Tuesday, 17 December 2013

My favourite books of 2013

This is a list of my favourite books of this year. 

Some of them were published quite recently, whilst others have been around for quite some time. But none of that really matters to me because I discovered their brilliance this year. And, after all, brilliant books are timeless.

So without further ado, and in quite a particular order, these are my favourite books of 2013.

Bon app├ętit!

5. The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

N.B. This is a very belated addition to this post given that it's exactly a year since I originally published it. But the fact of the matter is that I've been stewing about whether or not I should add it to this post pretty much since I originally published it - I just forgot all about this book at the time I wrote the post originally. After a lot of umming and ahhing (a year's worth to be exact), I've finally decided that yes I want to include this book on this list. Just to clarify, me thinking about this for a year is in no way an exaggeration; it can (and does) take me a long time to make decisions of this sort at times. So without further ado, here it is now - enjoy.

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is the charmingly quirky story of Allan Karlsson, who on his hundredth birthday decides to climb out of his nursing home window and disappear; just as the title states. So really I didn't need to explain that last part to you because I was only repeating the title of the book, but I thought I'd clarify just in case you thought the title was a decoy to get you to buy the book when really it's about a miniature turtle who has a raspberry as a shell* and finds that people are constantly trying to eat him. Because who wants to read about them, right? But rest assured, the title of the book holds true to what it is about. 

After climbing out of his window to run away Karlsson gets tangled in a very bizarre series of events, which begins with accidentally getting his hands on a suitcase of drug money and consequently being chased by both the drug dealers and the police. And remember, this man is a hundred years old, so it's a pretty thrilling chase. Dispersed through this main chain of events are flashbacks to Karlsson's earlier life, which was equally - if not more so - bizarre. Travelling on a riverboat with Mao Zedong's wife and unknowingly helping to build the atomic bomb are just some examples. In this way, the book very much reminds me of a Swedish old-man version of Forest Gump in that Karlsson's like is filled with accidental interactions with very influential and infamous historical figures. Thus the book is very funny and very quirky and is guaranteed to take you on an incredibly entertaining adventure.

If you're still not convinced that The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is not about rasperry-shelled miniature turtles, here's a trailer of the movie which is based on the book. Hopefully that will convince you.

*cue applause for this brilliant addition to this post*

*miniature turtles with raspberry shells exist, I recommend you Google an image of them right now.

4. The Woman Who Dived Into the Heart of the World 
by Sabina Berman

The Woman Who Dived Into the Heart of the World follows the story of Karen, an autistic female who reinvents the world of tuna farming. 

It begins with Isabelle, Karen's aunt, moving back to her hometown in Mexico after inheriting her late sister's tuna cannery. However, Isabelle doesn't expect to gain responsibility of her late sister's daughter, Karen, whose existence has been kept a secret up until now. Presumably this is because there is something different about Karen. As such, Karen's late mother has neglected Karen since birth; so much so that we are first introduced to Karen as a 'dark, naked thing...[with]...large eyes beneath the matted clump of hair, a wild thing.' This is when Isabelle moves in. 

Karen has not been taught how to speak, and thus has no grasp of language. So the story continues with Karen's journey of discovering language and the world around her, thanks to Aunt Isabelle. 

Slowly we learn that Karen is in fact autistic, and this, together with the late age that Karen acquires language, creates some highly entertaining word-play which evolves out of Karen attempting to understand the world around her.

Karen goes on to study at university, and eventually becomes an animal activist. She finds herself in some extraordinarily bizarre circumstances and rises above all odds; all of which adds to the immensely heartwarming and enjoyable nature of this story.

It's charming. It's clever. And it's very entertaining. Highly highly recommended.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Moving, nostalgic, and at times euphoric, this coming-of-age story is about Charlie, a 15 year old boy and the anonymous letters he writes to an unnamed friend.

It follows Charlie's journey as a freshman and the various anxieties he faces; from being the small fish in the big pond at school, to the pain he still feels from the unexpected deaths of some of the closest people to him - his aunt and best friend. The story also captures the thrills associated with making new, older friends who finally accept Charlie for who he is; as well as the confusions of falling in love for the first time.

It's an emotional roller-coaster-ride of a book. But it is so beautifully and honestly written that it just tugged at my heartstrings like no fictional book has in a long time. It took me back to my time at high school and all of the uncertainties experienced during that time. For that reason I just wanted to give Charlie a big cuddle and tell him everything will eventually work out and be OK. 

Read it. You really should. You'll love it.

2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel 

This is the story of Pi, who grows up in India and whose father owns the local zoo. Pi's family decides to immigrate to Canada, and they wish to take their animals with them. As a result, Pi, his family, and the animals must relocate via ship, and so they all set sail towards their new future.

However, their ship is caught in a terrible storm and tragically sinks. What's left of the original passengers, other than Pi, is an orangutan, a zebra, a spotted hyena, and (to Pi's surprise and fear) a Bengal tiger. What's more, they are all trapped on a single lifeboat.

The story continues with Pi's account of his time lost at sea with these creatures.

Admittedly, this main storyline of the book largely contributed to me putting off reading Life of Pi for a long long time. It had been recommended to me on a number of occasions, yet I couldn't understand how a story about a man lost at sea could sustain my interest. But it did; so much so that I didn't want to put it down. Not even on my 10 minute walk from the train station to my workplace (which can be quite the risky journey). 

Life of Pi is a philosophical, spiritual, and allegorical journey of wonder, and I was left in complete awe of Martel's use of words by the end of it.

1. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

This is my favourite book of the year. It's a big call. And one that hasn't been made flippantly. But Cloudstreet is definitely, hands down, my favourite book of this year.

It begins with the Pickles family who inherit the house at Number 1 Cloudstreet; a welcome change from the hotel they used to board in. 

Given that the house at Cloudstreet is very large, and that the Pickles family are in need of extra money, they decide to rent out half of their residence - the Pickles will live on the right-hand-side, whilst the new tenants will occupy the left. 

And so the Lamb family move in, who recently up-and-left their struggling farm in hopes of finding more fortune in the city. Cloudstreet is thus the story of these two families, following the hardships and celebrations that they both experience over 20 years in post-war suburban Western Australia.

Cloudstreet has stuck with me like no other book has in a long time. I think it's because the characters have been so well written and developed that by the end of the book I felt like we were lifelong family friends. It made me laugh out loud in amusement, cringe with concern, and whoop in celebration, and it's a book I'll treasure for a long time to come. 

Simple, heartwarming and memorable, Cloudstreet is very rightly considered an Australian Classic, and I'm so happy to have discovered it this year.

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