17 Books We Loved In 2013

More books are being published than ever before — how can you possibly decide what to read? Here are a few we loved in 2013.

What is a “best book”?

Storytelling? Characterization? Prose? Depth? Innovation? Why are some books held up and proclaimed to be “the best,” while others barely attract notice? WE PROBABLY CANNOT ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS. More writing is being published now than ever before in human history. No one could read every work of fiction published in 2013, so, for us, there are no “best books.” There are only the books that mean something to you. The books you love. The titles below are the works of fiction that BuzzFeed staff members and contributors couldn’t put down this year (in no particular order). What are yours?

1. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

Kushner’s second book is effortlessly erudite, dropping an anonymous narrator — nicknamed Reno — in and out of the downtown New York art scene of the ’70s, Italian anarchist gangs and salt-flat motorbike speed trials. For all its laudable set pieces, The Flamethrowers is essentially a coming-of-age novel — Kushner plots Reno’s adventures and false starts and insecurities with a wonderfully wondering pace and inventive sentence after inventive sentence.

Recommended for: The person who loves motorcycles, New York City’s art scene, and political upheaval, which is to say any cool person you know.

—Alex Naidus, BuzzFeed staff writer

2. Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Beginning in 1923, Mathis’ debut novel introduces us to Hattie Shepherd, the soon-to-be mother of 12 children, as she holds her family together with what best can be described as “tough love,” but, more aptly, “ice-cold love.”

Recommended for: The reader who loves stories about families that give every member of the clan a chance to have his or her say.

—Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed LGBT editor

3. White Girls by Hilton Als

Als, a theater critic for The New Yorker, crafts profiles of public figures like Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Truman Capote, and, perhaps most importantly, himself with an eloquent insight that lays bare not just his subjects but our own distortions as well. Is this book fiction? No. But is it nonfiction? Absolutely not.

Recommended for: Anyone who is interested in brilliant public figures who are by turns fascinating, seductive, and troubling.

—Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed LGBT editor

4. Taipei by Tao Lin

Vintage

Taipei is the calmest panic attack I’ve ever read, and you may not believe it, but Tao Lin writes without a shred of ego. He neither glamorizes nor bothers to make his miseries seem more impressive than they are. His cast of Brooklyn kids lie in twin-size beds, botch Gchat flirtations, joylessly ingest salads of pills, fumble through emails, go on book tours, and none of them (it bears mentioning) are terribly impressed by themselves. The novel aims to be a meticulously honest cartography of Paul’s mind, and maybe it’s deliberately claustrophobic and humdrum, but you come out of the book feeling cleansed, like a sleepover in a Swedish sweat lodge. It’s unlike any other book in 2013.

Recommended for: Those who stay up till 5 a.m. refreshing their Tumblr and Twitter feeds (and hate themselves for it). People who reread their emails after they send them.

—Kevin Tang, BuzzFeed comics editor

5. Thieves I’ve Known by Tom Kealey

In his hauntingly beautiful short story collection, Kealey unveils each of the lives of his young characters like a flower, and shows their capacity for survival.

Recommended for: The reader who wants to be entranced, who can feel humidity rise off a page, or smell the soil beneath a circus tent, who maybe loved Beasts of the Southern Wild, or maybe was one.

—Julie Greicius, BuzzFeed contributor

6. Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

Study abroad student Lily Hayes is awaiting trial in Buenos Aires, a city that’s convinced she is guilty of murdering fellow American and roommate Katy Kellers. Cartwheel gets into the mind of Lily herself, the lawyer hell-bent on convicting her, the father trying to help her, and the antisocial man in love with her. It clearly draws on details of the Amanda Knox case on the surface, right down to the eponymous cartwheel, but the meat of this thrilling book deals in bigger questions. What influences our perception of reality — morality, faith, sexuality, privilege — and what happens when we realize those perceptions aren’t infallible?

Recommended for: Anyone who is known to follow big trials obsessively, who tends to get sucked into Law and Order and/or Criminal Minds marathons, or anyone who thrives on suspense.

—Arianna Rebolini, BuzzFeed staff writer

7. Tenth of December by George Saunders

Why is Tenth of December so goddamn good? Well, part of it is Saunders’ still-unsurpassed gift for creating tragic and uncanny near futures; see the nauseous yet somehow lovely consumerist fantasy “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” for the full effect. Part of it is the strength of his empathic imagination; there is a story in here that will legitimately make you feel for a woman who ties her intellectually disabled son to a tree. And part of it is these stories are at times funny enough to make you snort, especially the boss-memo black comedy “Exhortation.”

Recommended for: Anyone who loves their humor dark and their science fiction literary.

—Joe Bernstein, BuzzFeed gaming editor

8. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

In this brutally honest novel of manners, Nathaniel Piven’s writing career is beginning to blossom, and he seemingly has his pick of New York’s smartest, hippest, and prettiest young women. However, before attaining any semblance of a healthy relationship, Nathaniel must battle with a laundry list of narcissistic anxieties that will feel all-too-familiar to anyone who’s been burned in the New York dating scene. Will Nathaniel continue hurting every woman he comes in contact with, or will his big brain finally figure out how to stop playing the jerk?

Recommended for: Anyone (guy or girl) who enjoys picking apart relationships like they’re chess matches, or, even better, anyone who’s been jilted by such a neurotic creature.

—Adam Moerder, BuzzFeed Partner Network associate

9. Mundo Cruel by Luis Negrón

Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, this short story collection set in a small Puerto Rican community is by turns dark, campy, queer, and hilarious.

Recommended for: Anyone who likes to read with music playing and a glass of tequila in hand.

—Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed LGBT editor

10. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A boy loses his mom and stumbles into a mystery. It’s much more complicated than that, and Tartt is known for building mysteries, but The Goldfinch’s owes its success to a sincere heart. It’s a page-turner, sure, but one that’s dotted with warm, familiar sentiments and lines you’ll want to write down in a locked diary.

Recommended for: Someone who’s trying to fall back in love with literature.

—Summer Anne Burton, BuzzFeed managing editorial director

11. Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain

As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.” Reading Necessary Errors is exactly this sort of pleasure. Caleb Crain’s debut novel follows the romantic education of Jacob Putnam, a bright recent grad working abroad in Prague in the ’90s. All the expats that furnish Jacob’s life are, like him, lovelorn and miserable with hope. Their ambitions are as fierce as they are vague. They fall in love with each other as a group of friends, as only those in their early twenties can. There’s a Henry James-ish thrill to reading Crain’s every chiseled observations on friendship and life abroad.

Recommended for: Expats teaching abroad, recent college grads, or transplants to a new city where they don’t know anyone.

—Kevin Tang, BuzzFeed comics editor

12. Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Sea Creatures is a Florida novel — the kind that captures the hope and despair of a place where mother nature is always threatening to unleash her wrath. Georgia and Graham both suffer from sleep disorders and their marriage is plagued by this unrest. They have a young son, Frankie, who refuses to speak, and in Miami, they hope they can get a fresh start. They buy a houseboat, which they dock in the canal behind the home Georgia’s father shares with his new wife, Lidia. Instead of growing together, the couple is growing further apart. Graham is not the father Georgia hoped he would be and his sleep episodes are an increasing source of tension. Georgia also wants more from Graham as a woman though she never really articulates her desires, choosing, instead, to support Graham’s independence, trying not to change the man. Or, she is, in her own way, letting him go as she reaches for someone else — a loner who lives in a house on stilts in the middle of the ocean.

This novel is composed of elegant sentences and even more elegant ideas. Daniel captures the richness of place — the humidity and heat of Florida, the watery canals threaded throughout Miami, the taste of salt lingering in the air, the bougainvillea flowering. One of my favorite things about Daniel’s writing, and this truly shines in Sea Creatures, is how she tells a story completely. This is not to say the reader will get everything they want but we are not left with nagging questions. Because she has committed to telling a story, Daniel tells the story. This sense of completeness becomes almost unbearable in Sea Creatures but as a whole, the novel is so masterful, the burden becomes light.

Recommended for: Anyone who is willing to see how it all ends and is willing to see people as they really are, not as how we hope them to be.

—Roxane Gay, BuzzFeed contributor

13. Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon’s brain has always seemed to be able to handle about 10 times as much information as a normal person — his seemingly deep store of knowledge about web culture and online gaming circa 2001 would seem truly remarkable coming from any other seventysomething, but from him it’s just another interesting world to dive into. Bleeding Edge sometimes rings false in its characterizations, but his wacky, tricksy humor and stunning insights win out in the end.

Recommended for: Second Life devotees, paranoid conspiracy theorists, and everyone who loves big books and cannot lie.

—Summer Anne Burton, BuzzFeed managing editorial director

14. Fun Camp by Gabe Durham

Fun Camp is a piñata of a book. It is one summer at the titular Fun Camp, or it is all summers at any camp that was ever any fun, broken up into bite-size monologues spilled by counselors and campers alike. There is darkness and sadness here, but it is never delivered without a grin and a wink. Absentee dads, insurrection, first loves, and the counselors who give that love the room it needs to grow, Fun Camp is less a coming-of-age book and more a highlights reel from all your favorite Wonder Years episodes. It is a unique book that delivers all the comfort of a solid hug from someone you might not know all that well, but will probably never forget.

Recommended for: Readers who like a little variety in their storytelling, who enjoy a good high five and can remember the sting of a grass stain setting in. Ex-campers and non-campers alike will get something out of it.

—Colin Winnette, BuzzFeed Contributor

15. S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

A gorgeous work of art, S. is easy to love before you even start reading. The book is presented as lost hardcover by fictional author V.M. Straka, with marginalia on every page and yellowed notes and postcards tucked throughout, telling the story of two college students who are delving into the serpentine book and its mysterious author. It’s all so whimsical, but there’s more! A real love story emerges, and it’s sharp, real, and affecting. By the end, all of the elaborate fixings feel like just the bonus to a gorgeous story.

Recommended for: Anyone who loves digging through the dusty shelves at a flea market, mystery lovers, and excellent secret keepers.

—Summer Anne Burton, BuzzFeed managing editorial director

16. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The true beauty in this sprawling novel is in the prose Meg Wolitzer uses to chronicle a group of friends from their time at summer arts camp — where they “seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness in waiting,” and named themselves “The Interestings” into their forties and fifties, where they grapple with the realities that set in. It’s about reflection and evolution, specifically about a group of friends for whom art has played an integral part of their lives and friendships, but is universally for anyone who has been a part of a years-spanning friendship.

Recommended for: One who likes to curl up with a big book and savor the words on the page, despite the plot’s temptation to keep you moving forward.

—Erica Futterman, BuzzFeed managing editor

17. Tampa

Tampa is the classic tale of an adult woman struggling to find love. In a junior high classroom. And not love, so much as sex. Sex from boys at precisely the age of 14. Celeste Price is one of the most terrifying and utterly readable narrators in contemporary literature. Hers is a voice so entertaining and unflinching that the true weight of the book only hits upon its completion (approximately one day after you first picked it up). Tampa is an incredible balancing act: lacing genuine sadness and tragedy with effortlessly lean prose and a wicked sense of humor. An astonishingly entertaining, complicated study of human desire.

Recommended for: Any reader who is at least 1,000 feet away from the nearest junior high. None who aren’t.

—Colin Winnette, BuzzFeed Contributor

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

Facebook Conversations
          
    Now Buzzing