Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten New To Me Authors I read in 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the blog, “The Broke and The Bookish.”

Thank God for my short story reading project. Without it, I don’t think I have read ten “new to me authors” this year. About half of the following are form short story reading. Here they are, in descending order with #1 being my favorite.

10. Kevin Lynn Helmick
His novella “Driving Alone: A Love Story” was “different” and brilliant.

9. Douglas Watson
I loved his short story collection “The Era of Not Quite.” Read my post about it here.

8. Kyle Minor
His story collection “In the Devil’s Territory” was one of my favorite books of the year. I posted about it here.

7. Caitlyn Horrocks
Her short story, “The Sleep,” will be a finalist in my upcoming 2013 short story reading project awards post. See my post about it here.

6. Hugh Howey
I was spellbound by his runaway self-published hit “Wool” earlier this year. What a page-turner!

5. Henryk Sienkiewicz
The “elder statesman” on this list, his short story, “The Lighthouse Keeper of Aspinwall” was wonderful.

4. Neil Gaiman
Yes, I’d never read him until this year’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” He hasn’t seen the last of me…

3. Steven Milhauser
His unique short story “Phantoms” was also among my favorites of the year. I think he also has a new story in the latest New Yorker. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s in my plans.

20131217-074201.jpg

2. Ruth Ozeki (above)
I just finished it, but certainly one of my favorite novels of recent years was her “A Tale for the Time Being.” I highly recommend it.

20131217-074209.jpg

1. Betty Smith (above)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was my other favorite novel for the year. A classic that I had somehow neglected until now. Also highly recommended.

Other new to me authors I enjoyed (“Honorable Mention” if you will): Alexander Pushkin, Rob Smales, Lori Benton, Jade Eby, R.J. Sullivan, Robert Rebein, Marissa Meyer (the Lunar Chronicles one, not the Yahoo CEO), Stephen Chbosky, Eric Garrison, Orson Scott Card, Kristal Stittle, Hagiwara Sakutar, Sam Lipsyte, Claire Keegan, Charles Beaumont, Rebecca Emin, and Alice Adams.

What a fun list to put together! Being reminded of discovering all these great, new (to me) authors made me feel good about my 2013 reading accomplishments.

What about YOU? Who were your favorite literary discoveries in 2013?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

20131007-123522.jpg

This 1943 novel is now among my favorites that I’ve read this year. It was selected as the “summer read” for a Great Books Foundation discussion group in which I participate. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend that meeting, but I will share a few thoughts here at Bibliophilopolis.

The book is the story of a young girl named Francie Nolan. She is daughter to Katie and Johnny, sister to Neeley (short for Cornelius) and niece to Sissy and Evy, and granddaughter to Mary Rommely, the matriarch of a family of Austrian immigrants that includes many remarkable women, of which Francie is (or is becoming) one.

The Nolan family is Irish and, perhaps stereotypically, Johnny is an alcoholic. The family survives through a tenaciousness that Katie embodies and likely inherited from her mother. Katie is largely uneducated but realizes early that education is the key to escaping their poverty-stricken circumstances. In a favorite passage of the book, during a long talk, Katie asks her mother:

“Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother. But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?”

“The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day. This must be until the child learns to read. Then SHE must read every day. I  know this is the secret.”

“I will read,” promised Katie. “What is a good book?”

“There are two great books. Shakespeare is a great book. I have heard tell that all the wonder of life is in that book; all that man has learned of beauty, all that he may know of wisdom and living are on those pages. It is said that those stories are plays to be acted out on the stage. I have never spoken to anyone who has seen this great thing. But I heard The Lord of our land back in Austria say that some of the pages sing themselves like songs.”

Later the family is able to acquire a used copy of “the complete works” for twenty-five cents. Smith’s description of this book reminded me very much of my first copy of Shakespeare, that I read about a third of the plays before it had fallen apart so much as to make holding it together difficult.

And what is the other great book Mary Rommely recommends? “The Bible that the Protestant people read,” she says. How they came by a copy of the Bible is another favorite part of the story for me. Katie’s sister, Sissy, is in a hotel with her man and asks him, “What is that book on the dresser?” He explains that its a bible and she tells him she’s going to “hook it” (steal it). He says that that’s why they put them there, so that people will read it, reform and repent and bring it back so that others may benefit. Sissy’s reaction, “Well, here’s one they’re not going to get back,” and so Katie’s modest library was complete…

The other thing that struck me about the book was the crushing poverty in which Francie’s family lived, scrimping and saving for just a penny here and a nickel there. The U.S. Government shutdown we’re currently experiencing reminded me of this a little. In one news story they were interviewing people who had been furloughed or otherwise affected by it. Listening, it seemed the hardship was too much to bear (and this was like on day 3 of the shutdown) and I remember thinking, “Do these people truly have nothing set aside at all to make it through any tough times and bumps in the road? Are so many people in this day and age really living literally hand to mouth?” That’s depressing, if true. Even Katie Rommely, with her pitiful little coffee can bank of pennies and nickels, would be better prepared than today’s spoiled and “entitled” masses, I think.

(Below: Author Betty Smith)

20131007-123532.jpg

All in all, a great book, with many characters that I cared about. A tale of the triumph of will and resolve to overcome unfavorable circumstances.

(Below: I saw this photo on eBay – this is the same edition as my dilapidated old copy of Shakespeare’s works. Maybe I’ll add a picture of that one too when I get home –  oh, the limitations of blogging on one’s lunch hour… – this one’s in much better shape than mine. 🙂 )

20131007-123541.jpg