It’s the time of year when literary awards fill our newsfeeds, and if you are anything like me, you are checking the shortlists and wishing you had the final say in which books will be big winners this year. Unless you are a very accomplished author writer or literary critic, your chances are pretty slim, but you still have the chance to see your favourite books of 2013 get a fancy award blurb on their upcoming paperback editions.
The annual Goodreads Choice Awards lets you pick the best books of the past year. Categories include specific genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror (bonus points to Goodreads for not lumping all spec-fic together!), as well as more all-encompassing awards for fiction and nonfiction. There are even two categories for biographies, if that’s your preferred genre: memoir & autobiography, and history & biography.
The 15 finalists in each category were chosen from the most popular books rated and reviewed on Goodreads in 2013. There are three rounds of voting:
Nov. 1–9: Playoffs
Nov. 11–16: Semifinals
Nov. 18–25: Finals
Dec. 3: Winners Announced
In the first week, the top 5 write-in nominees will be added to each category, bringing the total to 20 books per category for the second week. The top 10 books in each category will go on to the finals in week three.
I was happy to see some of my favourite books (and some that are still “to-read”) already in the running. Leaving out those genres that I never read, here are my picks for books of the year:
Fiction: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
I seriously can’t recommend this book enough. This book gripped me before it was even published, when I read a 5 page sample in the Penguin catalogue last winter. On the shores of a remote island in northern British Columbia, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox containing the diary of a suicidal Japanese schoolgirl, a stack of yellowed letters, and a secret French journal from WWII. Gracefully moving between Nao’s own diary and Ruth’s attempts to find where the girl is now, we also come to know Nao’s anarcho-Buddhist nun grandmother and kamikaze great uncle. Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, A Tale for the Time Being is a nesting doll of imagination that transcends time and space. This is the best book I’ve read all year.
Mystery & Thriller: Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Okay, I confess—I haven’t read this one yet. It’s been catching my eye since it came out a few months ago, and I’ve heard wonderful things about it. I didn’t actually vote in this category, but I still have until November 25 to finish this book. I don’t tend to read much mystery, and the only book I’ve read in the past year that fits this genre is City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (I don’t recommend it, it was a bland read).
Historical Fiction: Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado
Inspired by the life of Antoine de Saint Exupery, author of the beloved children’s book Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), Szado tells of the love triangle between up-and-coming fashion designer Mignonne, Saint-Ex, and his fiery wife Consuelo. Amid tensions within New York’s Alliance Français over France’s surrender to Germany in World War II, it is an atmospheric love story that is more concerned with emotion than historical accuracy. Mignonne may be Saint-Ex’s lover, but it is clear that Szado is the one who is most in love with him.
Fantasy: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
I have always been fond of Neil Gaiman, and though this isn’t his strongest work, even his worst is better than most people’s best. The book could have used a firmer edit (how many times did I read that the lead character was an avid reader and bookworm? Answer: too many), although the story was captivating. As his first “adult” novel in years, it’s as if he wrote a young adult book which was mis-marketed.
Science Fiction: Lexicon by Max Barry
This book was amazing. I read it as an ARC early this past summer and I couldn’t put it down. It follows a covert agency that seeks out and trains those with a natural aptitude for influencing others, bestowing on them the names of great poets once they have proven themselves (poets, after all, are “good with words”). One part murder-mystery, one part love story, and all parts awesome. Not only is it a riveting plot, it will make you reconsider the meaning and power of language, and its use/abuse by the media to control what we believe.
Horror: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth
Can I judge a book by its cover? Because this one is just brilliant. It’s dark, gothic, even scientific—everything I desire from good horror. But I have to confess, I’ve only flipped through and read through the bestiary at the end. But hey, I’m sure Stephen King will win as he always does, so does it really matter if my vote isn’t completely valid??
Nonfiction: Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre
The follow-up to Bad Science, this book focuses exclusively on the big business of pharmaceuticals and the ways in which companies manipulate or suppress reports that are bad for profits. Akin to street dealers, they put their clients’ health at risk to keep them coming back for more, to the detriment of doctors and medical practitioners. 2013 is the year of the whistleblower, and Goldacre is in good company.
Humour: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher
This is by far the best Star Wars parody/spin-off I’ve seen (second place goes to How to Speak Droid). Yes, it’s written in iambic pentameter. Yes, even R2-D2! Best of all, Doescher deftly evades the “dispute” over whether Han shot first:
“[They shoot, Greedo dies.]
Han: [To innkeeper:] Pray, goodly sir, excuse the mess.
[Aside:]And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!”
Picture Books: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
It’s not often that I read or review children’s books, but every now and then one stands out as I’m shelving the picture books. I am neither a parent nor an elementary school teacher, so I can’t speak to the book’s appeal to children, but if you have to read your 6 year old at bedtime this one will keep you entertained as well. It has a good message of “thinking outside the box” (couldn’t resist a crayon pun!): each crayon is tired of being used only for one or two purposes, or even worse, not being used at all. One of my favourite books as a child was The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters, which used a similar format. There is something about reading mail that makes a kid feel very grown up, and I loved reading many different perspectives all in one place.