Best fiction books of 2013

by on November 16, 2013 at 3:23 am in Books | Permalink

Every year I offer my picks for best books of that year, today we are doing fiction.  I nominate:

1. Karl Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book Two: Man in Love.

2. Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs.  Great fun.

3. Amy Sackville, Orkney.  Not every honeymoon works out the way you planned.

4. Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.

5. Kathryn Davis, Duplex: A Novel.  Non-linear, not for all.

Since I think the Knausgaard is one of the greatest novels ever written, I suppose it also has to be my fiction book of the year.  (Except, um…it’s not fiction.)  But otherwise I found many books disappointing, perhaps because my own expectations were out of synch with contemporary writing.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Donna Tartt produced decent plane reads, but I wouldn’t call them favorites.  The new Thomas Pynchon I could not stand more than a short sample of.  I sampled many other novels but didn’t like or finish them.  I read or reread a lot of Somerset Maugham, which was uniformly rewarding.  The Painted Veil may not be the best one, but it is a good place to get hooked.  I reread quite a bit of Edith Wharton and it rose further in my eyes.  Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence are my favorites, more intensely focused than the longer fiction.  I loved discovering the Philip Pullman trilogy and vowed to give George Martin another try this coming year.

Alan November 16, 2013 at 4:05 am

Thanks for introducing me to Knausgaard. I first heard of him here on MR and I have read the first two books of My Struggle – amongst the greatest books I have read.

Rahul November 16, 2013 at 5:04 am

+1 for Somerset Maugham especially his short stories from colonial Asia.

dearieme November 16, 2013 at 8:34 am

I enjoyed Maugham’s short stories enormously when I was a teenager. Might they be like Readers’ Digest: fine when you’re young, poor fare once you’re 16 or so?

Thor November 16, 2013 at 11:07 am

I shouldn’t think so. They have virtues one can appreciate later in life too.

dearieme November 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Thanks, Thor: it must be time for me to look at them again.

Rahul November 17, 2013 at 7:35 am

I enjoyed Maugham most in my younger days too but I think that’s mostly because I had less distractions back then. As years pass I find non fiction easier to read than fiction somehow but that saddens me a bit.

Flo November 16, 2013 at 5:41 am

I thought the “My Struggle”-Books were autobiographical. How come they are listed under fiction here?

Flo November 16, 2013 at 5:43 am

My bad…should have read the rest of the article as well.

Mike November 16, 2013 at 7:09 am

These are my favorite posts each year. Looking forward to more books, movies, music and so on.

Might there be a category of ‘layman’ economic books in the spirit of Armchair Economist or Economist Gets Lunch that Tyler shares?

Jan November 16, 2013 at 7:26 am

I thought How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was terrific. I don’t read much fiction as it just doesn’t hold my interest as well, but I read it straight through. Besides a great story, it is also part “socio-economic history” of Pakistan, for lack of a better term. Thanks to this blog for the recommendation.

Z November 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

#1: I can’t get past the title. My Struggle? Really?

Jan November 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Even worse: in Norwegian, it is written Min Kamp.

Ed November 16, 2013 at 9:45 am

How do you manage to read so much? Did you learn “speed reading”? Do you just have more spare time than most people? Do you not need to sleep as much as most people?

Therapsid November 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

He stops reading books at a high rate, finishes only those he’s seriously invested in, and speed-reads or skims.

http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2011/05/how-tyler-cowen-reads-10000-books-week.html

Christine November 16, 2013 at 9:51 am

It’s only November 16. There are about 45 more books you’re likely to read by year-end.

Tom Kirkendall November 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm

As always, an interesting list, but I’m a bit surprised that Philipp Meyer’s “The Son” didn’t make it.

Tyler Cowen November 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm

It was mentioned indirectly!

thehova83 November 16, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Another big thanks for the Knausgaard recommendation. Part 1 and 2 blew me away on so many levels. Months after reading them, I still think about them. I purchased his novel, “A Time for Everything”. Can’t wait to read it.

Silas Barta November 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Which of those were sent to you for free, shill?

Tyler Cowen November 17, 2013 at 7:47 am

None!

Ray Lopez November 17, 2013 at 9:21 am

This book sounds interesting. Too bad it does not have a Wikipedia entry so I can read the entry and figure out the twist in the end without having to actually read the book. Oh, I will never know how this book ends! Torture! Let me guess though: ‘she was dreaming all the while’ hahaha lame if true. yes that’s it, it’s lame and not worth my time. Sour grapes perhaps but otherwise I’d go crazy about all the books I’ll never get a chance to read.

“The Woman Upstairs,” by Claire Messud, is a first rate psychological thriller that will keep readers spellbound, in the style of a classic Hitchcock film, right up until the final pages, where a stunning twist illuminates and clarifies the whole. This is a very smart, savvy novel–one that provides sustained story telling, literary, and intellectually pleasure. In fact, it is one of the best books I’ve reviewed all year.

Jenny Davidson November 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Knausgaard really is staggeringly good.

2 other ones I’d recommend: Chimimanda Adichie’s AMERICANAH (really excellent); Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE. I liked Nicola Griffiths’ HILD and imagine you would too, but it depends on how you feel about historical fiction.

FredR November 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

People don’t discuss enough how corny and awful “The Razor’s Edge” is.

Karen Counts November 20, 2013 at 10:48 am

To be honest I haven’t heard of these books! I will have to do some research :) My contribution to the list would be the mainstream literary fiction masterpiece by author A.R. Taylor, “Sex, Rain, and Cold Fusion.” (lonecamel.com). The link gives a good description of the book and some pages from the first chapter. This is one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read, and not only did it have me laughing throughout it had me hooked at page one. The main character, David Oster, is a genius with a complicated life full of sex, physics, and the endless search for some sort of meaning in his day to day routine. He moves from California to Washington leaving the sunshine and women behind for a new job that promises more money and more time researching the thing he loves most, underwater physics. Unfortunately, the new job brings nothing but chaos to David Oster’s already confusing life and he is thrown into a murder mystery thanks to his employer and his employer’s newly murdered wife. He also enters into a very demanding relationship himself and is pushed to his limits when he finds that his ocean studies must be put on hold so he can spend time figuring out the physics of horses performing on a basketball court. There are so many funny twists and turns. This novel needs to be added to the best books of 2013 for sure.

Christine November 22, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I read this post on a day where I’d just run out of things to read. On a long shot I checked my crappy local library’s online catalog, and they had one of the books, and it was in! THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS… I went out and got it right away, and just finished it. Thanx so much – it was awesome. I got the other of hers that they had, THE EMPEROR’S CHILDREN, for next.

John Smith November 30, 2013 at 12:37 pm

very good|have a great} read. {Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks
John Smith http://dumm1.co.uk

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