My Top Six Fiction Books of 2013

I did it! At the beginning of 2013, I set the (somewhat) overly ambitious goal of reading 60 books in one year. Prior to that, the largest number of books I had read in a year was 50, and I considered that a major accomplishment. Last week, I completed my 60th book of the year, thus narrowly completing my goal a mere two weeks before the deadline. Although I’m very proud of my accomplishment, I’m planning to reduce my reading list next year so I can hone in on more classic authors and some lengthy, in-depth biographies of some of my favorite writers, poets, and classic movie actors. I would be remiss not share a few of my new favorite books with the blogosphere, so I put quite a lot of thought into what fiction books I thought were the best. Here is my list of the six best fiction books I read in 2013, accompanied by a brief description taken from from Goodreads, the website where I chronicled my books and completed my challenge.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham-This novel is said to be a semi-autobiography of Maugham’s life, and if his main character, Philip, was anything like Maugham, I have a feeling we would have gotten along quite well. This quintessential Maugham novel deals with human entanglements, or “human bondage,” that keep us in situations and in relationships that our detrimental to our well-being. How much control do we really have over life and love, and is the freedom we long for illusory? Maugham addresses this and many other themes in this classic novel.

“Originally published in 1915, Of Human Bondage is a potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and of modern man’s yearning for freedom. This classic novel tells the story of Philip Carey, a sensitive boy born with a club foot who is orphaned and raised by a religious aunt and uncle. Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home, eventually pursuing a career as an artist in Paris. When he returns to London to study medicine, he meets the androgynous but alluring Mildred and begins a doomed love affair that will change the course of his life. There is no more powerful story of sexual infatuation, of human longing for connection and freedom. ”

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder-I know I have said this ad nauseam, but I really do think this book should be required reading for every Philosophy 101 class. The story is fantastic on its own level, but its genius lies in the way the book allows you to see through the eyes of the great philosophers in history. Don’t be surprised if you get a sense of whiplash by how quickly and dramatically the story twists and turns depending on the philosophical glasses you are reading it with.

“One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, with one question on each: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” From that irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through those letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while receiving letters addressed to another girl. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up? To unravel this riddle, Sophie must use the philosophy she is learning—but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined.”

Sea Change by Karen White-This book doesn’t have quite as much depth as the others on my list, but if you are fascinated by reincarnation, lost love, and unsolved mysteries from the past, this is the book for you.

“For Ava Whalen, a new marriage and a move to St. Simons Island means a new beginning. But what she doesn’t realize is that her marriage will take her on an unexpected journey into the deep recesses of her past that will transform her forever… For as long as she can remember, Ava Whalen has struggled with a sense of not belonging, and now, at thirty-four, she still feels stymied by her family. Then she meets child psychologist Matthew Frazier, and thinks her days of loneliness are behind her. After a whirlwind romance, they impulsively elope, and Ava moves to Matthew’s ancestral home on St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia. But after the initial excitement, Ava is surprised to discover that true happiness continues to elude her. There is much she doesn’t know about Matthew, including the mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death. And her new home seems to hold as many mysteries and secrets as her new husband. Feeling adrift, Ava throws herself into uncovering Matthew’s family history and that of the island, not realizing that she has a connection of her own to this place—or that her obsession with the past could very well destroy her future.”

To be sung underwater by Tom McNeal-This book definitely took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. The ending was shocking, and, quite frankly, a bit disappointing, but if you’ve ever yearned for a lost love and wondered what life may have been like if you had taken another path(as most of us have), you’ll certainly find this book compelling.

“Judith Whitman always believed in the kind of love that “picks you up in Akron and sets you down in Rio.” Long ago, she once experienced that love. Willy Blunt was a carpenter with a dry wit and a steadfast sense of honor. Marrying him seemed like a natural thing to promise.
But Willy Blunt was not a person you could pick up in Nebraska and transport to Stanford. When Judith left home, she didn’t look back.
Twenty years later, Judith’s marriage is hazy with secrets. In her hand is what may be the phone number for the man who believed she meant it when she said she loved him. If she called, what would he say?
‘To be Sung Underwater’ is the epic love story of a woman trying to remember, and the man who could not even begin to forget.”

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham-[Taken from my Goodreads review] This novel broke my heart in so many different ways. I have to say that I found the lead character, Kitty, to be exasperating, and I alternated between wanting to punch her, to feeling profoundly sorry for her, to wanting to punch her again, to ultimately coming to some understanding of her humanity. That’s really what this novel is all about-humanity and all the ugliness, the disappointment and the glimmers of redemption that come with it. I had a very difficult time seeing the world through the eyes of Kitty in the beginning because I felt such a connection to Walter’s character. It’s hard to believe that his character appeared so little in the novel, but the author’s description was so vivid that the reader could delve into his psyche without actually experiencing the story from his perspective. Maugham’s depiction of the Walter and Kitty their relationship felt so authentic-his insight into human relationships was unbelievable! Overall, I really appreciate this book as a work of art, even though I have to say I was disappointed in its resolution. But that’s life-sometimes there is no satisfying resolution. This novel is so unsettling for precisely that reason, as there are no clear answers to the plethora of questions that it raises about how much Kitty and Walter were at fault in their own respective situations, and how much the inflexible social mores of the time trapped them into a situation they couldn’t escape from.

“Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic. Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.”

Wings of the Dove by Henry James-I have to admit, James’s abstruse, excessively wordy(in my opinion) prose made it difficult for me to get into this novel first, but I’m glad I toughed it out because it really is a gem. How far would you go to be with the person you love, and can you do so without irrevocably changing in the process? James is a master at exploring the depths of the human condition while excoriating the false societal values of his day.

“Set amid the splendor of London drawing rooms and gilded Venetian palazzos, ‘The Wings of the Dove’ is the story of Milly Theale, a naïve, doomed American heiress, and a pair of lovers, Kate Croy and Merton Densher, who conspire to obtain her fortune.
In this witty tragedy of treachery, self-deception, and betrayal, Henry James weaves together three ill-fated and wholly human destinies unexpectedly linked by desire, greed, and salvation.”

Check out the rest of the books I read in 2013 here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/1643382-maria-yohn?read_at=2013