In which Netty sums up the good, the bad and the ugly of the 2013 Reading Challenge

January 30, 2014

Some of these books – like some of 2013 – sucked big hairy dog balls …

So it’s that time of the year again in Andy and Netty’s Reading Challenge. Where we cast our literary gaze backwards and sum up a year’s worth of books – the good, the bad, and the downright despicable.

Last year there was all three for me.

Because of the nature of the 2013 ANRC – with Andy and I reading six books apiece, and 12 books separately – I have decided to do not one, but two lists of my 2013 roundup.

Exciting, yeah? Are you excited? I’m excited. I love lists. Almost as much as I used to love mac cheese, before I stopped eating cheese. It’s really hard to make a mac cheese without, like, actual cheese. But I digress …


1. The Book of Daniel – EL DOCTOROW

The real-life story of the Rosenbergs, executed in the US in the 1950s for communist activity, told via the fictionalised Isaacsons. Stunning, compelling, difficult, rewarding reading. The epitome of ANRC books. 

2. Classic Crews – A Reader – HARRY CREWS

US cult writer (see also Brautigan in the Separate Challenge) who lived like a devil and wrote like an angel. Could very easily be sitting atop this list. Both men are my literary finds of the year.

3. The Man Who Loved Children – CHRISTINA STEAD

The dysfunctional family drama that wrote the book on dysfunctional family dramas. Everything that came after it, from Cloudstreet to The Corrections, owes Stead a debt.

4. Manhatten Transfer – JOHN DOS PASSOS

Sprawling love letter to NYC of the early decades of the 20th century. Far more worthy of your time than my initial review may have suggested.

5. Lucky Jim – KINGSLEY AMIS

This book went straight from being read to the recycling bin.

6. Tropic of Cancer – HENRY MILLER

This book went straight from being read to the rubbish bin.



1. The Hawkline Monster – RICHARD BRAUTIGAN

Get thee to a bookshop, stat. Best thing I read all year.

2. The Right Stuff – TOM WOLFE

The incredible, real-life story of seven American men who were strapped into tiny capsules on top of muthafucka big rockets and blasted into space. As told by possibly the finest journalist of his generation, in Wolfe.

3. Dark Star Safari – PAUL THEROUX

Half-memoir, half travelogue, take an absorbing, beautifully told journey through the dark continent with travel writer par excellence Theroux. The second best thing to having actually done it yourself. Ahem.

4. Amsterdam – IAN McEWEN

Just a hands-down, cracking, rollicking yarn from a firing-on-all-cylinders writer whose reputation is well-established – and well-earned.

5. Cannery Row – JOHN STEINBECK

See above.

6. Life of Pi – YANN MARTEL

Fantastic, touching tale of an extremely odd couple – a young boy and a Bengal tiger – adrift in the Pacific Ocean, improbably comes up trumps. PS: See the movie. In 3D.

7. Eucalyptus – MURRAY BAIL

Quaint, unlikely love story, set in the Australian bush. With eucalypts. Plenty of ’em.

8. The Alchemist – PAULO COELHO

Spiritual salvation or mystic mumbo-jumbo? A bit of both, actually.

9. A Clockwork Orange – ANTHONY BURGESS

The leader of an ultra-violent teen gang gets taught a lesson in humanity, via medical science. Dated but worthy.

10. Save Me the Waltz – ZELDA FITZGERALD

In all fairness, this probably wouldn’t still be in print if it wasn’t for the very long literary shadow looming over it. A curio for Fitzgerald completists.

11. These Demented Lands – ALAN WARNER

Dreamy, deranged, drug-soaked, dissatisfying (is that a word?). A curio for Morvern Callar completists.


Dull, frequently unnecessary short stories lacking a destination. And often a story.


Now, the more astute of you will have noticed that it’s the arse-end (bit of a theme in this blog post) of January now, so stand by for the 2014 list, coming to a computer screen near you, in five, four, three, two …


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