My Books of 2013


Well, it’s been an interesting reading year for me. I’ve read less than usual, but also more than usual in that what I have read has been far more wide ranging than what I have habitually picked up over the past few years. This change has been mainly influenced by my job; if I’ve got to teach it, I’ve got to read it, and usually what I have to teach isn’t what I necessarily want to read. This is sometimes annoying but most of the time very rewarding, as this year I have had the pleasure of immersing myself in many lovely stories that I would otherwise, through prejudice, ignorance or a mixture of the two, have let pass me by. Branching out of my comfort zone of middle brow and classic literature has led to a much richer and broader appreciation of literature across genres and time periods that has genuinely changed my approach to reading.

For starters, I’m actually glad that I was forced by my job to read more YA fiction. I have discovered some real gems that have given me both an enormous amount of pleasure and an education about a variety of historical events I would have had no clue about otherwise. Standouts in the YA genre were Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is a heart-stoppingly good read, and The Hunger Games trilogy, which taught me that it’s OK to read what everyone else is reading…as long as it’s on my Kindle.

Secondly, I’m glad I tried out books by more current authors. My choices have ranged from Booker Prize nominees to YA series to chick lit. Many of these were novels that I would normally avoid like the plague, because I have many prejudices that are formed more from snobbery than experience. I have enjoyed having my expectations challenged and subverted by some truly excellent novels. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri was such a rich and evocative tapestry of cultural experiences. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys made me cry my eyes out.  It’s been a positive change to have my finger on the pulse of what’s current in the literary world. Normally no one has heard of what I‘m reading, which can get lonely. As a teacher, it’s fantastic to be able to pick up the latest bestselling book a student has out on their desk and have a meaningful, informed conversation about it, even if I hated it!

Thirdly, as a compulsive completist, I’m really glad that I re-read Northanger Abbey ten years after first reading it. I can now comfortably discuss the plot of any Austen novel in minute detail, and am looking forward to when I get to go on a TV quiz show and win the big money by triumphantly identifying an obscure Austen character who featured in a Bath-based ballroom scene. This will happen.

Finally, and somewhat guiltily, I’m really glad I got a Kindle. Free classics at your fingertips are worth their weight in gold.

And my favourite book of 2013? All things considered, I think I’d have to plump for Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. I found it absolutely perfect in every way; no one should go through life without having read it. If you only get around to one book in 2014, Crossing to Safety should be it.

Happy New Year everybody! Thank you for reading, commenting and generally supporting me and my blog in 2013. I appreciate all of you very much and I look forward to more adventures in Book Snobbery next year!



  1. I suppose Crossing to Safety is my favorite Stegner novel because it was my first. I agree with your recommendation that everyone should read it, although Angle of Repose is not shabby either. Happy reading in 2014.

      1. Crossing to Safety was my first, followed by All the Little Live Things, and then Angle of Repose. I wish I had read AofR before I visited Grass Valley CA and toured the gold mine the fictional character was instrumental in running. Fascinating town, fascinating characters, fascinating book.

    1. Yes it does – I’m more attuned to the writing process, the construction of the text and the intentions of the author, etc. I’m also constantly thinking how I could teach this element and that element so it does make it different in many ways, but I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing. I like being an active reader!

  2. Hi Rachel,

    Just taking a moment to wish you a lovely New Year and to say thanks for your enjoyable, thoughtfully written posts. So much info comes through my in-box but I always take time to read your entries. Next time you visit Washington, DC I will take you to my favorite bookstore, Politics & Prose.

    I wondered, do you keep aggregate list of books you’ve written about so that your readers could refer to it quickly when trying to remember a book you’ve mentioned?

    Thanks so much for your terrific efforts and all the best to you.


    1. Thanks so much Cynthia! Happy new year to you too. I’m sure another trip to DC will be on the cards at some point so I look forward to that pleasure. I drove past it before – it’s near Dupont Circle, isn’t it?

      Yes I do have a list of books I’ve reviewed – if you click on ‘reviews’ in the sidebar, all of them should come up and they are linked to the reviews I wrote.

      You are very welcome – thank you for reading!

  3. Thank you for your company and comments this year, I have loved them all! I started a book club at school for parents and staff, and although the response has been rather under-whelming the choice of books that I have had to read has certainly put me outside my comfort zone. I’m glad things have settled down and you are confident in your work. With very best wishes for 2014, Jo

    1. Sorry to jump in here, Jo, but wanted to tell you to hang in there with your school book club. Ours started 26 years ago this January, and we are still going strong, having lost a few members over the years, gained some again as time went on. Right now, we are almost totally members whose children attending Field School or taught at Field School (and some now have grandchildren there). In these passing years, I’ve read books that I never would have otherwise and gained life-long friends.

    2. Thanks Jo! I’m glad you have branched out more – it is fun, isn’t it? And I second Penny’s advice – stick with the book club. It takes time to build momentum but it will get there in the end. I think choosing the right book is part of it as well – trying to get something that draws people in and suits all tastes is hard but not impossible! Best wishes for a wonderful 2014 to you too!

  4. Free Classics on Kindle are one of my favourite things about mine – I wouldn’t have read Northanger Abbey otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never shouted at a book as much as I have as Isabella and John, oh how they vexed me!

    Happy New Year!

    1. They’re amazing, aren’t they? I loved Northanger Abbey – yes, I did lots of shouting and curling of my toes in agony at their behaviour!! Brilliant! Happy new year to you too!

    1. I’d love to visit and see it for myself, Linda! I’m glad to hear that – I’m sure I’ll be reading plenty more this year so I look forward to passing on news of the best ones!

  5. What a great blog as always. Crossing to Safety is my number one read of the year. I also love my kindle for the free classics. I am deep into Anna Karenina and loving every word on my kindle. Thank you so much for a great blog and let’s hope 2014 offers up loads of wonderful reads new and old. I do hope that 2014 is all you wish it to be.

  6. Happy New Year to you too! Sometimes we have to read things we don’t feel like reading (either as teachers or as students) but eventually, all reading pays off 🙂

  7. It has remained a constant delight to read your book posts, Rachel, to follow your career change, and experience your reading growth as you explore new genre. Well done, dear blogging friend from across the pond.

    Crossing to Safety is one of my all-time favorites. Angle of Repose is also noteworthy a read. Had it not been for reading your posts, I would never have come upon Code Name Verity this year (and look forward to the next book which I’m hoping to snatch from the library soon).

    The best of wishes to you, Rachel, for a happy, healthy New Year!

    1. Thank you so much, Penny – and likewise. Even though I don’t comment, I love reading about your life in Illinois.

      I must read Angle of Repose this year, and I’m so glad you loved Code Name Verity. Rose under Fire is also very good but not as gripping as CNV for me.

      Thank you – same to you!

  8. I read Crossing to Safety this year because of your review, and really enjoyed it- so thank-you! And Happy New Year! I hope it’s a good one and full of more reading discoveries.

  9. I’m so sorry to be contrary, and I’ve agreed with you on loads of books, but I read Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and hated it. Tedious, derivative, sentimental drivel. So many sources recommended it last year, so perhaps I’m a lone voice. But I think there’s a good reason this novel fell out of the cultural consciousness after it was written. I’m donating it to the nearest book sale this week, not worth giving shelf space to!

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