What I Read in 2013 and Reading Resolutions for 2014

Last year I posted What I Read in 2012 and Reading Resolutions for 2013, and it’s a post I’d like to make a tradition.

As a fan of words, I think it’s important to look back on what you’ve read and make a few resolutions for the forthcoming year. That said, I’m not going to list all of the 41 books I read in 2014. Rather, I’ll list my top 10 and link you to the rest of the works on GoodReads, where I track my progress. If you’re on GoodReads, I’d be glad to connect with you there. Where applicable, all book links go to their respective Amazon Kindle editions.

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 reads of 2013, in reverse order:

10. Iscariot, Tosca Lee

A fascinating, well-told fictionalization of the life of the world’s most famous betrayer. Tosca’s brilliance lies in making us sympathize with Judas.

9. Chasing Francis
Ian Morgan Cron

Another well-researched, semi-fictionalization of an historic figure in Christianity. Cron follows the path of a pastor who may be losing his church and his faith, so he flees to Italy and learns all about St. Francis of Assisi. It also makes for an excellent primer on the Saint from whom Pope Francis chose his name.

8. Inferno, Dan Brown

At the very beginning of writing my book, I thought it might center more on hell than on the broader topics I discussed. As such, I was cautiously expecting Brown’s book to help sales of my book as I thought I’d be comparing the original Inferno with Walter White’s various circles of hell. That version of my book never happened, but Dan Brown’s bestseller did, and it was a good read. In fact, it was the #6 best seller for all of 2013 on Amazon.

7. 11/22/63, Stephen King

This was a beast to read, what with its 866 pages, but it was a fun read and a nice departure from King’s normal fare. As a newish resident of Dallas, I had more interest in this book than I would have had in prior years. In my initial GoodReads review, I described it as “rewritten history meets sci-fi time travel with a hefty dose of boy-meets-girl amidst apocalyptic atrocities.”

6. Write. Publish. Repeat.
Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

This is the book I wish I would have read last year, before embarking upon self-publishing The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. However, I would have had to find the time travel portal from 11/22/63 in order to have done that since Write. Publish. Repeat. released in late 2013. It’s the book I’ll be recommending to new self-publishers. The guys can be crass at times, but the content is eminently useful. While I knew much already about some topics (through much online research, as well as trial and error), I still found helpful information that I’m incorporating into marketing my books. Additionally, they wrote the book with an eye towards strategies that should work despite changes that are bound to occur in the publishing industry.

5. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story
D.T. Max

I haven’t read any other biographies of David Foster Wallace,1 but D.T. Max’s may be the definitive one. I devoured the book despite knowing its tragic end. DFW has popped up in my readings throughout the years, but I never really knew much about him aside from two facts: genius and suicide. My original GoodReads review described this book as a “stirring, stunning portrait of the artist as an eternally young man … a heartbreaking work about a staggering genius.” This biography gave me the necessary information to tackle a book that has daunted me for about a decade, which I’m getting close to mentioning.

4. When Mockingbirds Sing, Billy Coffey

An unexpected surprise from an author I had the opportunity to interview at FaithVillage. Though I’m sure he works incredibly hard at his craft, his words seem to come easily, telling stories that ring with truth seen just behind the veil of this life. When Mockingbirds Sing is Stephen King meets Frank Peretti, but it’s distinctly told by author Coffey. In the book, “a prescient, lisping, child artist paints prophecies that change the lives of an entire town, while also causing everyone to question what faith, trust, and belief actually mean.” It’s dark but hopeful at the same time, and I’m glad to know that Billy’s not done telling stories from the town of Mattingly.

3. Building Stories, Chris Ware

If you think print books are dying a slow death, Chris Ware’s sprawling graphic novel(s) say otherwise. My GoodReads review captures well what I thought about this masterpiece.

Building Stories appears like a manifesto against the digital age, what with its oversized box and 14 unique pieces of printed matter, and some of that menace toward the distraction of our age bleeds into the pages of this small yet epic narrative.

You’re not given a guide for this journey, rather, you choose to begin with any pamphlet, booklet, poster, or foldable comic strip. The stories intertwine in a fascinating and thoughtful way, literally painting a picture of one average woman’s life. She’s average because we can relate to her, yet her story is singular, wrapped up as it is in her location, her family, her decisions, her child, her love, and her losses.

Building Stories contains graphic scenes, but it has to since it attempts to visualize our sometimes graphic reality. I can’t help but to think that if you’re a fan of David Foster Wallace or Terrence Malick, you’d appreciate what Ware accomplishes in this expensive though worthwhile narrative product.

2. Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle

After having multiple people recommend this book to me, I finally read it. As a writer and a Christian, Walking on Water seems a must-read. It’s L’Engle’s sometimes meandering thoughts on the creative Christian life. I was so inspired by it that I wrote a few posts with further reflections on a few chapters. It’s one of those books that you could open to any page and find at least some morsel of encouragement. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book, which isn’t actually L’Engle talking:

“Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.’”

I’m pretty sure I need that last line on a poster in my office.

1. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest was one of the most challenging and yet most rewarding books I’ve read in a long time. It sat on my shelf for nearly a decade, a 1200-page Everest daring me to climb it someday. After reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, I’d finally found a Sherpa to guide me on the long journey ahead. Again, here’s part of my GoodReads review:

Infinite Jest is a fascinating work by a veritable genius, a master of words and story who left the world too early. Like the deathly entertainment cartridge that the book centers on, Infinite Jest itself is a work that anyone could easily lose themselves in. Read it if you want to be dazzled by its genius while also being forced to confront your own inner demons.

Like all great books, it’s a book that reads you the more you read it.

Honorary Mention
The Gospel According to Breaking Bad

Well, it was the book I read the most times this year.

If you’re interested to see the other 31 books I managed to fit in this year, here’s my year in books according to GoodReads.

2014 Reading Resolutions

  1. I aimed to read 38 books in 2013 and somehow managed 41. Part of that came from reading ten or so shorter ebooks. Another part stemmed from sticking to one of my 2013 resolutions: “Quit reading a book if it’s not interesting me past 20% through it.” That has helped me immensely, and I plan to stick with that resolution again this year.
  2. I plan to read 40 books this year. Although I’d like to increase that number year-over-year, I also want to write more than I did last year, and last year I released a book, so 40 seems like a reasonable goal, especially when Infinite Jest isn’t on the docket.2
  3. I attempted to alternate between fiction and non-fiction last year. I read 23 nonfiction books and 18 works of fiction in 2013, but 7 of my top 10 were fiction. For 2014, I’ll still alternate, but likely not as much. My nonfiction reading may be much narrower this year too, as I’d like to read more books on writing and self-publishing. I’m also planning to include more classic works of literature, the kinds of books I read for fun back in high school.3 For instance, I just started The Brothers Karamazov, another book I’ve had for almost a decade that I’ve always wanted to read.
  4. Lastly, I plan to read more slowly. I’ve been taking my web-reading habits with me into works that I’d rather soak in. In other words, I start scanning books in an attempt to finish as quickly as possible instead of allowing an author’s words to truly speak to me. I’m learning that it’s OK to take a breath or two when reading.

Two Questions for Your Consideration

  1. What was your favorite read of 2013?
  2. Do you have any reading resolutions for 2014?
  • Alison

    I keep hearing that 11/22/63 is excellent, and I loved Parkland, so maybe I should add it to my to-read list this year. Have you seen Parkland? Riveting.

  • http://www.blakeatwood.com/ Blake Atwood

    I haven’t seen Parkland, but it’ll be added to the queue now. 11/22/63 was good, but … weird. Then again, I guess most of King’s novels could be described the same way.

  • Andy Averill

    Favorite read of 2013 – The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. Great short book (takes 30 min to read). In fact I made it a resolution to read it once a week.

    Also, I’ve been thinking of tackling 1 giant book a year and Infinite Jest has been on my mind…considering it took me 3 years to plow through Atlas Shrugged…I’m nervous.

  • http://www.blakeatwood.com/ Blake Atwood

    I like that title Andy, and my household is a Keller fan. I’m a little surprised I hadn’t heard of that particular one, but then again, Keller writes about a book a week.

    As you can tell, I highly recommend Infinite Jest, but man is it a beast.

    I first attempted it years ago and got to page 80 or so. Coincidentally enough, D.T. Max’s “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story” has some line about how most people never get past page 80 or so in IJ. Once I read that line in his bio, I knew I had to start the book again.

    I didn’t want to be called out like that.