Monday, November 25, 2013

The Observer's books of the year

Observer books of the year
Settle down for a monster winter read with the Observer books of the year. Illustration: Andrew Holder at Pocko People for the Observer

Curtis Sittenfeld

My favourite books of 2013 are Drama High (Riverhead) by Michael Sokolove, Sea Creatures (Turnaround) by Susanna Daniel, and & Sons (Harper Collins) by David Gilbert. Drama High is incredibly smart, moving non-fiction about an American drama teacher who for four decades coaxed sophisticated and nuanced theatrical performances out of teenage students who weren't privileged or otherwise remarkable and in so doing, changed their conceptions of what they could do with their lives. Sea Creatures is a gripping, beautifully written novel about the mother of a selectively mute three-year-old boy; when she takes a job ferrying supplies to a hermit off the coast of Florida, her world is upended. & Sons is a fabulously clever, warm-hearted novel about fathers, sons, literature, art, lust, envy, fraudulence, and Manhattan.
As for a book I'd love to be given, Mohsin Hamid has recently been writing wonderful columns for the New York Times that make me curious about his novels. If Santa's reading this, I believe I'll start with How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamish Hamilton).

Hilary Mantel

Time to recall the more energising parts of the year's reading: Kate Atkinson's inexhaustibly ingenious novel, Life After Life (Doubleday). Or Ace, King, Knave (Faber), Maria McCann's exuberant revivification of grave robbers and gamblers, hucksters and whores in 18th-century London (which I read in advance of its publication next month): like Hogarth sprung to life. Time to remember summer, with The Authors XI: A Season of English Cricket from Hackney to Hambledon (Bloomsbury). It's more a record of style than success as, inevitably, at least one writer takes his iPad with him when fielding. But the players (authors, agents, actor Dan Stevens) turn in polished, cheerful reports of their revival of a literary and sporting tradition.
As for the book I'd like to receive, it's never been written: Thomas Cromwell, The Missing Years.

Ali Smith

Brand New AccidentsKate Atkinson's Life After Life (Doubleday) is an absolute beauty of a novel and of the novel form, one of the most original and subtle things I've read for years, a shining, kind and quietly uncompromising novel whose own afterlife, I suspect, already involves words such as instant and classic. One of the other texts to breathe new life into old classic forms this year was Kate Tempest's Brand New Ancients (Picador); a long poem about us and the gods that's all high-kicking verve and long-range understanding. I loved its vision, powerful and merciful.
And the book I'd most like someone to give me for Christmas is Hermione Lee's Penelope Fitzgerald (Chatto & Windus); in fact, no, in this case I don't think I can wait till Christmas.

Colm Toibin

I have been sure for some time that I will come back as a jellyfish in the next life and thus have been much cheered up by Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean (University of Chicago Press) by Lisa-ann Gershwin. It seems we will take over, and no drop of water will be complete without us. In fiction I enjoyed Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers (Harvill Secker) for its style and its daring, and Philipp Meyer's The Son (Simon & Schuster) for its ambition and sense of character.
For Christmas I would like to get The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly: A Catalogue Raisonné (Hudson Hills Press).

Joe Dunthorne

George Saunders's latest story collection, Tenth of December (Bloomsbury), is full of wonders. If you need convincing, read the book's brilliant, disturbing centrepiece, The Semplica-Girl Diaries, on the New Yorker website. In poetry, I loved Emily Berry's Dear Boy (Faber), Heather Phillipson's Instant-flex 718 (Bloodaxe) and the whole back catalogue of Ben Lerner; his debut collection, The Lichtenberg Figures, is a decade old now but ageing beautifully.
For Christmas, I'd like Nice Weather (Faber), the new book from Frederick Seidel, the most debonair psychopath in poetry.


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