10 Books I Couldn’t Get Out of My Head in 2013. ~ Bronwyn Petry

Via Bronwyn Petry
on Dec 31, 2013
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Photo via ~Matt LightJam {Mattia Merlo} on Flickr Creative Commons

I love books.

People who know me will not be surprised by this admission. In some ways they were the first friends I ever had: I was a shy, nerdy kid and stories gave me characters who became friends, whose lives I could lose myself in.

I’m pretty sure many people consider me a sort of human library. My predilection is for fiction and I honestly enjoy being “a book matchmaker”:  I love nothing more than hearing that someone flat out loved a book I recommended.

This year, for whatever reason, I kept a list of all the books I read, from January through to December. The list-making happened organically: the first time I finished a book back in January, I picked up a pen and wrote down the title I’d finished, along with the date, and the next time I finished one, I jotted that one down as well.

I honestly didn’t mean to keep a list for the whole year, but I enjoyed the process so much that I just kept doing it.

I loved how the books I read were like my tree rings for this year; they showed me the unintentional journey I was on.

The list told me I read a lot, predominantly fiction—and I apparently have a bias for a good, suspenseful read.

It’s taught me that I love sharing information about books that I’ve read, so without further ado I present to you the 10 fiction books I read in 2013 that I can’t get out of my mind.

(Caveat: these are not necessarily published this year).

10. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. It’s the sequel to Wolf Hall (which, to be honest, I haven’t read yet) and has an interesting narrative take on the kingship of Henry VIII. Mantel does a great job of showing Thomas Cromwell’s inner workings as he tries to navigate the end of Anne Boleyn’s tenure as Queen. It’s simultaneously more tawdry and less tawdry than you’d imagine this man to be—truly historical fiction book porn.

9. The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, told from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, who accompanies him to Paris during his first extended stay overseas. This book’s special thrill is the imaginative, fly-on-the-wall look at the relationships between the literary intelligentsia of the 1920’s—with some of the characters being F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda and Gertrude Stein, much less Hemingway himself, it’s an intoxicating mix of setting and interesting people.

8. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. At first, the split narratives between Nick and Amy Dunne seemed very contrived to me and I couldn’t figure out why I was sticking with it, then the first twist happened and I was hooked. This story became so much more than a murder mystery; it is a deconstruction of the tensions between two parts of America and the end was masterful. To say more would potentially give it all away, so I won’t.

7. Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver. I am fascinated with the short story form. I find them the most delicate, complicated creatures and I read a lot of them, trying like hell to figure out how to write them. I think Carver was one of the master storytellers. I have never read this particular collection before—only selected stories —but each of Carver’s stories is like a small, taut bird, trembling, vulnerable, perfect.

6. 419 by Will Ferguson. At first, the premise took a bit of selling: it’s about a woman investigating the mysterious death of her father who gets steadily pulled into the web of an internet money scam, but then that’s exactly what sells it. Laura is an intriguing narrator: I couldn’t quite figure out what her motivation was and I enjoyed that as the protagonist she remained a bit mysterious and hard-to-get.

5. Joyland by Stephen King. I hadn’t read any Stephen King since high school, so it was kind of surprising to me to realize I was so excited about this release, a book that (once again) feels like a departure for him. It covers familiar ground, for sure, with a murder mystery unravelling in a vintage amusement park, but King got into the emotions of his protagonist in truly touching and unexpected ways. (Honourable mention: Doctor Sleep). 

4. (Trigger warning) The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It takes place in 1988 when, on a Native American reservation in North Dakota, a young mother in the community gets sexually assaulted. Her 13-year-old son, Joe, sees his mother’s grief and he decides that he wants to do anything he can to help her. This book exquisitely portrays Geraldine’s and her family’s attempts to heal.

3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. The story of a well-to-do, suburban couple whose marriage is unravelling is a well-told one, but the author is unafraid to explore the emotional depths and lengths that his main characters, Walter and Patty, go to after their teenaged son decides to move out and live with his girlfriend. Told in three parts, if you like sprawling family epics, this could be the read for you.

2. Unsaid by Neil Abramson. Helena is a vet who has recently passed away from cancer, who is trying to help her loved ones through the transition of her passing in whatever way she can. The poignancy of what Helena’s going through, as well as the points it makes about (separately) animal rights and the strange processes of grief are what gives this book its power.

1. The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This one wins for both brevity and for sheer imagination. It’s been years since I’ve read a book, geared for adults, that was this inventive, and Gaiman shows a poetic touch for language and wordy spell-casting that I wasn’t expecting. I won’t give plot or too much away, because you’ll want to discover this book in your own time, in your own way. In retrospect, this was hands down the best book I read all year.

These are the books that have stayed with me from 2013—definitely not a perfect list, nor an exhaustive one, but ones that I find myself telling people about, over and over. Something about each of these books was magic, or stardust. I hope that, if you try them out, you enjoy them just as much as I did.

Will you share some of your favourites with me?


Relephant reads:

Reading is Wholesome (& Damn Sexy).

26 Great Books You’ve Been Too Busy to Read.

7 Sensational American Buddhist Books You Must Read.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, Elephant Archives


About Bronwyn Petry

Bronwyn Petry wrote her first short story when she was six, and hasn't really looked back since. Writing is the only thing she was ever any good at. Bronwyn is also a yoga student who likes to run, a roller skating enthusiast, an amateur photographer and an inveterate people watcher. Her work has previously appeared in Soliloquies, The Grist Mill, Roots of She, The Body Stories, and a variety of other places. Her hobbies include crossword puzzles and long walks with her dog. She loves her friends, has 17 different laughs and she travels in her spare time to soak up the stories of the world. She lives in Toronto (for the time being) with her partner and their animals. Please feel free to find her on Twitter, Facebook or on Instagram, if you’re into those sorts of things.


16 Responses to “10 Books I Couldn’t Get Out of My Head in 2013. ~ Bronwyn Petry”

  1. ivyknight says:

    Hi Bronwyn,
    Great list, I'm going to check them out. Some great books I've read recently are: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (it looks like cheesy sci fi but it's totally fantastic), The Wreckage by Michael Crummey (Nfld author, about WWII – beautiful, tragic), the Radleys by who? I can't remember, great oddball vampire book set in suburban London, The Whores on the Hill by Colleen Curran (the best book about being a high school slut ever).

  2. Bronwyn Petry says:

    Ivy, that's a great list of your own! I'm totally going to find The Whores of the Hill. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  3. Sookie says:

    Hi! I have been keeping track of the books I have read since 2001! I have a journal beside my bed in which I write the title and author of the book, under the heading of the month for that year. It is so fascinating to look back on the books I have read (which is a lot – I am a super fast reader!). I encourage you to keep track forever!!!

  4. Rhonda says:

    Thank you for the list! My new favourite book is Avatar Anatomy by Angela Ditch. I highly recommend 🙂

  5. AnimalLover says:

    Thanks for the list! One of my surprise favorites was a random book I found on Amazon, "The Secret Lives of People – Real Diary Excerpts from Modern Day America" by L.M. Hughes. Some of it was deliciously scandalous, but it was just so raw and real, and really immersed you into someone else's private life – I almost felt guilty reading it! It was so interesting to experience other people's inner thoughts who were totally different from me. Some very sad, some very funny, some downright maddening diary entries. Great read and lots of diversity.

  6. Heidi says:

    I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and then the Kite Runner – finally. Totally immersing, absolutely mesmerizing and scary.

    Also read The Twelve – book 2 of the Passage trilogy. I am going to read #3 as soon as it comes out if I have to figure out a spell to freeze time. I will check out some of your recommendations. I too love the short story.

  7. Bronwyn Petry says:

    Woww. Since 2001? I am inspired to try and do the same! It'll be great to look back and have this huge, comprehensive list. 🙂

  8. Bronwyn Petry says:

    Hi Rhonda,

    Thank *you* so much for the title. I'll mark it down and read it as soon as I am able. I've never even heard of it, which I love!

  9. Bronwyn Petry says:

    I love love love that I once again, have never heard of this book! I'm so intrigued. I love that you said, "great diversity" – that is such an intriguing thing to say. I will look it up! Thank you.

  10. Bronwyn Petry says:

    I loved both A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner – they were so heartbreaking. I found his language so poetic and yet not alienating in that way that poetry can sometimes be: it cast a spell. Now I want to reread them!

    I'm going to have to look up the Passage Trilogy, too. Any book that can make someone say, "I'll read it…if I have to figure out a spell to freeze time" is a must-read, I think.

    Thank you.

  11. denise connolly says:

    Thanx so much for sharing your list! my 1st choice to read next is Neil Gaiman’s novel. sounds intriguing 🙂

  12. nick says:

    just read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and really loved it

  13. Marion says:

    I love checking out people’s favourite reads, and will certainly be checking out yours. I also read gone girl and then read two others from the same author which I also thoroughly enjoyed. But I would have to say my three most favourite of recent times would have to be the hunger games trilogy. Another author I thoroughly enjoyed was Wally Lamb

  14. Bronwyn Petry says:

    Oh, let me know what you think! Most people I know loved it dearly, as did I.

  15. Bronwyn Petry says:

    Thanks, Nick! I'll put that on my list.

  16. Bronwyn Petry says:

    I agree, Marion, but I finished the third HG book, Mockingjay, in 2012, so it didn't count. :/
    and Wally Lamb is one of my favourites! "I Know This Much isTrue" was my bible for many years, and if you haven't already found it, he edited and compiled a prisoners' anthology from a workshop he ran in a women's prison that is just brilliant and devastating.