Gazette reviewers choose their favorite books of 2013
2013 was the year of independent bookstores in the Capital Region. Despite the continuing popularity of Kindle and Nook, many book lovers still enjoy the atmosphere of finding books in an actual bookstore, and we are lucky to have so many excellent ones in our area, from The Open Door in Schenectady to The Book House in Albany and I Love Books in Delmar.
In August, the Northshire Bookstore opened on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. In just four months the store has become an important part of the Saratoga social and shopping scene, and has already brought in such notable authors as Anne Rice, Mitch Albom, Neal Gaimon and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
East Line Books in Clifton Park announced plans to close, but the Open Door in Schenectady will remain open. Janet Hutchinson recently sold the store, and says the new owner plans to continue selling literature for all ages.
The New York State Writers Institute continues to bring the best writers in the world to our region, and one of them was Niskayuna native Gilbert King, who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.
Here are some of our favorite books of the year.
“Devil in the Grove” by Gilbert King
This was my favorite nonfiction book of the year. It’s a riveting tale about a little-known incident that occurred in Florida in 1949 when four young black men were unfairly arrested for the rape of a white woman. The author grew up in Niskayuna, and the book was the 2012 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. I couldn’t put this book down.
“The Ghost Horse” by Joe Layden
The author, who lives in Saratoga Springs, has written a moving account of journeyman horse trainer Tim Snyder who can afford to buy only one horse and through hard work and a lot of love creates a stakes winner at the Saratoga Racetrack. This nonfiction book reads like fiction, and I found myself cheering for Snyder as he faced so many obstacles in his life.
“Bomb” by Steve Sheinkin
Sheinkin is another Saratoga Springs author of nonfiction. This book, which was a Newbery Honor selection, tells the exciting story of our country’s desperate attempt to build the first atom bomb in the 1940s. “Bomb,” which is marketed for young adults but would also be enjoyed by adults, is filled with spies, scientific geniuses and adventures on just about every page. It’s great to read nonfiction that reads like a spy adventure.
“Tenth of December” by George Saunders
This author paid a visit to the New York State Writers Institute last February, and this is his most recent collection of short stories, which are humorous, magical ad unsettling at the same time. He may be the best writer of the short story today.
“Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter
A romp of a novel that jumps around in time from the present time to the early 1960s when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were filming “Cleopatra” in Italy. The story is filled with believable characters, and has much humor and much heart.
“The Bully Pulpit” by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Goodwin brings to life the Progressive Age (1900-1918), and the friendship and rivalry of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. She is one of our best historians who knows how to tell a story.
“Marathon Man” by Bill Rodgers
This is an honest memoir by our country’s top marathon runner in the late 1970s through the early 1980s. It’s amazing to read how Rodgers went from a smoker and a drinker in the early 1970s to winning the first of his four Boston Marathons in 1975. Very inspiring.
“Fellow Mortals” by Dennis Mahoney
This first novel, about a fire and the physical and emotional damage it inflicts on an upstate neighborhood, has losses and sadness. Yet, Mahoney quickly draws the reader into the story with sympathetic, fully developed characters, descriptions of seasons that feel on paper like what one sees out the window, appropriately timed wit, plot twists and surprises.
“The Allure of Deep Woods” by Walt McLaughlin
If Henry David Thoreau had written about hiking the Northville Placid Trail instead of living by Walden, the result would be an awful lot like McLaughlin’s account of two weeks on the trail in a recent September. He offers an appealing mix of personal meditations and sharply drawn, vivid views of the landscape, hiking and camping.
“Roosevelt’s Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II” by Joseph E. Persico
Persico’s descriptions of Roosevelt and his military team are so well-drawn that they seem to come alive and rise from the pages. In addition to vivid, dryly witty writing, the book is highly readable thanks to a strong organization and a mix of already known and surprising facts about Roosevelt, his commanders and the war.
“Up on a Hill and Thereabouts” by Gloria Stubing Rist
In this spellbinding memoir about a 1930s Adirondack childhood, Stubing Rist relates how she, her mother and brother moved from the Bronx to the eastern Adirondacks to escape an abusive father. With a storyteller’s gift and wit, Stubing Rist captures the joys and travails of living in the Adirondacks during the Depression. She and her family faced a hard life but they lived it well and with aplomb.
“Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges and Tunnels of the River” by Donald E. Wolf
This is a well-researched, beautifully written history of the 21 bridges and tunnels that cross the Hudson between the Capital Region and New York City. Wolf, a civil engineer and lifelong Hudson valley resident, is the perfect author for this history: he shows how bridges “are among the most elegant forms of civil engineering.” His deep knowledge of the Hudson valley brings to life the social and historical background for each crossing.
“The River’s Tale” by Michael Virtanen
This suspenseful, highly readable second mystery, in a series with investigator Jack Kirkland, is set in the Adirondack High Peaks and the daunting whitewater of the upper Hudson River. With a writing style that is visual, a fast-moving moving plot, Adirondack setting and surprises that pop up as frequently as rapids on whitewater, this mystery is a delight to read.
“Styx and Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery” by James W. Ziskin
This capably written first mystery is set in Amsterdam and New York City during the 1960s, with sepia-toned, realistic period atmosphere. Twenty-something reporter Ellie Stone becomes a sleuth to find the person who nearly killed her father during a burglary. Along the way are many plot twists and a satisfying surprising ending.