Lisa Jardine

Column: My list of the best books of 2013

Jardine-Book1“Best of” lists are very popular in December and some of my favorites center on books.

It’s almost impossible to keep up with who has written what over the course of a year and that’s where the “Best of” lists come in. My Best Books of 2013 list includes books written by some of my favorite authors as well as a few from new authors that I discovered this year. I’ve also included books that I have on my night table from authors I’ve loved but I haven’t read yet.Jardine-Book5

One of my favorite books this year was “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes. This is a real love story that will leave you smiling with tears streaming down your face all at the same time. The book begins with a bang when one of the main characters, Will Traynor, a man who has everything to live for, gets run down in the rain by a motorcycle. Flash-forward two years later, he is an angry, rude shadow of the man he once was. His mother hires a young girl, who’s been tamped down emotionally, to take care of him. All he wants to do is end his life. Their relationship evolves and he takes her on as a project of sorts. He helps her learn how to live even though he can’t. It’s a non-traditional love story that completely satisfies. Ms. Moyes has a new book out that is at the No. 1 spot on my Must Read in 2014, “The Girl You Left Behind.”

Jardine-Book4In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a little book called “Eat Pray Love,” a memoir that chronicled her journey from New York to Italy to India and Bali while she healed herself after her painful divorce. It was a blockbuster hit; selling more than 10 million copies, translated into 30 languages not to mention being made into a film starring Julia Roberts. Gilbert was even put on the Time Magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world. This year, she came out with something so completely different you can’t believe the same woman wrote it.

“The Signature of All Things” is a tome of a book at 512 pages. The novel takes place in the 1800s and spans the entire life of Alma Whittaker as she discovers every species of plant life on her father’s estate. If you are thinking a 500-plus page book about botany in the 19th century might be an alternative to Ambien, there are moments of the novel when I would tend to agree, especially when she goes in-depth into the textbook descriptions of plant life. But the work you need to do to get to the end is well worth it. This is a book in which the first half is slow and partially educational, but the second half is a page-turner, whipping you into a frenzy until you reach the end, exhausted, but very satisfied. All the hard work pays off as you realize exactly who Alma is and why it was so important you went on the journey with her.Jardine-Book3

My favorite Young Adult book in 2013 was Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park.” The book opens in Omaha, Neb., 1986, with two unlikely teenagers who fall in love on a school bus and change each other’s lives forever. It’s not easy to write a book that can pull a middle-aged reader back in time to high school and experience the feelings of first love all over again. This book nails it and, even better, Rowell has a new book out that is also on my to read list in 2014: “Fangirl.”

In keeping with the YA theme, I thoroughly enjoyed Veronica Roth’s, “Divergent,” the first book in a dystopian trilogy with a movie out this month. Beatrice “Tris” Prior lives in a futuristic Chicago where the city has been divided into five factions, each dedicated to a specific virtue: Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peace) and Erudite (intelligence). Sounds ideal, no? Hardly. This fast-paced, action-packed book keeps you awake and wondering what’s coming on the next page. Need to read in 2014: “Insurgent” and “Allegiant.”

It’s hard to read any Best of 2013 book list and not come across Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch,” a coming-of-age story about a boy named Theo who survives a terrorist attack in a museum that takes the life of his mother. He spends his time in post-9/11 New York City trying to avoid being taken in as an orphan. From there, he is brought to Las Vegas by his drug-addicted father, where he meets Boris, a Ukrainian teenager who becomes his new best friend.

“The Goldfinch” has received such high acclaim that I decided to read Ms. Tartt’s debut novel, “The Secret History” first so that I could look forward to reading her newest book even more. “The Secret History” is a suspenseful thriller of a novel that does something interesting; it takes its time.

Jardine-Book2The book centers on a small town in Vermont at a boarding school where five students from very different backgrounds come together over their love of the Greek language. By the end of the 592 pages, there are two people dead. The characters are very well-developed and the plot twists in strange ways. It’s the perfect pregame read to the much anticipated “The Goldfinch.”

The last book on my list is “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. Mr. Eggers has written many great books on varying topics, including his memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” published in 2000, which dealt with the author’s struggle to raise his younger brother following the deaths of both of their parents. Several books later, he wrote “Zeitoun,” a non-fiction account of Hurricane Katrina as seen through the eyes of a Syrian immigrant. There were other books in between and since, but the book that has received a lot of attention this year is “The Circle.” In the not-so-distant future, a Google-like, Facebook-like company called The Circle has a billion users and controls 90 percent of the world’s searches. Its aspirations include recording everything that’s happening to everyone in the world. I bought this book for my husband, who works in big data. He wasn’t surprised by anything that happens in the book—each step along the way was plausible. I’m not sure this is one that I will read; it almost seems too close to reality for it to be fun. I like my dystopian fiction in the “could never happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting if it could” mode.