green’s a talented writer to watch; he has a great eye and ear. Full Review by Charles McNair

SouthernCrossTheDog.jpg6. Southern Cross the Dog
By Bill Cheng
“Rarely is literature as breathtakingly lyrical and searing in its imagery as Southern Cross the Dog,” begins Rayyan Al-Shawaf’s review of Cheng’s debut novel. The young author describes hard life in Mississippi during the Great Flood of 1927 and afterward during destructive foundation work for a dam in 1941 through the eyes of an African-American protagonist pursued through the novel by something like a hellhound. “The Dog,” an enigmatic, ominous creature right simultaneously out of Greek mythology and Mississippi legend, blurs the dividing line between two worlds—Earth and myth. Cheng, writes Al-Shawaff, “fashions enthralling characters, unsettled and unsettling, who inhabit a terrifying environment.” Full Review By Ryyan Al-Shawaf

questlovebook.jpg5. Mo’ Meta Blues
By Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (co-written by Ben Greenman)
Grand Central Publishing
Roots drummer and de facto spokesman, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, offers a memoir that neatly sketches the history of hip-hop. Spiced with personal stories unafraid of showing candid innocence—Questlove admits to squealing at the sight of KISS as a youngster—the book tracks drummer and band from Philadelphia roots through back-up duty to Jay-Z to the current spotlight as Jimmy Fallon’s late-night band. The book arrives as the Roots prep a 14th LP and collaborative album with Elvis Costello, bit don’t look in these thoughtful pages for NFL-style swagger: “The more Mo’ Meta Blues questions Questlove’s own relevance,” writes Paste reviewer Christina Lee, “the more valuable it feels.” Full Review by Christina Lee

a-thousand-pardons_original.jpg4. A Thousand Pardons
by Jonathan Dee
Random House
Jonathan Dee’s The Privileges earned nomination as a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Like that book, A Thousand Pardons qualifies as a contemporary morality tale that examines the dissolution of once mighty cultural institutions. Paste reviewer Patrick McGinn wrote that the author “allows intensely human characters, replete with questionable scruples and frivolous foibles, to break those institutions down and reconstruct them in their own imperfect images.” In this book, Dees pulls at the seams of marriage (and ostensibly family life) until they rip. Full Review by Patrick McGinn

hammett-unwritten.jpg3. Hammett Unwritten
by Gordon McAlpine (as Owen Fitstephen)
Seventh Street Books
Dashiel Hammett came up with a new kind of pulp fiction detective in a few works that became the bone marrow of noir. Paste reviewer Steve Nathans-Kelly wrote that Hammett’s gumshoe “knew how to take a punch, and knew when to throw one. He worked for money, not the thrill of the hunt. He had the fierce integrity to put his own uncompromising moral code and sense of justice before self-preservation or even the law.” In this novel, author McAlpine cleverly sets out to solve a real-life mystery about Hammett: What caused a 30-year writer’s block that afflicted the hard-boiled detective fiction master whose work defines a genre? Full Review by Steve Nathans-Kelly

red-doc.jpg2. Red Doc>
by Anne Carson
Alfred A. Knopf
Rating 9.2
Carson revisits in her new book the strange, sometimes difficult, and often wondrous terrain of her novel-in-verse Autobiography of Red (Vintage, 1999), a modernized telling of the Herakles (Hercules) and Geryon myth that earned a New York Times Notable Book of the Year designation, Of this new work, Paste reviewer Nathan Huffstutter wrote that Red Doc> crosses the same mythical frontiers: “Like the earlier exploits of Geryon and Herakles, Carson launches G and Sad But Great on a twisted picaresque, indulging her exquisite eye for natural detail and allowing her characters to define themselves as people do: By interacting with change in their environment.” Full review by Nathan Huffstutter

billylynn.jpg1. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
by Ben Fountain
Swept away by this novel with the Iraq War as its context, Paste reviewer David Langness wrote: “I’m happy and excited to say. Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk is, in my view, the finest and best novel to come out of America’s twenty-first-century wars so far.” Fountain spins a tale of Specialist Billy Lynn from Stovall, Texas. Billy’s Bravo Company is highlighted on Fox News during a firefight in Iraq. The footage virals through the culture, taking Billy and Bravo on a Bush-administration-sponsored Victory Tour, culminating at – where else? – Jerry Jones’s Texas Stadium. “Pure, undiluted, clever satire,” Langness praises. “BLLHW has everything.” Editor’s Note: Technically a late 2012 book (the end of November), this one’s too good not to wave in the air for 2013. Full Review by David Langness

Charles McNair is Paste’s Books Editor. His debut novel, Land O’ Goshen was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and his newest novel, Pickett’s Charge, publishes Sept. 20.

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