10. THE WAYWARD BUS by John Steinbeck
I didn’t like this book. I didn’t like its deterministic perspective on humanity or its pessimistic outlook on the way people interact and love and hate and live. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t like it. The Wayward Bus is gorgeous. It details heartbreak in miniature, lives that cross each other briefly, sadness and pettiness and barely understood anger… the striving to be more, understand more, live more, no matter the hopelessness of that striving. I didn’t like this book, but you don’t need to like a thing to love that thing.
9. MARTYRS AND MONSTERS by Robert Dunbar
My favorite book of horror read in 2013 was this masterful collection of short stories. Martyrs, monsters, and the danger and potential toxicity of self-enclosure. Dunbar is a thoughtful author who specializes in menacing ambiguity, but in this book he also illustrates the flexibility and fluidity of his talents. By turns eerie, funny, scabrous, and inexplicable, each story is its own strange and vividly imagined world.
8. THE TOWERS OF TREBIZOND by Rose Macauley
Macauley’s 1956 novel takes its reader on an amusing and whimsical trip through Turkey. She’s like an aunt who is full of all sorts of stories but whose breathless storytelling style is its own reason for listening. Aunt Rose serves you some nice herbal tea and tells you this wry story; at the end of her tale, she picks up that teapot and smashes you across the head with it. Her story is not meant to be amusing. Wake up!
7. RED CLAW by Philip Palmer
Dense and action-packed, Red Claw is a rollicking saga and a demented, bloody massacre. This bizarre future society is ingeniously imagined; the alien anthropology on display is even more impressive. Palmer is an aggressive and brazen author who wants his rollercoaster to be as appalling as it is fun. Plus genuine bravery and an uplifting ending! Sorta. My favorite science fiction novel of 2013.
6. LONDON FIELDS by Martin Amis
Amis continues his lifelong thesis on the insect nature of mankind in this lavish and spiteful death-farce. Humans Off Earth Now!
5. THE AIRTIGHT GARAGE by Moebius
Moebius is surely one of the most likeable geniuses to ever write and draw a comic. His visions are as loveable as they are obscure. Worlds within worlds; super-powered humans who never bother to show those powers; characters who jump off the page and then disappear forever. Circular narratives! Mind-bending visuals! Demented plotlines! Nonsensical dialogue! This charming epic is candy for the brain.
4. THE PYX by John Buell
How is this 1974 crime novel not a classic? Each sentence, each paragraph is a work of art. Follow the haunting heroine as she walks inexorably down her tragic path. Sit back and try to figure out the mystery with the stalwart and humane detective as he sorts out this shadowy tragedy. Gape, agog, at a truly fearful ending.
3. MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN by Marguerite Yourcenar
"But books lie, even those that are most sincere…” but not this one. Yourcenar finds her way to the heart of a man, his own truth, by reimagining not just an ancient world, but all aspects of the man who lives in that world. By the end of this book, I felt as if I looked through Hadrian’s eyes and thought Hadrian’s thoughts. The man is the world is the book. O Death, sometimes you come not with a sting, but with an embrace.
2. QUEEN LUCIA by E.F. Benson
My favorite reread was Benson’s classic first novel in his Mapp & Lucia cycle. Rose Macauley is your eccentric spinster aunt with a heart of steel; E.F. Benson is your quirky queer uncle with a mouth full of ironic innuendo and ludicrous, hysterical tall tales. Except these tall tales don’t involve giants or beanstalks; instead they detail a fantastically petty and obsessive little English village full of smaller-than-life characters who do larger-than-life things. Pure pleasure from beginning to end.
1. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman wrote something wondrous, something perfect. Again.