Year End Book List — the final 20

To to-read pile never goes down!

To to-read pile never goes down!

Okay, so I didn’t quite make my target of 75 books this year, but I did read 70.  I aim for 52 books every year — a book a week — and if I manage that I feel pretty good.  So, here are the last entries.  The first 25 are here and the second here.  As before, if there’s a link it will take you to a longer review on  If the entry’s in bold, it means I loved the book.

I also encourage all of you to begin the new year by taking the “50 Book Pledge“.  It’s a great way to keep track of your reading with lovely bookshelves and a community of readers.  Hope to see you there.  Every book I read I tweet as part of the pledge.

Here goes:

51. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller — Beautifully written. Heller explores what it means to be human when the vestiges of civilization have been stripped away — what are we at the core, devoid of the limiting influences of society? His conclusions, I’m happy to report, are hopeful.

52. Shatterday by Harlen Ellison — Ellison saw fit to include long introductory essays at the start of each story, in which he extols his own genius. Rather ruins the effect, I’m afraid.

53. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy — A wonderful character. Sally Jay Gorce is complex, sexy, observant and very funny. A little Holly Golightly, a little Bridget Jones, but a tougher, more nuanced version. Paris and the 50s in a whole new light.

54. The Peppered Moth by Dame Margaret Drabble — Deeply engaging, and unsettling. The point of view is intriguing — Drabble writes here like a 19th century omniscient novelist, but the narrator’s voice is also idiosyncratic and conflicted. It reads as though Drabble was compelled to write the book, fueled by antipathy and ambivalence toward her mother, but also by confusion and a real desire to understand. Anyone who has been raised by a difficult mother (hello!) cannot fail but identify.

55. The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles — Wonderful writing — witty and subtly wise. Unexpected and yet completely credible twists. Well done.

56. The White Album by Joan Didion — While I recognize Didion’s towering intellect, her facility with language, her admirable curiosity and the scope of her knowledge, I find her writing so icy and distant I’m left unsatisfied.

57. The Truth About Luck by Iain Reid — Reid’s ability to avoid clichés, as well as to recognize his grandmother’s wisdom and then share it with the reader, makes this a deeply rewarding read. 

58. A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor — A beautifully written meditation on the meaning & benefits of silence & solitude. To read it is to enter into the state of meditation. It invites contemplation & encourages appreciation of simplicity

59. The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany By Graeme Gibson–  A book meant to rest on one’s bedside table, as the title asserts, dipped into & delighted in, over and over. This is probably the 4th or 5th time I’ve read it. Once I finish, I start again!

60. The Lost Estate by Fournier Henri Alain — one of those books aficionados fear may one day soon pass into obscurity. What a great pity that would be, for surely no other novel I can think of has so beautifully portrays lost innocence & sorrow.

61. Nothing to be Frightened of by Julian Barnes — After reading this book, no matter how witty and smart it is, I can only conclude Barnes intended the title to be ironic.

62. Russian Winter By Daphne Kalotay — Succeeds best at illustrating the soul-crushing paranoia and deprivation of Stalinist Russia. The scenes at the Bolshoi and during that part of the protagonist’s life are the most evocative. The modern sections feel melodramatic and lack a narrative thrust. Still, author Daphne Kalotay has a way with words, an eye for images and lots of potential.

63. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy — Every library should include a copy of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, every serious reader should read it, at least once. 

64. Casting the Runes and other ghost stories by M.R. James — I learned about this book from reading Michael Chabon’s MAPS AND LEGENDS.  M.R. James was a Cambridge don and well-known teller of scary tales.  So well known was he, in England at least, that his stories are still read on the BBC.  How embarrassing then that I had never heard of James until now. Terrific tales of the spine-tingling variety, told with wit and great skill.  They are gruesome and horrifying and all the things one wants in such stories.  Wonderful to read by a crackling fire on a dark winter’s night!

65.  The Moorland Cottage by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell – some days a gentle book-even a slightly clumsy one-about people trying to do the right thing for the right reasons, written with that lovely Victorian sensibility, is the perfect thing.

66. A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent By Marie Brennan — When you crave utter distraction & escapism, nothing does the trick like a terrific adventure yarn with a smart, funny, female lead, a passing nod to Victorian travel writing and, well, dragons.

67. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – f you’re looking for a silly, often-funny bit of mindless fizz, go for it. Like a light dessert, it won’t do you any harm, but it isn’t very nourishing either.

68. Wild Fell by Michael Rowe — This beautifully written ghost story examines questions of memory, history, gender the way time works.

69. Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon — A wonderful collection of essays, some critical, some autobiographical, poking around in the corners of the overstuffed attic that seems to be Chabon’s mind and imagination.

70. The Warden by Trollope — Trollope certainly does love his tangential rants. They’re witty, but bogged down the story. Too much of the author’s opinions, too little depth. A heresy, I know! 😉

I look forward to a new year of wonderful books and would love to hear what you’re reading, and which books you really enjoyed.  Hope you find a few new possibilities here.

Happy reading.


  1. Leslie Grant on January 1, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Thanks for this final set of reviews from your 2013 reading list. On top of your own writing and teaching, it’s wonderful that you’re able to create time to immerse yourself in books written by other authors. Do you find it enhances your own work?

    I’ve been meaning to read The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, so thanks for encouragement.

    Happy new year! Leslie

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 1, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Reading is part of the writer’s job, just as listening to music is part of a musician’s. Besides, if I didn’t LOVE books and stories, why on earth would I want to be a writer? Great books inspire me, urge me to do better, and teach me.

      And by all means, read The Death of Ivan Ilyich! It’s stunning.

      Happy New Year to you as well, Leslie, and all the best for 2014. L.

  2. Terri Franks on January 1, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I usually aim for 52 books a year and made it to 54. So I am happy. I was reading “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and just happened to have a Diverticulitis attack right after Christmas. Believe me, you can’t be as sick as I was and keep reading that book.Will carry on later.
    “Indignation” by Philip Roth was one of my favourites of the year. Loved it. I have read a few other books by Roth and think he is a great writer. I like his bluntness.
    “The End of Your Life Book Club” was another winner in 2013. Not only did I love the mini- book reviews but I was impressed by the character of Mary Anne, who had a life of giving to others and had a death with grace and courage.
    I could list quite a few great books that I read in 2013 and Lauren’s 3 novels were among them.
    “The Empty Room, Our Daily Bread and The Radiant City”. Lauren is a serious writer, a little on the dark side, but that’s what I like.I don’t waste time on frivolity! There are too many books to read!!
    Happy New Year to all who read this.

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Thanks so much, Terri. I’m thrilled you enjoyed my books. You’ve quite made my day.

      You’re right about Ivan Ilyich, of course, not the book to read when sick. Hope you’re feeling better now!

      I have “The End of Your Life Book Club” on my list and you’ve encouraged me to move it a bit closer to the top of the to-read pile!

      Thanks again, and Happy New Year.


  3. Shannon M. Allain on January 10, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring list, Lauren! I’m interested in reading Sackville-West and thank you for the recommendation. I also enjoyed “Rules of Civility” this year, as well as your newest, “The Empty Room”, two of my favorites of this year’s 36 reads for me. Other favorites were Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho’s fragments “If Not, Winter” as well as her book of criticism “Eros the Bittersweet”. I also went on a Junot Diaz binge and became a huge fan of his writing with his bold, memorable, sometimes vulgar but very endearing characters. I’ll see you soon! Best, Shannon

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