I came across some absolutely amazing books in 2013; volumes that uplifted me as a reader as well as encouraging me to grow as a writer if for no other reason than to produce work as funny or bittersweet or beautiful or just plain damn good as the books listed below. Well done, everyone. This list is in no particular order, but they are all excellent. If you haven’t purchased them yet, you really need to. So without further adieu, here are Out in Print’s Best Reads of 2013:
Bitter Orange – Marshall Moore (Signal 8 Press) Buy from Amazon
Moore’s story of an individual rendered literally invisible is both stunning and satisfying, being at once a cautionary tale as well as a comment on our technological civilization (if those two words aren’t contradictory). But Bitter Orange is also possessed of a paralyzing wit that seeps through the dialogue and drips onto the prose itself. Moore is at his funniest when he’s making a point, and these points are so sharp, they hurt. In a good way.
A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press
Mann’s fiction and essays are well-represented in many Best Of lists, but I found this volume of poetry to be as deep and poignant as any of his prose. Perhaps more so. Be it his romanticism, his BDSM predilections, his love of food, or his love of men, all are on display here in a celebration of language, lust, and lore. Even if you don’t normally enjoy poetry, you might find this a winning entry point. I urge you not to pass this by, for without it, you do not have a complete understanding of this multi-faceted author.
Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books) Buy from BSB
I loved this remarkable debut novel, from its romantic underpinnings to its superhero flair to its slightly politicized action scenes. It has winning characters, a juicy plot, a neat twist, and a real love of language and storytelling at its core. And a dog. Can’t forget the dog. I have been proud to be associated with Burgoine at nearly the inception of his career, and it continues to be my pleasure to cheer him on.
Fortune’s Bastard (or Love’s Pains Recounted) – Gil Cole (Chelsea Station Editions) Buy from TLA Gay
This marvelous Shakespearian mashup (of “Twelfth Night” and “Merchant of Venice” among others) is a delight in more ways than one. It inhabits the Shakespeare idiom perfectly in terms of language as well as character and plot. It’s so damn assured that I was in awe of how totally it achieves what it sets out to do. More than a pastiche, it’s perfection.
Art on Fire – Hilary Sloin (Bywater Books) Buy from Bywater Books
This fictional biography of painter Francesca deSilva is memorable not only for the story it tells, but for the essays on deSilva’s work sandwiched between chapters of her story. Those essays are as brilliantly satirical of art criticism as deSilva’s story is involving and engaging. Her art informs her life as much as her life informs her art. But even if you’re not an art critic, this wonderful book is a portrait of a fascinating life. And an untimely death.
The Dirty Trilogy – Ashley Bartlett (Bold Strokes Books) Buy from BSB
I don’t think this is a cheat since two of the three books came out in 2013 – Dirty Sex, Dirty Money, and Dirty Power are really all of a piece. Bartlett’s POV character, Vivian Cooper (Coop, please) is a marvel–a romantic, streetwise, smart-assed heroine who will leave you laughing tears. The plot is long and convoluted, involving love, the Mob, a fortune in gold, besties, fake parents, and real heartbreak. Start with the first one and hang on, baby.
Conjure: A Book of Spells – Peter Dube (Rebel Satori Press) Buy from RSP
A grimoire, no less. Elegant, understated prose poems promising “To Strike Obstacles from Your Path and Unlock Doors” or “To Undo an Error Past” but are mystically metaphoric. In terms of difficulty, this is the most challenging book I’ve read all year. Once its secrets were unlocked, however, I found it fascinating, enthralling reading — all the more interesting for the amount of work I put in. It’s not for everyone, but those who get it will be truly affected.
Thoreau in Love – John Schuyler Bishop (CreateSpace) Buy from Amazon
An entirely successful vision of what some missing pages of Henry Thoreau’s journal might have revealed, this marvelous piece of historical fiction is told with verve and enthusiasm. It takes chances with character, liberties with history, and its readers for a lusty, dizzying ride. Bishop’s research is impeccable but barely shows, Thoreau at last coming through as a person instead of a historical figure. It captures the heart as well as the head.
Giraffe People – Jill Malone (Bywater Books) Buy from Bywater Books
Much more than a young adult novel, Jill Malone’s Giraffe People is a wonderfully voiced and nuanced look at fifteen years old. The perspective is as adult yet as childish as you remember your own life at that time. If you have forgotten what fifteen was like, you need to read this. If you remember, you’ll be as involved in Cole Peters’ life as she is. And Malone maintains this voice with remarkable consistency, never putting a foot wrong.
Where Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press) Buy from Lethe Press
If any author’s work needed queering, it would be Edgar Allan Poe, and Steve Berman has collected a wonderful batch of take-offs, pastiches, and imitators–except none of those categories approaches the sheer originality of the stories, essays, and poems here. And the book looks as good as it reads. Lovingly produced and sumptuously written, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a class act that deserves your attention.
A Horse Named Sorrow – Trebor Healey (University of Wisconsin Press) Buy from Amazon
Trebor Healey breaks his long silence and absence from fiction with a beautiful, elegiac road trip as Seamus Blake carries his boyfriend’s ashes back to Buffalo as he’d promised him he would. But as road trips go, he finds the journey to be more important than its end. Lyrical and sad, Healey’s prose uplifts rather than depresses. If you have ever had grief in your life, this will speak to you.
Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? – J.R. Greenwell (Chelsea Station Editions) Buy from Giovanni’s Room
Eleven short stories collecting the best and worst of Southern manners and mannerisms, this collection is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph. Caricature? Well, yes. But there are characters here as well. Both subtly shaded and as outrageous as the best/worst drag ever, this batch of stories never relents in its celebration of Southern culture. Which is no contradiction in terms.
Dickinstein: Emily Dickinson, Mad Scientist – Shannon Yarbrough (Rocking Horse Publishing) Buy from Rocking Horse Publishing
An inspired mashup of Frankenstein and Emily Dickinson, the execution is as accomplished as the concept. By combining these two apparently disparate elements, Yarbrough illuminates both halves of the equation. Emily Dickinson wasn’t a mad scientist, of course, but Dickinstein certainly gives us the freedom to reimagine her.
And there you have them–a baker’s dozen of the most wonderful treats 2103 had to offer. Now, we begin expanding our critical waistline for 2014. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler
Please note: The books included may not have necessarily been published in 2013, but read and reviewed here at Out in Print in 2013.