Muruch’s Top 5 Books of 2013

Though I continue to be a voracious reader, I can’t recall liking many new book releases this year. Most of the books I loved, such as Scott Alarick’s Revival, were all released in years gone by. Even the few novels that stood out (The Interestings, The Curiosity, Eleanor & Park and Donna Tartt’s much-hyped The Goldfinch) proved to be ultimately disappointing. I did, however, greatly enjoy three new poetry collections and two very unusual novels:

Muruch’s Top 5 Books of 2013

5. Louise Glück: Poems 1962-2012

“A day like a day in summer. Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples nearly mauve on the gravel paths. And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer. It does me no good; violence has changed me. My body has grown cold like the stripped fields; now there is only my mind, cautious and wary, with the sense it is being tested. Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer; bounty, balm after violence. Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields have been harvested and turned. Tell me this is the future, I won’t believe you. Tell me I’m living, I won’t believe you.”

Louise Glück is a Pulitzer winner and critically acclaimed poet, but I only recently became a fan. I can’t say I love all her work, which is collected here in one volume, but she does have a very powerful and evocative voice at times. I especially like her Persephone-themed poetry originally published as the book Averno, which is included in this volume.


4. Samantha Harvey: All is Song

William came, and sat opposite. Leonard pushed a glass of wine towards him.

‘Scotland was difficult,’ Leonard said, in answer to the unasked questions. How was your trip? How have you been? He knew William would never ask. ‘I wish you’d been there, William, at least for a visit.’

No response, but then it hadn’t been a question, so he continued as if unperturbed. ‘Mind you, if you had come what would you have found? Me drinking wine too early in the day and watching films and scratting through boxes of things in the attic, like a weird animal. I can’t say I’ve really been in possession of myself.’

‘I don’t know what that would mean anyway. To be in possession of oneself.’

William smiled with intrigue as he said it.

This one may end up being higher on my list, but I’m not quite finished with it. All is Song was originally released last year, but the paperback was released in 2013. I only obtained a copy of the book myself last summer when I traveled to Ireland and it had been lost in my bedroom book pile until this month. It seems to have become a tradition for me to purchase Samantha Harvey books in Ireland, as they are difficult to find in local bookshops and they are so lovely I cannot bear to order them online. Much like Harvey’s previous novel, The Wilderness, All is Song is an exquisitely well written, somewhat cerebral read about an unusual male character. But the plot is quite different, this time examining the complicated relationship and philosophical discussions between two brothers after their father’s death as well as the controversy surrounding one of the brothers, a retired professor.


3. Leigh Stein: Dispatch from the Future

“I fear the past is a brushfire

and I am a prairie. Now that I have what I asked for
I see that I should have been more specific.”

If you think poetry is boring and old-fashioned, I highly recommend this very modern collection of verse by relatively new poet Leigh Stein. Published by the small press Melville House, Dispatch From the Future is a fun, clever, quick read — though by no means lacking in substance or feeling.


2. Maria Semple: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

From: Soo-Lin Lee-Segal
To: Audrey Griffin

I heard Bernadette tried to run you over at pickup! Are you OK? Should I come by with dinner? WHAT HAPPENED?

From: Audrey Griffin
To: Soon-Lin Lee-Segal

It’s all true. I needed to talk to Bernadette about her blackberry bushes, which are growing down her hill, under my fence, and invading my garden…

I usually hate literary gimmicks, but I adored this novel told in the form of found correspondence, report cards and other documented “evidence” as well as the fragmented memories of the teenage protagonist regarding the disappearance of her notoriously eccentric mother, Bernadette. It’s poignant, hilarious and totally unique. I can’t imagine how anyone will make a successful film of this book, but apparently one is in the works.


1. Sharon Olds: Stag’s Leap

“And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon?”

Sharon Olds is my poetry idol. Her 1987 book, Gold Cell, opened my eyes to the world of modern poetry and taught me that poetry could be (and convey) so much more than mere pretty words. She takes confessional poetry to entirely new, eloquent, gut-wrenching levels. Her post-divorce collection, Stag’s Leap, is perhaps her most personal to date. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year.

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