Our Favorite Things We Read This Year

Here is the Wire staff's personal collection of the best things we read in 2013.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

When we aren't rotting our brains on television and video games, we occasionally like to actually read something that isn't on a "second screen." Okay, fine. We read a lot, often online, and not just about the the blood feud between the Hiltons and Lohans and the magical man known as Ted Cruz. From books, blog posts, news stories, think pieces, blurbs, comics, and whatever else you can find that's made out of words, here are The Wire staff's personal collection of the best things we read (though not necessarily written) in 2013.

The Interestings

When it comes to books my favorites that I've read this year would have to be a tie between Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings and Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette. Though Wolitzer's book places her characters in very specific time periods — a summer camp in the '70s, New York in the '80s — it also is completely relatable, capturing how friendship breeds love and jealousy. Where'd You Go, Bernadette meanwhile exists as a hilarious satire of the pushy mothers of the private school world, and a meditation on fame and family with a charming young narrator. 

As for articles? I loved Emily Nussbaum's defense of Sex and the City's good name, and for pure silliness Vulture's list of everything Peeta did wrong in the Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Esther Zuckerman

Part of The Corrections (We Think?)

For one glorious week this summer, I was on vacation. The plan was to bring books upon books upon books and finally read something for a change, since my movie-addled brain had done just what critics of the visual media have always said it would: Turn the brain into a slush incapable of having the patience for the written word. Now, with nothing but time in front of me and a deck chair under me, I would finally read. I would finally nourish my brain. I would, as my spiritual sister Liz Lemon once expressed anxiety about, finally finish Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.

That one chapter of The Corrections I completed, wherein the college professor was having the affair with the young girl in order to defy his middle-American upbringing and feel alive in the only way a heterosexual white man of some education can do (or wait, maybe this was Gone Girl?), was the finest thing I read all year.
Joe Reid

Sometimes We Read About Food and Heartbreak

Two of my favorite articles were fascinating behind-the-scene peeks from opposite ends of our massive food industry. This Fast Company story about Doritos Loco Tacos shows how much engineering genius goes into creating a simple, but affordable (and delicious) taco shell. The other, a New York Times tick-tock from the kitchens of Balthazar explains how to serve 10,000 luxury meals a week to rich and famous customers, and still make them tasty and profitable. It's an equally impressive feat of logistics and manpower, and both stories were told with a lot style.

For pure heartbreak, it hard to top Christa Parravani's story about her twin sister, Cara, who committed suicide four years after suffering a violent rape. In a year that was dominated by debates about "rape culture" and what it does to both men and women, the story of what it did to one family was truly powerful. (She also wrote a full length book about it.)

I also recommend William Dalrymple's epic history, Return of a King. This book would be a shot-for-shot retelling of the last 12 years of Afghanistan history and all the mistakes and miscalculations made by Western powers fighting there, were it not actually the story of the first British invasion (and their gruesome defeat) more than 170 years ago. If only certain generals and war planners had it been able to read it before 2001, they might have reconsidered the whole thing, as the Afghans have been fighting the same war ever since. (And they are very good at it.) It's a riveting chronicle of war, imperialism, the birth of jihad, and the best explanation I've read of why the country is impossible to conquer.

– Dashiell Bennett

A Brief History of Crazy Rich Asians and X-Men 

Uncanny X-Men — I am firmly in the camp that believes that Wolverine is the greatest fraud that Marvel has ever played on the general public. So it should come as no surprise that the X-Men series I latched onto was the one without the 5'3" waste of ink. Uncanny focuses on Scott Summers's team of renegade, broken X-Men. The knock on writer Brian Michael Bendis is that he writes a clunky Emma Frost,  but he is getting better. Issue 14, where new recruit Benjamin Deeds comes out is evidence of that, and one of the better Emma issues.

Captain Marvel via Marvel

Captain Marvel  Kelly Sue DeConnick is one of the most talented, funny (see: cashmere enema), important and refreshing writers in the comics industry. I first got familiar with her work when I picked up (downloaded) Captain Marvel. During her tenure there, she's given Carol Danvers depth and deftly shaped her into a not-always-perfect, complex, strong, and captivating hero that makes me want to give Marvel all my money and almost forgive it for the travesty that is Wolverine.  

Very Recent History  by Choire Sicha. I read this book over the summer and will stand by my assessment that it is kind of like having a sardonic alien narrate a play-by-play of silly and sometimes very lonely city life. 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. CRA wasn't the best book I read this year, but it might have been the most fun to read. Growing up, whenever I asked about books about Asian Americans and Asian characters I was always pointed into the Amy Tan section in the library. And there's nothing wrong with those type of dramatic, moving, very sad books about sacrifice. The problem is when those become the only kinds of books that get read (or published), which is why I kinda liked CRA. The writing doesn't crackle, the book is probably better for a beach, but reading about crazy, rich Asian people, couture, and eating noodles while reading Tattler  was one of my favorite things. 

Honorable mentions:  This Washington Post Magazine feature about a set of children putting together the pieces (or not) after their father shoots their mother; a New York Times investigative report on America's secret shame: anal fissures; and this thing. 

Alexander Abad-Santos

The Trans-IT Girl Tease

My favorite thing that I read in 2013 was the teaser blurb for Trans-IT Girl, the debut novelette of local New York traffic reporter Jamie Shupak. Or, to be more specific, my favorite thing I read was the title, which is a play off how the Post once referred to Shupak ("transit it-girl," etc.). Well, it's just a complete appropriation of it, I guess. Anyway, the title suggests that maybe the book is actually about an IT specialist that is exploring the nature of her gender identity, which is probably why Amazon has it as "Transit Girl" instead. If you are curious why the term applies to both Shupak and the protagonist of the novel, it is probably because the novel is based a little tiny bit on Shupak's life. I haven't read the novel.

–Philip Bump

The Child Catchers

Honestly, I spent a lot of time catching up on older books this year. But there's a stand-out piece of investigative journalism that absolutely counts as one of the more influential things I've read: The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce, a nonfiction look at the evangelical adoption movement, and the theology and industry behind it. It's a good piece of journalism, and one of the first I've read that both critically and fairly looks at the evangelical focus on the orphan crisis, a subject that's popped up more and more in the news in recent months as a growing battleground for pro-life activists. Joyce published an excerpt from her book at Mother Jones earlier this year, and followed up with a harrowing longread in Slate this fall, examining a series of failed international adoptions. At Slate, Joyce writes, "It should go without saying that most devoutly religious adoptive parents, or conservative Christian parents generally, are not abusive," adding, "However, children adopted by some religious sub-communities—isolated homeschoolers with large families, deeply conservative beliefs about discipline and obedience, and a practice of adopting multiple unrelated children at once—may find themselves in families unprepared to give them the care they need."

Abby Ohlheiser

Rob Ford's Truth Is Stranger Than

Every other answer pales in comparison to the original Rob Ford crack tape Gawker post, because I remember the moment I saw it and the ensuing five hours of my life so vividly. I was on my way to meet with two other journalist friends, but I saw it on my way out the door and I paused to finish the whole thing. I had just moved to Toronto a few weeks before that, and didn't know all that much about the city. Ford was a dumbass — that much was clear. But crack? That wasn't even on the radar. I made my friends read it at the bar and we spent the next few hours getting kinda drunk and talking about What It Means and also about trivial stuff like the people we kissed recently. It was great. 

–Connor Simpson

The Aftermath in Newtown

This is an extremely moving narrative account of how the parents of the Newtown shooting victims were faring six months after the tragedy. It chronicles the heartbreaking ways in which our government abandoned efforts to enact gun control legislation, and left these broken families hopeless. 

–Danielle Wiener-Bronner

The Grey Lady and Kanye

Jon Caramanica's extensive interview with Kanye West last June was easily the best thing I read in 2013. It's become a bit of a compulsion when I read things to try and find The Tweet, the sentence that sums it all up. But in that piece, every sentence was the tweet, every line was quotable, and each better than the last ("this one Corbusier lamp was like, my greatest inspiration"). It's also just a clinic on how to conduct a good interview. It's a conversation allowing Kanye his time to speak without letting him escape interrogation or giving him the entire floor. Other great reads: This immensely detailed article about the conception and invention of the Doritos Locos Tacos; this Grantland piece on the best race in the world: the Iditarod; and Thought Catalog's compelling case for why Vegeta is better than Goku.

—Brian Feldman

Egg Hunters

The Hunt for Illegal Egg Collectors . Julian Rubinstein's look at obsessive rare egg collectors and the nearly-almost-as-obsessive people who try to stop them is a fascinating and entertaining account of something most of us have never heard of. Meet protagonists Mark Thomas and Guy Shorrock, investigators for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They are charged, under the auspices of "Operation Easter," with catching criminal egg collectors like Matthew Gonshaw, who ends up with a lifetime ban from the country of Scotland during bird breeding season.

"They’re not normal criminals,” Shorrock tells us. They don't take the eggs for profit. They take them because they just have to have them, and nothing -- not fines nor jail time -- seems to stop them. One collector sobs in relief when he's finally caught, telling police he "can't stop." Another dies in the process of trying to take eggs from a nest; he falls out of a tree. Gonshaw is jailed three times for egg-related offenses. In the end, you never quite figure out what drives any of the people involved (including Shorrock and Thomas), but the extremes they go to make for a great ride.

–Sara Morrison

A Reason to Read Women's Magazines

My top read of 2013 was every career-oriented women's magazine article written after March 11th, which we all know to be the publication date of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. 

–Allie Jones

The Disaster Artist 

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell tells the bizarre story of Tommy Wiseau, the mind behind the epically awful film The Room, the most enjoyably terrible movie ever. The book is like disaster porn, filled with stories of the film's creation. But The Disaster Artist is memorable for being actually inspiring, to my surprise. Wiseau had a (slightly demented) vision and dream to make a movie, and wouldn't let the nay-sayers get in his way. The nay-sayers happened to be right, of course, but still: follow your dreams, kids.

–Eric Levenson

The Sound of Things Falling

The best thing I read this year — or best thing longer than 140 characters, at least— was The Sound of Things Falling, the most recent novel by Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez. In my coverage of the book, I argued that it's a break away from the Latin-American magical realism tradition and towards grittier, crime-inspired literature, but I don't want to make it seem like it's only for English Ph.D.s or Gabriel Garcia Márquez scholars or whatever. It's not. It's an impressively gripping and personal story inspired by the author's own experiences during the Colombian drug wars, and a powerful one for anyone who grew up in the shadow of terrorism and violence. 

Plus, after speaking with Vásquez on the phone, I can verify that he's a true gentleman with a low, deeply soothing speaking voice. Will someone please get him to record the audiobook?

Zach Schonfeld

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.