Top nine books of 2013

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 5, 2014

SALISBURY — Since 2013 was an odd year, I decided to pick an odd number of best books — nine.
Not exactly. It was an odd year, reflected in a crop of books that seemed so much the same or too much different. There were great books. I didn’t get to read all of them, didn’t read as much as I wanted to last year, but I offer my list of what I did enjoy. You won’t like all of them, but my list includes some little-known authors who deserve your attention, especially when some well-known authors (you know who you are) are churning out the same old stuff.
Thanks to my literary friends and to publicist Cindy Campbell, I did get hot tips on what turned out to be some of my favorites.
Here’s the list, in order. It was a lackluster year, as Deal Safrit of Literary Outpost mentioned in his Dec. 29 column on best books of 2013.

1. TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann.
2. Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, by Fred Bahnson.
3. The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout.
4. The Paper Boy, by Sonny Allen.
5. Life After Life, by Jill McCorkle.
6. Bobcat and Other Stories, by Rebecca Lee.
7. The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson, by Nancy Peacock.
8. Leaving Tuscaloosa, by Walter Bennett.
9. Ashoan’s Rug, by Carrie Jane Knowles.

As far as new books go, everyone who knows me expects me to pick “TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann. Right. McCann, a charming Irishman I met at the Brady Author’s Symposium in 2011, uses words like no other writer I’ve ever read. It’s glorious. His stories that connect far and wide with near and dear, awful with sublime, magical with real leave me feeling a part of the story and sad to see it end. And speaking of sad, he has not asked me to run away with him … yet.
I’d say my second favorite, “Soil and Sacrament” by Fred Bahnson, was a sleeper hit. I picked it up because Bahnson teaches at my alma mater, Wake Forest University. I read it because it’s about food and faith. I did not expect to be spiritually moved by his visits to a variety of gardens, from time with the brothers of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, to a stay at a Jewish community that celebrated an ancient harvest festival connecting us to God and the earth.
“The Burgess Boys,” from “Olive Kitteridge” author Elizabeth Strout, showed her strengths in creating dysfunctional families that readers grow to care about and even love. Strout offers a simple redemption for the hopeless people in her novel.
“The Paper Boy,’ a collection of tales by former Salisbury Mayor Sonny Allen, is just delightful, evocative of a certain time in our past and full of humor and insight. They’re even fun to read out loud. Knowing how much Sonny enjoyed writing the stories helps. He and wife Janie know how to enjoy the later years of life.
“Life after Life” by Jill McCorkle was another small book that left a big impression, with its story of people nearing the end of life and celebrating the time they have left. The cast of characters includes liars and dreamers and ne’er-do-wells, and shows how they need each other and learn from each other. McCorkle has a way of creating a world that is other-worldly and believable at the same time.
Rebecca Lee’s ‘Bobcat and Other Stories” is a quirky collection of good writing and interesting characters. Lee, who came to Salisbury for a book signing, teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She’s charming and imaginative, and her stories just seemed right.
I never expected to be so engrossed in “The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson,” by Nancy Peacock. Her story of a slave about to be hanged for murder is remarkable and the narrator unforgettable. Thanks to Cindy for turning me on to this. Peacock creates a deeply detailed world full of emotion and reflection.
Another book I didn’t expect to get deeply involved in was “Leaving Tuscaloosa” by Walter Bennett. Bennett, of Chapel Hill, wrote a gripping story that takes place during the civil rights era and has unexpected twists and turns.
And finally, “Ashoan’s Rug,” by Carrie Knowles, a series of connected stories, brought a number of vivid characters to life, along with a beautifully hand-tied rug.

What were your favorite books of 2013? Let me know by emailing me at or find me on Facebook. You can also drop a note in the mail to: Books, Salisbury Post, PO Box 4639, Salisbury NC 28145. We may come up with a whole new list.