Saturday Morning Opinions: 2013 in Review

2013 has been a pretty big year, for both me and the blog. Not only I have I graduated college, completed a publishing program, gotten my first job, and moved across the country, but I’ve also tinkered with my writing style, format, and various features here at the Literary Omnivore to build a leaner, meaner bookish machine. So, for the first time in the Literary Omnivore’s history as my live reading journal, I present to you this year in review on the last Saturday of the year.

It’s been a pretty good reading year, all told, even though I’ve been struggling to maintain my usual reading pace. (Not so easy when you’ve got a vacation freeze during the holidays, but, as ever, I’m happy to lie in the bed that I make.) Working at a bookstore has done the expected amount of damage to my reading list, but I didn’t expect to read so much young adult fiction this year. Book-to-movie-wise, I watched all of the Bond movies, although the reviews won’t be done here until January, and quite enjoyed all the blockbusters based on books that came out this year—even the deliriously and deliciously bad The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and the lackluster The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, although the latter was probably because the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is the greatest movie theater I’ve ever been in.

As ever, my top picks for the year are from my reading year, not the publishing year.

Top Audiobook of 2013

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
read by Betty Harris

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First person narratives make for the best audiobooks, where you can imagine the protagonist walking alongside you or even whispering into your ear. And whisper Betty Harris’ Offred does, of her life under the oppressive regime of the Nation of Gilead, of her life before, and how small a life can be. While it was published in the early eighties, The Handmaid’s Tale remains a harrowing cautionary tale, especially for a woman whose government shut down this year because one party wanted to block the Affordable Health Care Act, which was partially motivated by that act’s provision about birth control. Chilling and necessary speculative fiction.

Top Film Adaptation of 2013

Die Another Day (2002)
based on characters by Ian Fleming

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I do have favorite, honestly good Bond movies. (I was having a good feel over Fiona Vulpe while brushing my teeth the other day.) But I am helpless against the cheesy, the bombastic, and the overambitious, which means that the two Bond movies that I can and will watch ad nauseum are 1979’s Moonraker and Die Another Day. It was a tie, really, but Die Another Day is just bonkers on so many more levels than Moonraker, whose silliness is mostly derived from the franchise finally embracing Roger Moore’s delightfully dry humor and the fact that his 007 is not actually that good at his job. Die Another Day has space lasers, invisible cars, Halle Berry’s very enjoyable Jinx (who almost got her own franchise!), Bond and a man who is more Bond than Bond smashing up a gentleman’s club, Bond swimming from North Korea to China, Rosamund Pike with a fencing foil, and literal racelifts. It commits wholeheartedly to its stupidity, and that is something I can not only respect, but love. Shine bright like a diamond, Die Another Day. Shine bright like a diamond.

Top Ten Books of 2013

Bitchfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler

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I had no idea that Bitch engaged pop culture so readily, so I was delighted when I picked this up to acquaint myself with the magazine. While the content is a little dated, since the material collected was written mostly in the nineties, the commentary is still as cutting and brilliant as ever. I learned the true definition of feminist humor in this book from “Laugh Riot”—laughing at absurdities of the oppressive system while rejecting that system, instead of a simply “Well, that’s life!”.

How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ

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Absolutely required reading for feminists interested in critiquing media. Joanna Russ lays out the nine arguments used to suppress, downplay, isolate, and otherwise dismiss the work of female writers. How easy it is, to see Jane Austen as an anomaly whose writing simply came out of nowhere, when you don’t consider that she read Fanny Burney and Mary Brunton—when you don’t consider that she was part of a community. A stunning book that makes me want to read everything she ever wrote.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

blackcoldestgirlincoldtown

One of the only books published in 2013 to make it onto my top ten of 2013, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown grabs you by the jugular from the first page—where our protagonist wakes up after a party to find everyone she knows murdered by vampires—and never lets go. I was pleasantly surprised, since I only knew Holly Black from the lackluster short story “When You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way”. I rooted for Tana all the way and loved how Black returned to old-school Anne Rice vampires for a young adult novel. The ending didn’t entirely work for me, but I think it’s a testament to Black’s powers of characterization that I wanted everything in the world for Tana.

Yes Means Yes! edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti

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Yes Means Yes! ponders a world of consent culture, from pieces about how even the most enlightened and sex-positive feminists might still devalue female desire (if the ideal first sexual experience for a teenage girl doesn’t involve her asking her partner if they consent, that tells you something about our culture) to extending consent culture to all human interaction. While Javacia N. Harris’ “A Woman’s Worth” and Julia Serano’s “Why Nice Guys Finish Last” are two pieces that don’t particularly work for me, the whole collection is a great way to challenge yourself and learn.

How to Watch Television edited by Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell

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I was trained as a literary critic, but my desire to suck the marrow out of every text that comes my way has made me ravenous for texts about critiquing mediums I’m not as familiar with. Each piece collected offers a new and interesting lens to at television through. Naturally, as a fan, Suzanne Scott’s “Battlestar Galactica: Fans and Ancillary Content” practically sang to me, but every piece offers background and vocabulary for the budding television critic.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

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A fairy tale retelling that’s actually an unconventional coming of age story. Anidori, Crown Princess of Kildenree, doesn’t come of age by defeating a great evil or by losing her innocence. Instead, Ani becomes a woman when she begins to construct an identity beyond what others ask of her. Her distant mother is never demonized, but it’s easy to see how Ani could be overwhelmed by her great presence. Once abandoned in her new country, however, Ani becomes her own woman by necessity, really, and it’s a joy to watch her earn her soul.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

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Bitterblue and The Goose Girl are actually pretty similar (young, hesitant royals coming into their own for the first time) but Bitterblue is slightly dearer to me for very personal reasons—being reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I love nothing bette than young female royals with pain in their eyes, the weight of the world on their shoulders, and, when push comes to shove, wills of iron. As Bitterblue seeks to help her country recover from the great wrongs committed by her father, she confronts her privilege, adores her family cobbled together out of friends (including the protagonist of Graceling), and becomes a great queen. Add a smattering of solid representation, and you’ve got a lovely installment in the Graceling Realm series.

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

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A Twilight deconstruction whose wit is aimed not at “silly” girls who love vampires, but at the suppression of agency that’s the series’ true nightmare. Mel, determined to “save” her best friend Cathy from her relationship with a vampire and deciding to become a vampire herself, has to come to terms with the fact that not everybody wants her help—that people want different things, and that is okay. It’s remarkably emotionally mature (even featuring an argument where Cathy throws Mel’s arguments back in her face fantastically), and it’s really a story about this beautiful friendship. Because of the way women are often portrayed in pop culture, I don’t get to weep “GIRLS!” as much as I do “BOYS!” at friends, but this did it. Such a fantastic, empowering treat.

Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson

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Every once in a while, over in the comments at the A.V. Club, I’ll see someone complain that openly admitting your biases while reviewing something is unprofessional. But, as Wilson points out in this slim, perfect book, taste is inherently subjective—to pretend otherwise is not only unprofessional, but madness. To test his own biases, he looks at Celine Dion, a singer whose popularity he does not understand, and puts her firmly in her own historical, cultural, and musical context in order to better understand why people like her. (It even briefly has a spiritual moment that has utterly stuck with me.) It’s a clarion call to criticism based on respect and dialogue, which all consumers of pop culture should read.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

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I love advice columns—the kind that punch you in the gut, like the Awl’s Ask Polly, and the kind that emphasize clear communication and trust, like Captain Awkward. But Dear Sugar blends the two, as Cheryl Strayed (whose identity as Dear Sugar was hidden for a good long while) preaches and practices radical empathy and a kind of emotional generosity. It’s easy to be cruel and careless, as many of Strayed’s letter writers know; the difficult thing, and the right thing, is to be the best, most generous version of yourself, even when you don’t feel like it. Actually, Let’s Talk About Love and Tiny Beautiful Things make a wonderful duet, arguing for respect (including self-respect), love, and doing the right thing, in such beautiful ways.

What were your favorite reads of 2013—either published this year or read this year? Feel free to link your own round-up, if you’ve done one.

10 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Opinions: 2013 in Review

  1. We have some favourites in common🙂 And I hadn’t thought of this at all – “Actually, Let’s Talk About Love and Tiny Beautiful Things make a wonderful duet, arguing for respect (including self-respect), love, and doing the right thing, in such beautiful ways.” – but it’s so true.

    I hereby vow to definitely read the Joanna Russ in 2014. Here’s to a great reading year ahead for us both!

  2. OMG BITTERBLUE YES. It was my favourite book of 2013, as well as one of my favourite books ever.

    I desperately want to read HOW TO SUPPRESS WOMEN’S WRITING, too, but my library doesn’t have it. Poop. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it at the thrift shop, though. I want to read more nonfiction this year, particularly nonfiction by women, so it’s an absolute must-read for 2014.

  3. There are so many books here that I want to read now. Let’s Talk About Love? How To Watch Television? It’s going to be hard not to buy those this year or get them from the library when I am trying to read only what I already own!! I watch almost as much TV as I read, and I would love to be able to speak articulately about why I like something and intelligently about the things that bother me, but I don’t always know how. It seems like it should be the same as talking about books, but it doesn’t feel like it.

    • How to Watch Television is great, but Let’s Talk About Love is perfect. I think about that book almost everyday, as both a person and a person who is a critic.

      Television and prose are just such different mediums. Plus, there are more people involved, which always used to stump me.

  4. In other news, I have never read Ask Polly and I just went to go read a few and the first one I read completely wrecked me. It was something I needed to her and I’m glad I read it – so thank you.

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