Columns > Published on December 17th, 2013

LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2013 (Part 1)

Another year has come and gone. [Insert trite analogy about fluttering book pages HERE.] You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor writers think are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are handsome and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2013.

* Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2013, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it.


Joshua Chaplinsky - Managing Editor

'Actors Anonymous' by James Franco

LitReactor's Chris Rosales didn't love it, but he was just being an elitist jerk. (It's okay, I still love you, Chris!). Yes, the subtitle A Novel is a misnomer; yes, Franco wears his inspiration tattooed on his arm (because he looks so good in a sleeveless shirt); yes, his poetry about River Phoenix is laughable (although I suspect that was the intention); but I say, so what. The kid's got moxie. He's out there taking chances, haters be damned. So if liking Franco is uncool, then color me the uncoolest crayon in the box. He won me over as an actor in Spring Breakers; he won me over as a director with Child of God; he won me over as a painter with his Seth Rogen in This is the End (okay, maybe that one's a joke); and he won me over as a writer with Actors Anonymous, his tongue-in-cheek meta-farce about trying to make it in Hollywood.

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"Night Film' by Marisha Pessl

Speaking of elitism, for a second there I almost considered leaving Pessl's sophomore effort off this list to make room for something more esoteric, but haters be damned! This was the most compulsively readable book I compulsively read all year. I was sucked into the mystery of reclusive filmmaker Stanislas Cordova and the death of his daughter right alongside protagonist Scott McGrath (no relation). Don't be scared off by the superfluous interactive elements. Night Film is the very definition of a page turner, and this is coming from someone who hires a small aboriginal boy to stand by his bed and turn the pages for him while he reads at night. (Only God can judge me!)

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'Mira Corpora' by Jeff Jackson

Another indie gem from Two Dollar Radio. Jeff Jackson's literary debut is equal parts coming-of-age story and dream-like meta-fiction. I said it best in my Bookshots review: "In the author's note Jackson claims the novel is based on journals he kept while growing up which, if even half true—god damn. The fact that he can string together enough words to form a coherent sentence is a miracle, yet he's managed to craft a uniquely compelling narrative." It's like Dennis Cooper met J.T. Leroy and kicked him/her in the balls/baby-maker for being a fraud.

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'Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief' by Lawrence Wright

I'm a sucker for books that expose the hidden evils of organized religion, or, as is the case with Going Clear, the worst kept secrets of money-laundering cults. Everyone's got a pet topic that inspires the tongue-clucking, hand-wringing, and "Won't somebody please think of the children"-ing of faux outrage, and this is mine. It's like the Satanic-panic of the 80s, only instead of devil worshippers, I blame everything on Scientologists. Even if half the things Wright rights about in this book are true, those wacky OTs are more dangerous than Halloween, Dungeons & Dragons, and heavy metal music combined. Fascinating, ire-inducing stuff.

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'Flushboy' by Stephen Graham Jones

This is a book about a kid working in a drive-thru urinal. Written by the one and only Stephen Graham Jones. What more do you need to know? I'll wait here while you click through to Amazon. Back? Let's continue. It has more PPPP (piss puns per page) than any other book in history. Sure, it's low brow, but its got a heart of gold. Gold like the color of piss. Get it? Flushboy practically screams, "Make a tender-hearted coming-of-age movie based on me, goddammit! And make sure you cast someone awkward."

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Rob Hart - Class Director

Rob Hart

'Graphic the Valley' by Peter Brown Hoffmeister

This book is so pretty it hurts, because it reminds you there’s this whole big world out there and you only know about a small piece of it.

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'Country Hardball' by Steve Weddle

Shiny bits of story weave in and out of this novel-in-stories, painting a lush portrait of economic and social hardship in a rural, Southern town.

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'The Hard Bounce' by Todd Robinson

There are crime authors who act out tough-guy fantasies, but Todd Robinson embodies them, striking an amazing balance between head-stomping and heart-stomping.

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'Dare Me' by Megan Abbott

Cheerleader noir. What else is there to say?

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'Junkie Love' by Joe Clifford

This memoir is beautiful and funny and honest and should probably be required reading for people struggling with addiction, to show them what's on the other side.

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Richard Thomas - Columnist/Instructor

Richard Thomas'Red Moon' by Benjamin Percy

Reinventing the werewolf story, Percy is the master of blending literary fiction and horror—this book will keep you in your seat, albeit squirming, gasping, and sweating.

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'Don't Kiss Me' by Lindsay Hunter

She always speaks the truth, and these stories will make you laugh, and then curl up in a ball and cry, all the while recognizing yourself, with equal amounts of shame and pride.

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'In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods' by Matt Bell

Such a unique voice, this innovative contemporary fable is rich with myth, emotion, surreality and compassion—a heartbreaking story about fatherhood, identity, and hope.

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'Doctor Sleep' by Stephen King

There was little chance King could top The Shining, but Doctor Sleep is a powerful story nonetheless. Danny Torrance grows up, straightens out, and taps into the supernatural.

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'Meaty' by Samantha Irby

These essays made me laugh more than anything I've read in a long time, and yet, there are moments filled with heavy emotion: regret, empathy and sadness—David Sedaris reborn.

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Kimberly Turner - Columnist

Kimberly Turner'The Circle' by Dave Eggers

Each year, the Powers That Be at LitReactor ask for a list of my favorite books, and each year, my top pick is whatever Dave Eggers wrote that year. Predictable? Yeah. Accurate? Absolutely. Can’t stop, won’t stop. As both an Eggers fan and a girl with serious Luddite tendencies, The Circle—a cautionary tale about the perils of increasingly pervasive technology—was bound to be my favorite read of 2013.

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'Vampires in the Lemon Grove' by Karen Russell

Four words to explain why I love these innovative short stories: “presidents reincarnated as horses.” Yeah, seriously. That’s the kind of bizarre concept Russell throws at readers. Like most short story collections, it has high and low points, but the overall quality of the writing and unpredictability of the plots make up for any slow spots.

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'Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal' by Mary Roach

If you’ve read any of Roach’s other works (e.g., Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, or Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex), you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get with her coverage of the human digestive system. Gulp employs Roach’s standard modus operandi: 1) Find a topic of broad appeal. 2) Ask weird, things-only-little-kids-think-of questions. (How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? What’s the deal with smuggling things with your rectum? Why do we eat some things and find others gross?) 3) Solve with science. 4) Add humor.

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'Doctor Sleep' by Stephen King

I’d been waiting for decades to read King’s sequel to The Shining, so it had to go on this list. I wrote a whole LitReactor column about what I liked and didn’t like about it, so I won’t rehash too much, but if you’re a King fan, this is not one to miss.

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

I’m not even finished with this book yet, and it’s going on my list because it’s just plain fun to read—or should I say “explore”—and I love the fact that it can really only be appreciated in its printed form (see: my aforementioned Luddite tendencies). Presented as a library book in which two people have scrawled notes in the margins, this book and its plentiful ephemera (napkins, postcards, decoder rings, and other treasures tucked between the pages) tell at least two distinct multi-layered stories, which you can approach in a few different ways. I’ve heard that you can go deeper and get additional clues and layers online, but I’m still making my way through the main texts. 

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Kirk Clawes - Co-founder/Technical Lead

Kirk Clawes

'The Hard Bounce' by Todd Robinson

I don't read a ton ton of this noir/hard-boiled stuff, but after hearing Todd on the LitReactor podcast, I decided to give it a shot. I ended up tearing through this book in 2 sittings.

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'Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1: The God Butcher' by Jason Aaron

For my money, the best thing to come out of Marvel NOW. You get Thor during 3 points in his life: young & cocky, middle-aged and experienced,  and old and grizzled, all woven into a great story. Oh, and Esad Ribic's art is insane.

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'Ghost in the Wires' by Kevin Mitnick and William M. Simon

A fast-paced true story of "the world's most wanted hacker" chronicling Mitnick's life and exploits as a "social engineer." If you like espionage thrillers, you'll love this book.

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'The Book of The New Sun' by Gene Wolfe

Technically 2 books here (or 4, really), it's one of those titles that has been on my "To Read" list for years. I really don't even know how you do this book justice without a massive, spoiler heavy review. If you like fantasy that is deep in it's own world, you'll love it.

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What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree? Agree to disagree? Come and get one in the yarbles, if you have any yarbles.

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com and unravelingtheparadox.com.


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