Hundreds of thousands of books — perhaps even as many as a million — are
published each year in the U.S., according to Forbes magazine. Of those, perhaps half
are self-published, either by authors doing all the work themselves or by hiring a vanity press.
Most of the books, Forbes notes, sell less than 250 copies.
These numbers aren't meant to discourage hopeful authors. Instead they highlight the lunacy of trying to compile a top 10 list of the year's best books. Sure, you can figure out which sold the most copies and which stayed longest on the best-seller lists, but those numbers can be manipulated. And since no one read a million books this year, who's to say that a fantastic gem didn't go unnoticed?
We're not going to try to name the best books of 2013 for you. That'd be sheer hubris. Below, The Oklahoman's reviewers present some of their favorite books of the year, with a little commentary on what made those books so memorable.
Happy new year!
“The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon” by Kevin Fedarko (Scribner, 432 pages, in stores).
Fedarko's first book is a masterpiece of literary nonfiction, a method of writing that uses the techniques of novelists and short story writers to tell true stories in a compelling manner. Think “Into Thin Air” or “The Perfect Storm.” Fedarko spent years as an editor at Outside magazine, working with some of the best writers in the world; with “The Emerald Mile,” he has joined them as a thoughtful, thorough researcher and superb storyteller. The book, which chronicles a massive flood that sent an unprecedented volume of water racing through the Grand Canyon, has made some of the year's best lists, although it went largely overlooked. Fedarko's tale ostensibly focuses on the three rivermen who rode the maelstrom in a fragile wooden dory and emerged alive and with a speed record, but it's also the story of the canyon itself, as well as the river and the dam and the men and women, scientists and scoundrels who have made their lives there.
Ken Raymond, Book Editor
“The Letters of Ernest
Hemingway, Volume 2: 1923-1925” edited by Sandra
Spanier, et. al. (Cambridge University Press, 604 pages, in stores).
Most who have ever aspired to be writers or artists, including myself, dream of living through a period like Hemingway's Paris Years. Hemingway's letters provide a view of the real person behind his legend in one of the most fascinating periods of an extraordinary life.
Nate Billings, Staff Writer
“Dallas 1963” by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis (Twelve, 384 pages, in stores) and “The Hanging of Samuel Ash” by Sheldon Russell (Minotaur, 312 pages, in stores).
Nonfiction: “Dallas 1963” portrays much of the Dallas power structure as racist in the years leading up to President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. The book is a powerful account of life in the Texas city, which wanted to be seen as sophisticated and progressive despite what went on behind the scenes.
Fiction: “The Hanging of Samuel Ash” is part of author Sheldon Russell's Hook Runyon mystery series. Russell is gaining fame from his perch in northwestern Oklahoma, and one gets the feeling the best is yet to come.
Dennie Hall, for The Oklahoman
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 192 pages, in stores).
Again Neil Gaiman has created a world both creepy and captivating. The narrator returns to the town where he grew up to attend a funeral and ends up on a mystical adventure through his own memories. Gaiman, who at times can be too dense for bedtime reading, offers up a tale here that will make its way into readers' dreams — and nightmares. Gaiman set out to write “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” as a short story. We, as readers, are very lucky he changed his plan.
Amy Raymond, Staff Writer
“The Romanov Cross” by Robert Masello (Bantam, 512 pages, in stores).
Masello's book is a medical thriller, historical novel and ghost story all in one. The story revisits the rise of Rasputin, the downfall of the Romanov family and the mystery surrounding the fate of Anastasia. The supernatural twist made it a fascinating read.
Betty Lytle, for The Oklahoman
“Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family” by Leanda de Lisle (PublicAffairs, 560 pages, in stores).
The signature voice-over in “The Tudors” has Henry VIII portrayer Jonathan Rhys-Meyers saying, “You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends. To get to the heart of the story, you have to go back to the beginning.” Problem is, the series doesn't do that. Leanda de Lisle does. Little known today, despite strong interest in the Tudors, is that the story began with Owen Tudor, a Welshman and a commoner who secretly married the widow of Henry V and mother of Henry VI. Tudor passed his name and his genes to three future kings and two future queens. Much of “Tudor” covers familiar ground, but the beginning gets the reader to the heart of an incredible story of five generations of murder, passion, political intrigue and a royal flush of paranoia.
J.E. McReynolds, Opinion Editor
“Spider Woman's Daughter” by Anne Hillerman (Harper, 320 pages, in stores).
The author magnificently keeps alive her Oklahoma-born father's fine fiction and continues the stories of Tony Hillerman's memorable Navajo detectives, Leaphorn and Chee. The book is superb.
Joseph H. Carter Sr., for The Oklahoman
“Fifth Grave Past the Light” by Darynda Jones (St. Martin's Press, 352 pages, in stores).
In the fifth installment of Darynda Jones' series about Charley Davidson, the paranormal investigator and full-time grim reaper gets a new neighbor: Reyes Farrow, the son of Satan. Charley is torn when the sexy Reyes becomes the main suspect in a string of arsons she's investigating. Another case has Charley bringing her work home. The souls of dead women start appearing in her apartment, and Charley, a grim reaper since birth, is unable to help them pass on. As she gets closer to finding their killer, she is forced to ask for Reyes' help to keep her sister from being the next target.
Moran Elwell, Staff Writer
“Wedding Night” by Sophie Kinsella (The Dial Press, 464 pages, in stores).
I'm a fan of many genres, but my favorite chick lit this year is “Wedding Night” by Sophie Kinsella. Already a fan of her books, I was looking forward to this one and it didn't let me down. It's fast-paced, funny and full of lovable characters. Kinsella will keep you flipping through the pages with her hilarious one liners and character mishaps. It's definitely a must-read.
Deaven Coggins, Staff Writer
“VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave” by Nina Blackwood, et. al. (Atria Books, 336 pages, in stores).
This book is an oral history of the early days of MTV compiled from interviews with the first VJs (or video jockeys, a play on disc jockey). The interviews are candid and wide ranging. Topics ranging from behind-the-scenes drug use to over-the-top contests (MTV gave away a pink house in Indiana to promote John Mellencamp's “Uh-huh” album) are covered in detail. In the end the book confirms life in the early days of the network was every bit as wild and crazy as most teenagers of that era imagined — but slightly less glamorous.
Matt Patterson, Staff Writer
“Tenth of December” by George Saunders (Random House, 272 pages, in stores).
While behavior-altering drugs and experimental surgeries are big enough hooks to sell your typical paperback sci-fi novel, they appear as small details in George Saunders' “Tenth of December,” a finalist for the National Book Award and one of the 10 best books of the year according to The New York Times Review of Books. The drugs and surgery are used as devices to suggest a larger, not-so-unimaginable future where privatized business interests reign over a country past its prime; they're also used to force Saunders' characters into relatable dilemmas of morality and humanity. Some of his narrators you root for and others turn your skin prickly, but Saunders writes as though he sees the humor, fear and courage in them all.
Matt Carney, Staff Writer
“Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 592 pages, in stores)
A lot of the problems we see in the Middle East stem from decisions made during World War I. Anderson does an outstanding job of putting Lawrence's role during the Arab revolt into context with events that still affect the region today. I've read a number of books about Lawrence, including the comprehensive 1990 biography by Jeremy Wilson, “Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence,” and Anderson's book is easily one of the more accessible looks at the man and his times.
Glen Seeber, Staff Writer