Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 -- The Year In Reading

2013 marked my reentry to consistent blogging, and it was also my most productive year as a reader in the past five or six.  To date I have finished 53 books (and I will probably finish another 2 or 3); the majority were novels, but the total includes a tolerable number of nonfiction works, too.  The nonfiction tended towards history, which included a number of interesting titles including Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer and Manhunt by Peter Maas.

The year also marked a return to a genre I enjoyed (loved?) as a boy—adventure.  Specifically the British writers of the 1960s and 70s featuring such stars as Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, and Jack Higgins.  This said, I didn’t read many “new” authors, but mostly stayed with the old reliables.  In fact, I only increased my fiction writers read by five—Craig Thomas (Wolfsbane), Alfred Coppel (The Eight Day of the Week), Shepard Rifkin (The Murderer Vine), A. Bertram Chandler (Star Courier), and Billie Sue Mosiman (Wireman).
What I lacked in new writers I made up for in my long time favorites.  A full fifteen of the novels I read, or approximately 28 percent of my total reading, was limited to four writers.  I read or reread six titles by Jack Higgins, and three titles each by Jack M. Bickham, Ed Gorman, and Bill Pronzini.  And I really enjoyed every one of the novels by each of my most frequently read writers of 2013.

In the old days of this blog I put together a listing of my favorite five books read for the year, and I decided it would be fun to do it again this year.  It was difficult to pare the list to five, and there were three or four that were cut from the list by a less than scientific methods.  With that said, my five favorite novels read in 2013 are—
5.  The Name of the Game is Death by Dan J. Marlowe.  This is the first title to feature Marlowe’s recurring character Earl Drake, and it is a real piece of hardboiled candy.  It was originally published by Gold Medal in 1962, and earlier this year it was released with its sister novel The Endless Hour in a nifty trade paperback by the never disappointing Stark House Press.  Read the Gravetapping review.

4.  Dark Passage by David Goodis.  This is Goodis’ most well-known novel.  It is dark, a little twisted, and a bunch of fun.  It was originally published in 1946, and it has been reissued a number of times. It is currently available in an omnibus hardcover edition by The Library of America, which includes four other Goodis titles.  Interestingly, the plot is similar to the television show “The Fugitive” and United Artists Television settled a copyright lawsuit with Goodis’ estate.
3.  The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson.  I was reading this title for the first time when Richard Matheson passed earlier this year, and it is a truly masterful piece of storytelling.  It is the story of a young man ordered to the frontlines as a replacement soldier during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.  He is transformed from a green recruit to a seasoned combat soldier in a matter of days, and what frightens him and the reader alike is how easily he takes to killing.  This is a masterpiece by one of the most consequential authors of his generation.

2.  Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard.  This is a collection of short stories written by Mr Leonard.  The title is from the story the television series “Justified” is based, and amazingly the pilot for the television series and the story are almost identical.  I devoured this collection in little more than one sitting, and as I read it my main thought—nobody writes like Elmore Leonard. 
1.  The Murderer Vine by Shepard Rifkin.  When I sat down to compile the best of list there was no doubt what the number one would be.  It is a perfectly executed crime novel, and an even better piece of civil rights literature.  Read the Gravetapping review.

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