The Top Six of 2013 vol. 1: “Wrapped Up In Books”

According to my profile, here are some interesting facts about me as a reader:

  • I’ve listed as many books as I can remember reading, and my grand total is 286.
  • I currently have 150 titles on my “to-read” list.
  • Thus far, I have read 51 books in 2013, even though my original goal was 50.  Here’s to crushing it.
  • From a perspective that is slightly more impressive—or tragically sad, depending on how one decides to look at it—I’ve read 15,018 pages of words this year.
  • I read three biographies/memoirs this year.  They were about Tina Fey, Simon Pegg, and Vladimir Putin.  I’m sure there is a connection here, though I have yet to discover it.

As I’m rather proud of myself for reading 51 books (15,018 pages), here is my top six booklist for 2013.

DISCLAIMER: Three of the books on this list were not published in 2013, but I happened to read and enjoy them in 2013 which means they may as well have been published this year.  Plus, it’s my list, so I can do what I want.  Bitches.

the troop1. The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014): In addition to being one of the most grisly, shocking, and emotionally wracking books that I have ever read, I acquired and read an advanced copy of this book at the San Diego Comic-Con this year—which is pretty badass because it’s not slated for release until February of 2014.  I read the entire book in installments while waiting in various lines for various panels, and I think I finished it right before we went in to see a Neil Gaiman discuss his charming British books with his charming British accent.  Subsequently, I’d like to apologize to those people in my vicinity who had to endure the noises of shock and revulsion that I was prone to making during this time.

 Succinctly, The Troop can be summed up as a modern retelling of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies by way of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.  It recounts the details of the worst scouting trip ever as five fourteen-year old boys are stranded on an island off the coast of Newfoundland with a parasitic worm that may or may not have already infected them.  As the book unfolds and the boys’ wills are pitted against the elements and each other, their true characters come dangerously close to the surface.

Cutter’s ability to force the reader into some truly terrifying and gruesome moments is what I both love and kinda hate about this book.  There were moments when I had to stop reading because the words on the page were succeeding in making me nauseous.  I’m not a lightweight, either.  I grew up on a steady diet of 80’s splatter flicks, and The Troop still managed to get under my skin—gross pun intended.  Any author that can manipulate language so accurately that it actually makes me queasy is worthy of my respect.

shock value2. Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (2012): Speaking of 80’s splatter flicks, Shock Value chronicles the golden age of horror movies in glorious and well-documented detail.  Throughout the pages of Shock Value, Zinoman takes a closer look at how directors like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and George Romero took a previously impotent and stale genre like horror and used it as a medium to channel America’s dark and dirty subconscious circa 1970.

Horror films have always been a big part of my life—despite the fact that I would often be on the verge of tears if I ever wandered into the horror section of my local video store as a young lad—so getting a behind-the-scenes look at the people and stories behind films like The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, along with their cultural significance, was nerdy good fun.

Shock Value shows that though these films are violent and unsettling, they were actually great avenues for progressive thinking.  Duane Jones, the protagonist in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, set a new precedent for African Americans in film, and movies such as Alien, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street obliterated many of the stereotypes that were assigned to women in horror and sci-fi.

Though it’s getting harder to assign any cultural value to today’s horror films, anyone who says that the horror genre is one dimensional needs to only read this book.

locke and key3. Locke & Key vol 5: Clockworks by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (2013): My enthusiasm for comic books and graphic novels has waned in my old age, but Locke & Key is one of those titles that makes me remember how powerful comic books can be.  I started reading this series back in August of this year, and I’ve steadily consumed all of them—most recently obtaining an advance copy of volume six which isn’t due out until next year.

Volume five happened to be my favorite installment, but the whole series is amazing.  Without giving too much away, Locke & Key is about the Locke family and their ancestral home on the fictional island of Lovecraft, Massachusetts.  After the Locke patriarch is done in by a deranged high school student, and the family relocates to Lovecraft, the three Locke children start discovering a series of keys that offer abilities such as opening a person’s head and fiddling with their thoughts or leaving one’s body behind to traverse the world as a ghost.

Hill and Rodriguez are a great team, and the story often feels brutally real despite its more fantastical elements.  The story spans several hundred years, and it touts one of the best lists of supporting characters ever.  A finely crafted story that has been illustrated by a gifted artist is what makes comic books cool, and Locke & Key excels on every level.

Imagine4. Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (2012): I don’t read much nonfiction, but every so often, when I force myself to read a book that doesn’t involve monsters or space battles, I find that my mind has been sufficiently blown.  Reading Jonah Lehrer’s work about the processes and practices that enhance a person’s creativity was one of those milestones at which I can say, “There was my life before reading this book and my life after reading this book.”

I liked how Imagine didn’t claim ownership to the secret of creativity, but rather explored various companies and organizations that maximize the creativity of their members (think Google, Pixar, and the pub outside of Oxford where Tolkien and Lewis founded the Inklings) in an attempt to figure out the best environment for a creative mind.

This was especially interesting to me as an English teacher, because encouraging students to be creative is a big part of what I hope to accomplish every day.  You’d think it would be easy to tell a student, “Here is pen and paper.  Make something happen,” but it’s not.  This book helped me make the process of teaching creativity a lot easier.

It’s a great source of information for anyone who seeks to cultivate creativity in any shape.  For example, David Byrne from The Talking Heads finds that riding his bike through unfamiliar parts of New York City is a great way to get his creative juices flowing.  The mere mental picture is enough to inspire creativity.

eleanor and park5. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013): The real tragedy about this book is that so many high school libraries refuse to carry it because of its content.  Not only is this insane to me—it’s no more shocking than the misadventures of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter—but I strongly believe that every teenager in America needs to read this book right at this very moment.

Not only is this a perfect love story for anyone who considers themselves a geek—there’s a superb moment in which Park makes a Boba Fett reference come across as heart-swellingly romantic—but the titular characters feel like actual high school students.

Rowell’s characterization of high schoolers differs from the likes of say, John Green, but in the right way.  The characters in a John Green novel fire volleys of witty repartee back and forth with the grace and precision of a Quentin Tarantino film.  Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does tend to make his characters seem more contrived.  Rainbow Rowell, on the other hand, makes more use of what the characters don’t say—which is a much more realistic vision of high school romance.  Because, let’s face it, when teenagers are in love, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.

Alif the Unseen6. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (2013): One of the reasons that I like to read books is because occasionally, I stumble across something that shows me something new about the world—something that has always been there, but it’s just taken me awhile to notice.  Alif the Unseen tells the story of a teenage hacker in a militaristic Middle Eastern country who finds himself caught up in a mind-bending adventure that blends old-school magic with new-school tech savvy.  I know very little about life in the Middle East, but G. Willow Wilson’s novel provided a window into that culture by way of fantasy and mythology—which made the unfamiliar environment instantly accessible.

I enjoyed this book so much because it showed me that people in different parts of the world often have the same problems, doubts, and questions about love and authority that I do.  Alif the Unseen gets bonus points for creating that cultural bridge and introducing me to the morally ambiguous creature known as Vikram the Vampire at the same time.

Stay tuned for volume 2 of this epic list of lists.  HINT: it will be about video games.


One thought on “The Top Six of 2013 vol. 1: “Wrapped Up In Books”

  1. Yay! Eleanor and Park would be on my top six list as well.

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