2013 End of Year Book Survey

I thought I would jump in on the End of Year Book Survey over at The Perpetual Page-Turner. Looking at the pages linked there, it was a big year for fiction. My reading list is mostly non-fiction, but I have read 42 fiction books this year so far (including narrative poems). Almost everything I’ve read was older work, so this is a bit of a classics round up.

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?

If by best book you mean most evil, it is definitely Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. My blog comes out February 4th, 2014.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Phantastes by George MacDonald coverI was looking forward to reading George MacDonald’s Phantastes for some time. I loved The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. Most of all, this book blew C.S. Lewis’ mind, opening up entire worlds of intellectual and spiritual possibility. But I didn’t love it. I did like the story-within-a-story of Cosmo.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

That Hideous Strength by CS LewisI bet I’m the only one to have this on a list. For me it is F. Anstey’s Vice Versa. This 1882 book is pretty obscure, and I heard of it while reading Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion. Dawkins mentioned a character named “Bultitude,” and C.S. Lewis has a prominent bear in That Hideous Strength named Mr. Bultitude. So I thought I would give it a read.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Victorian literature is not my cup of tea (see what I did there?), and I’m not big on aristocratic settings. However, I loved this story of a father and son who switch places, sending the pretentious father to the dreaded private school, and the irresponsible son to run the family business. The writing is sharp and witty. The fictional device that provides the “magic” of the book is a bit lame, but the poor father trapped in the boarding school is phenomenal. A great story, and free on eBook.

 4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

This might be a bit of a “fiction” cheat, but my choice is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929). It is absolutely brilliant, the thoughts of a lecturer in the 1920s as she prepares to speak on “Women and Fiction.” If you have not read this short book, do so.

 5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Tales From Earthsea by Le GuinI suppose this is a bit of a rediscovery. I had read The Wizard of Earthsea (1968) when I was a kid and The Tombs of Atuan (1971) when I was in my late 20s. But I read the entire Earthsea Cycle, including 5 novels and a book of short stories, The Tales of Earthsea (1998)

This was a “series” year for me. In October 2012 I began going through the Middle Earth books, I read through the Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle and Doug Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read all the famous H.G. Wells books, C.S. Lewis’ narrative poetry, and have begun the Ransom Cycle.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Because I’ve been reading so many great series series, this is tough. Award goes to Cormac McCarthy.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

The Place of the Lion by Charles WilliamsJohn Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was quite tough for me, but the award for “out of the comfort zone” goes to Charles Williams. My mind is still broken from his Descent Into Hell (1937), but I loved his The Place of the Lion (1931).

 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

You might think I would say The Road, but I did put that one down, and almost didn’t pick it up again. I devoured Earthsea in big gulps, but I would go with Till We Have Faces (1956) by C.S. Lewis. Some think this is his best book. They might be right.

 9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienI know I will be rereading the Narnia Chronicle The Silver Chair because a film version is coming out. I’ll also reread The Hobbit next year, perhaps listening to the Rob Inglis audio. It isn’t fiction, but I will reread Stephen King, On Writing (2000) again. I am finishing up Paradise Lost this week, and will have to read it again.

But I would say, Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I’m not sure if I fully understood this book.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

Wildwood Cover Carson Ellis Colin MeloyMost of my reading this year was digital or books with the unfortunate fantasy tinge of the 60s to 80s. The book with the best art this year was Wildwood, written by Colin Meloy. His wife, Carson Ellis, did the artwork, which is brilliant. Add it to the “best produced book of 2013.”

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

Rediscovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Meg was great because she is such a flawed character. There’s also Arha-Tenar and Puddlglum and Pi, as well as Woolf’s fictional self in A Room of One’s Own. But, since she was new to me, Prue from Wildwood.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

The Road is sparse, dry, brittle, haunting, beautiful. Ursula K. Le Guin is perhaps the most literary fantasy writer I know, save Guy Gavriel Kay. I will go with Voltaire’s Candide (1759). It really is incredible. In the nonfiction world, Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child I Read Books (2012).

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

TEHANU with Intro by Le GuinCandide always inspires me to rewrite it for today. A Room of One’s Own and The Road are still rumbling in me. But I will go with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Tehanu (1990). The way that Tenar’s voice develops, how she finds herself—I’m still thinking about it months later.

In the nonfiction world, it would be Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology (1982).

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

Almost everything I read falls into this camp. Pilgrim’s Progress was my big “you can do it!” read of 2013. But, there are others: Franz Kafka, Metamorphosus (1915), H.G. Wells, First Men in the Moon (1901), and Doug Adams, Mostly Harmless (1992).

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

I read C.S. Lewis, so this is really unfair. He is so eminently quotable. So I’ll choose this one, from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that lovely dedication. You can also find this idea in “3 Ways of Writing for Children.”

CS Lewis Quote Lucy Lion Witch Wardrobe

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Wells War of the WorldsI love short books, and won’t take the time to rate them, but H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Voltaire’s Candide, or any of the Douglas Adams books.

Because I read digitally, I don’t know what is longest. It might be The Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel, or it might be Wildwood (which has bigger print) or The Fellowship of the Ring. Charles Williams’ Descent Into Hell felt the longest.

The longest book I read this year was Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946). This book is 550 small print pages with 3 page paragraphs. He does not translate the Latin, and there is a 30 page introduction just for fun.

  17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?!

A Room of One’s Own, most definitely. It keeps coming up. But I was amazed with what Lewis did in Till We Have Faces.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Definitely Ged and Tenar in Earthsea. A strange romance that tells us as much about the changes of culture as it does about the characters.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

A very tight category, so it would have to be Till We Have Faces, which I didn’t see coming.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Every book I read is by recommendation. I’ll go with an indie author, J. Aleksandr  Wootton, Her Unwelcome Inheritance (2013). It is really the first part of a very long book rather than the first book of the series, but I quite liked it. It is a thorough fairy story, less dark than Holly Black but drawing on the grand traditions. If you like Spiderwick, Narnia, The Hobbit, and Shakespeare, this is for you.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Fantasy, by far.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Umm… I’m probably in the wrong demographic for this one! Let me ask my wife.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

I only read two: Wildwood, a children’s fantasy, and  Her Unwelcome Inheritance, a modern faerie tale. I would recommend either.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Madeleine L'Engle A Wrinkle in TimeFor me, Madeleine L’Engle is worth noting here. Though Tolkien is the most thorough, I have not read everything yet. I did not read all of Narnia this year, which I find quite vivid. Earthsea is a great place-based series. But L’Engle’s universe is complex, a sophisticated mix of space and time travel, moving through the planets or into the microscopic or back to the prehistoric. She does not always succeed. I think her attempt to throw characters in to the mythic world of Many Waters pushes the bounds of her world, and I find the characters to be stock. But, overall, she does a remarkable job. I am reading An Acceptable Time now, the last book, which I didn’t know existed!

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

Vice Versa.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

I’ve never had an experience like reading The Road. But I tend to cry reading. And at weddings.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Till We Have Faces CS LewisI find this hard to predict. The indie Her Welcome Inheritance, of course. I think that Ursula K. Le Guin is forgotten in this generation, which is a shame. I was surprised that it took so long for Life of Pi to make it to screen, but it was an amazing film adaptation. But, most of all, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces was overlooked in the 50s, and has not had a revival.

See more at: http://www.perpetualpageturner.com/2013/12/4th-annual-end-of-year-book-survey-2013-edition.html#sthash.A5MeFqjU.dpuf

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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14 Responses to 2013 End of Year Book Survey

  1. Bill says:

    I love reading these kind of year-end lists. Some of the books/authors you mention have been on my “you ought to read this” list for a while. I’m inspired to get them read. I’m also inspired to keep track of what I read this year so I can do a reflection like this next December. We’ll see.

    My son and I were just discussing The Road this past weekend. It is indeed a haunting and beautifully written book.

    Great post. Happy reading in 2014!


    • Thanks for the note. I finished the Road a month ago, and it is still quaking in me.


      • Beth Campen says:

        I too love books. When I am asked what book I have read that has had the most impact on my life, I most often say, “Till We Have Faces”. My hope is that just as it took the world a long time to find and appreciate Bach, the same will happen with “Till We Have Faces.” Because I taught a class in modern myth for over fifteen years to public high school students, I read it many times. The two scenes where Oruall first sees the outlines of the palace and then later the god himself always affect me as if it is the first time I have read them. I weep because those scenes are about me and how we often ignore truth, even though we see it (however dimly it appears), and even though by ignoring it we are going to hurt people we love. One day I got to my car after school, and one of the loveliest and kindest young women I had ever taught was standing by my car and weeping. I asked what was wrong, and she said, “Oh, Mrs. Campen, I am Orual.” I started to object when I realized that I would be interfering with her own facing of herself and working it out. And so I listened and made very few comments. But her comment that day, began to change how I read the book.

        Every semester I planned a field trip for any students who wanted to to go the Inklings collection at Wheaton College and to visit Clyde Kilby’s class on Tolkien and Lewis. During one of these visits, Dr. Kilby was leading a discussion on “Till We Have Faces.” He began the discussion by observing that Lewis wanted us to admire Orual because he, Lewis admired her. She was a good person and an excellent ruler who treated her subjects well. I didn’t like Orual. I thought that she was self centered. But what happened is that both my experience at the car that day and Dr. Kilby’s opening observation in his class several weeks later, transformed my next reading of “Till We Have Faces” and every reading thereafter.

        I agree that this book is probably the best of Lewis’s fiction. You probably know this, but Clyde Kilby wrote to Lewis and asked Lewis what he Lewis was trying to get at when he wrote “Till We Have Faces.” He opened his letter with a sentence that goes something like this.

        I have enjoyed the emails that come to me. And I found you because of a post you had about Frederick Buechner, another favorite of mine. Thank you.


        • I love this comment. Thanks! I too love Buechner’s work, and a late-comer to TWHF.
          I too am Orual. She is powerful, and regal, intelligent, witty, and strong. I think she begins well but her love sours and moves inwards. Is that not our constant tension in life, to resist the gravity of self-obsessed love?
          I have been to the Wade once, and again this spring I hope. But I was too late for Kilby. I have read the Kilby letters, but must return to them again.


        • revgeorge says:

          Beth, I can completely resonate with your thoughts on Till We Have Faces. It is a book that doesn’t seem like it would have that sort of impact on a person but it works its way into you. I can hardly read the last few chapters of it without weeping. Well, there’s no hardly about it; I can’t read the last few chapters without weeping.

          Till We Have Faces and The Lord of the Rings taught me what Lewis meant by those “stabs of joy.”


  2. revgeorge says:

    The Rob Inglis narration is very, very good.


  3. jubilare says:

    Yay for Till We Have Faces! You are an impressive consumer of literature, my friend.


  4. mrwootton says:

    Wow. Thank you very much for the shout-out! I’m honored to have made the list!

    If you wouldn’t mind changing the link – I don’t actually use that site at all, I just keep it as a placeholder. http://www.jackwootton.com/#!books/cnec is the better place to direct folks to, or perhaps the book’s goodreads page, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18241308-her-unwelcome-inheritance.




  5. Pingback: Different Kinds of Reading, Different Kinds of Books | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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