My Favorite Books of 2013 – A Curiously Unorthodox “Best Of” List

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Yes, I know, my second post was supposed to be about the passport process that got me here to London. Actually that should be labyrinth not process. I’m pretty sure Dr. Who in a Tardis could have figured out a smoother, more direct path and process to my immigration, but we’ll get to that another day. So many rants, so little time.

Today I decided to indulge in a little 2013 review of books I read and loved and highly recommend. I’d go so far as to say that you’re really missing out if you don’t read everything on this list I’m about to share. Now, the list is a little unorthodox…well, perhaps a lot unorthodox. You see, my 10 Best Books of 2013 is actually twelve books, and I have to confess that four of them were published in 2012 (mid to late). I just didn’t get around to reading them until last year. But, it’s my party, or in this case my blog, so I make the rules. (Insert vision of me sticking my tongue out and going “neener neener neener” here.)

And I do have an actual reason for wanting to share this list, besides the fact that it’s a compilation of some really amazing books. When I reviewed my list I found, as I do many years, that some of my favorite books are often compartmentalized as US vs. UK publications. I say that with some…amazement…no, make that frustration…because I can’t believe that in this world of global consumerism in which we live, where Amazon rules the e-commerce world, that there are people still missing out on great books just because they first see publication on the opposite side of the Atlantic from which the reader lives. And we’re not talking about books by small publishers, some of these are major publishers or solid independent publishers with excellent distribution agreements. Yet, for some reason we are still living in a world where books are being classified (and sometimes stigmatized) as just for American or British reading audiences. It’s enough to make an Anglophile weep!

In my “day job” I spend a lot of time helping to market and promote books…along with a ton of other things (tv shows, products, causes, issues). And one of the primary roles I play in this function is to introduce my clients to wider audiences. Since this is not my company blog I won’t bore you with a lot of strategy and jargon, but suffice it to say that “brand” has the ability to translate, resonate and migrate. The world does not suddenly turn flat at the shores of the Atlantic. If we’re going to grow as a societies, as nations, as human beings, we’re really missing out if we don’t indulge and inform ourselves about the perspectives and personalities that other cultures have to offer us in print, in broadcast, in art, in music, in media…in life!

So without further ado and in no particular order..

Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Destruction of Britain by Martin Hickman & Tom Watson – If you’re in the media business, or have an interest in how news happens, you should read this book and be educated and repulsed. Whichever side of the Atlantic you live on, Rupert Murdoch wields influence over what you read, watch…think. And the lows being stooped to gather — conjure if necessary — information, for the sake of circulation and ratings and clicks and ad revenue is appalling.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding – Even though Helen betrayed me and broke my heart by killing off Mark Darcy {{GASP!}}, this new addition to the Jones collection was worth waiting for and I loved every minute of it. Bridget has definitely grown up in this book, but she hasn’t lost any of her charm, wit or spunk. I can’t wait for the movie!

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell – If you work in the book industry, this is a MUST read, but it will also do nicely for any book-lover who appreciates irony, hyperbole and incredulity all rolled into one small book that you can literally read in an hour, but which will have you laughing about and remembering it a lot longer.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Psychologically chilling and gripping; it’s great mystery fiction but you would have no trouble believing that this was ripped straight from the headlines. It will remind you of some very famous cases of love gone bad.

Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear – This is for all the foodies, the genuine articles and the ones (like me) who watch too much Master Chef, Chopped and Hell’s Kitchen. Dana Goodyear, New Yorker magazine (food) writer, takes us into the world where food trends and culinary superstars are made, and then reveals what lengths they’re willing to go to get and stay at the top. It’s not for the fainthearted or squeamish, I missed a couple of meals thanks to chapters in this book. But it’s fascinating.

Also not for the faint of heart is Five Days at Memorial: Life & Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. I found myself thinking time and time again, “this can’t be real,” but all too sadly it is a honest no-holds-barred look into the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where Memorial Medical Center became “ground zero” in treating the victims, while the hospital itself was a victim of the storm. As an American this book infuriated me to be reminded once again how ill-equipped emergency services really are in the face of a disaster. As a human being it scared me to death because I realize that this could (has?) happen elsewhere.

Camp David, The Autobiography of David Walliams – If you don’t know who David Walliams is: SHAME ON YOU! You are really missing out on a comedic genius who, with Matt Lucas, has turned the sketch comedies “Little Britain” and “Come Fly With Me” into cult classics both here in the UK and abroad to millions of Britcom-watching Anglophiles.  Charming, witty, aloof and sometimes a bit dark (great comedians are often one-step removed from depression medication), Walliams is a modern, metrosexual John Cleese who is rapidly compiling a comedic legacy of his own.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – This book poses the question: What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? To reveal more than that would give away too much in my opinion. It’s hard to explain why I loved this book so much but the easiest answer is, it’s just so well written. There was something reminiscent about the book in a literary sense, reminding me of some of the works of Evelyn Waugh.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – Brutal truths about the “glass ceiling” that women face in many industries (corporate, academic, entertainment) from a woman who shattered it. I didn’t agree with every word, but the Facebook COO got my attention and got me thinking.

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970’s by Tom Doyle – Pubbing in the UK back in September, this book hasn’t even hit US shelves yet, which is a shame. For a true Beatles fan…and more so, fans of Sir Macca, this book is a uniquely revealing look into a decade of major change for one of the world’s greatest musicians and pop culture icons. For anyone (foolishly) doubting McCartney’s continued importance and celebrity, he racked up an astounding 105.8 million in ticket sales in 2013, placing ahead of Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, the Rolling Stones and Elton John on Billboard’s list of Hot Tours for 2013.

Brand Vandals: Reputation Wreckers and How to Build Better Defences by Stephen Waddington and Steve Earl – If you work in the communications industry (at whatever role) this book is a MUST read. It should also be sitting on the reading list of every academic institution offering an MBA in marketing. The authors are the tops in their fields. Waddington is the head of Digital & Social Media at Ketchum Europe, as well as the current President of the UK’s main public relations organization, CIPR. Steve Earl is the Managing Director of Zeno Group Europe (part of Edelman), a company known for its ability to successfully propel brand exposure into the global consumer stratoshpere. What these two men don’t know about brand — building it, growing it, preserving it — isn’t worth knowing.

Oh Dear Silvia: A Novel by Dawn French – Saved the best for last…well, it was the last book I read before the clock struck midnight on Tuesday. What can I say about Dawn French? She’s brilliant, she’s smart, she’s a bit of a personal hero. This book though is not what fans might be expecting from the beloved actress/comedienne. The book’s main character Silvia Shute is in a coma and as the book unfolds the cast of characters that make up her life come together to piece together her story. It is funny, but it’s also at turns snarky, poignant, melancholy, almost a little too real. Every woman reading this is bound to be able to identify with one of the many facets of Silvia.

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