The Best Books I Read in 2013
My fellow passengers on a flight to LA last month must have thought I was insane. Reading Meaty, Samantha Irby’s TMI-filled collection of essays (a recent Emily Books selection), I found myself one minute crying over a young Irby being smacked by her alcoholic dad because she’d washed a cast iron pan with soap; the next I was laughing out loud at her mediations on the indignities of sex between real, flawed humans as opposed to supermodels, and her observations about white bobos: “… you could sit down to an enormous Thanksgiving dinner and only eat the fucking green beans because a turkey with a brain the size of my toenail didn’t have a happy childhood…”
I knew The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg would resonate with me – someone who grew up in middle class Reform Jewish suburbia – but I had no idea to what extent the characters and their situations would be so recognizable, from the effects of growing up with a compulsive overeater, to the petty concerns of a constellation of synagogue families. Attenberg balances her sharp eye and wit with a warm heart, drawing living, breathing, sympathetic characters who might, at another writer’s hand, become cartoonlike schlemiels.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adele Waldman was something of a masochistic pleasure. Reading it I winced so often, as she reminded me of my days as a single young woman in the New York City, and the masters of the mixed message I encountered over and over – guys who underestimated their level of privilege, and overestimated their capacity for compassion toward those of us with less power. I’m embarrassed to say I derived almost the same level of validation – confirmation that I wasn’t crazy – from reading this book as I did when, in my twenties, I devoured Men Who Can’t Love by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol. Except, with Waldman’s keen ear for dialogue, her perfect pacing and terrific writing, Nathaniel P. was a whole hell of a lot more satisfying a read.
Sari Botton is a writer, a columnist for The Rumpus, and the editor of Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving NY