2013 In Review
While 2013 wasn’t all that great for me, it was a great year for Bound and Gagged Books. The blog has about 10x the followers it did at the beginning of last year, one of my posts was Freshly Pressed, and Bound and Gagged was even quoted in The Huffington Post. Thus, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of our lovely readers for following, commenting, sharing, and stopping by our little corner of the internet.
Thanks are also due to the other lovely people who make this blog happen. While Bound and Gagged Books began the year as a solo effort, it has since seen reviews from Elliot Oberholtzer, Victoria Lepore, and Hannah. I’d like to thank the three of them for their contributions to the blog and to the general awesomeness level of the planet. I’d also like to give a special thanks to Reviews by Lanterns Light, for being my friendly neighborhood comic book expert, and Articulate and Intricate, for inviting me to do a guest post for Banned Books Week.
Thus, without further ado, I give you my top ten books of 2013. These aren’t necessarily books written in 2013, just ones I read last year. Not all of them are banned (I do occasionally read other books). There are also quite a few graphic novels on here, as one of my reading challenges for 2013 was to read more trades and graphic novels. Feel free to leave your favorite books of 2013 in the comments. I’d love to hear what you guys are reading.
TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2013
Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
Though a bit of a one-trick pony, Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers. Unaccustomed Earth blows The Namesake out of the water and I loved The Namesake. This collection of short stories paints a series of intimate pictures of family life for Indian Americans living all manner of lives of quiet desperation. The deep sense of isolation, loneliness, and unspoken tension is more palpable here than in anything else I’ve read, leaving the reader both anxious and in awe of Lahiri’s graceful mastery of crafting both sentences and stories. The book does get a little redundant about 3/4s of the way through. However, just when you’ve had enough of Ivy League Indian Americans living unfulfilled lives in New England, the last three stories come along and make you fall in love with Lahiri all over again, even as they crush your soul. Grab some tissues, folks. You’ll need them. The shoe box buried on the rocky coast of Maine and the REDACTED SPOILERS still haunt me.
Saga, Vol. 2, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Image Comics
Saga is by far my favorite comic out there (Shhh, no one tell Elfquest). Part space opera, part family saga, part Sci-Fi Sword & Sorcery, part love story, part war story, part political/social treatise, part trippy erotica feverdream, Saga defies classification and surpasses expectation. The award-winning comic has gorgeous art, a gripping story, and immediately lovable characters (Okay, maybe not lovable. Most of them are war criminals or bounty hunters.). It is also the perfect example of well-written female characters that simply are, rather than the book holding them up and saying, “Look! Look! See, I can write female characters! Isn’t this a great female character!” Between the sex, the exploding heads, and the surprisingly thoughtful meditations on war and taboo exogamy, this is definitely a comic for the mature reader but well worth a look even if you’ve never picked up a comic (especially as it just keeps getting better). You can find my full review of Saga, Vol. 2 here.
Tiger Eyes, Judy Blume
If you know a teenager, hand them this book. If you ever were a teenager, read this book. Prepare for catharsis and for Judy Blume to understand you better than most of your family and friends. This coming of age story never talks down to teens and avoids the teen lit trap of convoluted melodrama or Twilight-esque romance. It is a powerful tale of loss, mental illness, recovery, human connection, and strength. In addition, while not the focus, Tiger Eyes has more to say about power structures and racial dynamics/tensions than many things expressly dealing with said issues. Fear pervades this book, from crime in New Jersey to the atom bomb to bike accident statistics. And that fear only begets more fear. You can find my full review of Tiger Eyes here.
Saga, Vol. 1, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Image Comics
Yes, I know I already have Vol. 2 on here, but they were both so good. Vol. 1 still has a few kinks to work out, but this familiar yet refreshingly original story blew me away from the first page. When asked in a recent geekjob interview what comics I read, Saga was my first answer. Fans of Star Wars, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Firefly, Starship Troopers, Enemy at the Gates, The 5th Element, Elfquest, anything by Euripides, Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, and Legend of the Seeker/The Sword of Truth will all find something to love about Saga. That list alone should speak volumes. You can find my review of Saga, Vol. 1 here.
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
This bittersweet coming of age story is a brief summer of childhood, frozen in time, waiting for the reader to uncork it and feel the memories come flooding back. It is a story of friendship, adversity, the power of imagination, learning to see people for their hidden struggles, class and generational tensions in times of change, and the strength to move forward and heal after tragedy. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll build a fort in the woods and declare yourself Emperor. Paterson deserves a place on the shelf among Blume, Cleary, and Lowry. You can find my full review of Bridge to Terabithia here.
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
The second installment in The Hunger Games Trilogy shows that the series has matured, moving from teen dystopia/pop lit fad to a damn good read with stark insights on power, war, and PTSD. Katniss is also a badass who both girls and boys can root for and relate to (this shouldn’t be groundbreaking, but it is). The writing is better this time around, there is less expository world-building, and we are thrust from the admittedly unoriginal Games to a much larger and more complex stage of politics and performance. There’s a bit too much of Gale brooding and Peeta looking like a kicked puppy, but the ending more than makes up for it. And that ending. Damn. After reading the last page, I dropped the book and sat there, stunned, while my boyfriend looked on in alarm and amusement. Many an expletive was then invoked. Between this, and my throwing a certain fantasy book across the room in a fit of rage, my boyfriend has decided I should film my reactions while reading. You can find my full review of Catching Fire here.
Carrie, Stephen King
Though it focuses too much on the science of and social response to telekinesis, Carrie is the original school shooter, an even more haunting tale now that reality has caught up with fiction. Prepare to have lots of unsettling feelings about sexuality, abuse, society, and religion. What’s even more distressing is how easy it is to relate to these characters. I was also impressed with how well King writes and understands his cast of truly screwed up female characters and their accompanying sexual repression/sexual expression. I tip my hat to you, sir. You can find my full review of Carrie here.
Sword of Sorcery, Vol. 1, Christy Marx, Aaron Lopresti, DC Comics
Sword of Sorcery was one of the few good things to come out of the reboot and a pox on DC for canceling it. Half DC’s answer to Frozen and half litgeek dystopian wetdream, Sword of Sorcery features dueling fantasy/sci-fi narratives. One follows Beowulf (yes, you heard me right) as a gritty anti-hero in a post-apocalyptic DCU, long after our spandex-clad heroes are dead and society has devolved into what appears to be 9th Century Denmark (with some sweet techswag). The other gives us the Heroic Quest Formula origin story of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, a teen with an angsty but generic past who discovers she is the heir to a fantasy kingdom. Don’t let the 80s fantasy heroine whose superpowers are blonde hair and the color purple fool you, this is solid Sword & Sorcery Fantasy that passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. If you’re looking for well-done female-driven fantasy or just nostalgic for the B Fantasy films of the 80s and 90s, I highly recommend it. This may also be a good comic for that difficult tween demographic netherworld, although my resident comic book guy disagrees, as there is attempted rape at a football game in the beginning of the trade. However, I know more than a few ten-year-olds who love The Hunger Games Trilogy and this is far tamer than that. I’d still feel comfortable giving Sword of Sorcery to a 12-year-old, but every kid is different so do what feels right for you and the teenling in question.
Supurbia, Vol. 2, Grace Randolph, Russell Dauterman, Boom! Studios
Boom! screwed the pooch on the marketing for this comic. It’s not at all the vapid Superhero TMZ/Real Housewives of the JLA they push it as. This is instead a grown-up version of The Incredibles, minus the somewhat wholesome family unity. Think Watchmen meets Desperate Housewives. Or remember that part of The Legend of Korra where they explore how abysmal of a parent the Chosen One/Saviour was? Want more of that, only with sex, drugs, and abusive relationships? Supurbia strips the hero-worship bare to reveal what truly broken people superheroes would actually be, as we are introduced to analogues for Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and others, all living together in a seemingly average suburban neighborhood. This comic is further proof that spoofs and deconstructions far surpass the originals in world-building, especially in the world of Superheroes where Marvel and DC rarely want to address the impact superheroes would have on society. Alternately a fascinating slice of life and a damning look at the toll protecting us takes on our protectors, I read both volumes of Supurbia in a single sitting by flashlight far past my bedtime. Most interesting to me were the anthropologist husband of Totally Not Wonder Woman, the Mother-Confessor-esque drama that ensues from said warrior woman trope’s parenting strategies and cultural differences (so brilliant!), a former caped crusader trying to balance the responsibilities of motherhood and her hunger for therapeutic criminal beating, Definitely Not Captain America’s less-than-stellar marriage, the business and marketing side of superheroes, and the interactions of the kids themselves. Your homeschool group wishes it was this cool (and emotionally damaged). Is it wrong that I ship Zari and Eli? Elari ftw. And would you look at that, diversity AND female characters with different personalities/strengths/values! Praise be to the comics gods! I am foaming at the mouth for the third volume.
Ichiro, Ryan Inzana
This award-winning graphic novel is part teen coming of age story, part myth-laden Urban Fantasy, part personal and historical account of trauma and war. Half-Japanese Ichiro is a typical American teenager, living in the wake of September 11th. However, after his mother accepts a job in Japan and leaves Ichiro with his grandfather, our now half-American protagonist must come to terms with America’s past actions and his own identity. I was actually not a huge fan of the supernatural elements of this story, finding them somewhat confusing and hard to follow. However, this is one of the more nuanced examinations of identity and prejudice in the aftermath of war and terrorism out there. In addition, Ichiro’s conflicted identity allows a unique vantage point from which to address the legacy of Hiroshima and its modern parallels in the War on Terror. It’s also a great read just to have the Japanese grandfather you never had tell you stories. Myth and history buffs, put this on your to-read list. You can find friend of the blog Nightwing17’s review of Ichiro here.
Shout out to Tattúínárdǿla Saga for being the best damn thing I’ve read all year. Become a book already so I can buy a copy for everyone I know or will ever meet.
Thanks again, readers. Stay tuned in 2014 for more reviews, articles, banned books news, and assorted geekery. May the odds be ever in your favor, may the Force be with you, live long and prosper, etc.