Under-the-Radar Reads: The Best-Kept Book Secrets of 2013
It's that time of year when we celebrate the year's best books, going back to reconsider our favorite novels, memoirs, books on history & politics, business and sports, young adult books, sci-fi and more. Many great books have been justly celebrated--but there were also some gripping stories published this year that you may have missed. Check out the under-the-radar reads we loved most in 2013.
Are hippies really healthier and happier?
Nathanael Johnson grew up "all natural": natural childbirth at home, no sugar, homeopathic medicines--and as a baby he went au naturel. But when it came time to raise his own kids, Johnson questioned whether his "granola" way of life was, in fact, cleaner and greener than what modern technology has made possible. In this thoughtful and funny memoir, Johnson explores how best to be a responsible citizen of the planet.
A 16th-century executioner tells all
The most illuminating histories aren't always those of great leaders and celebrated thinkers--a personal account from an ordinary citizen can reveal much about life in a certain time and place. Well, you couldn't exactly call Meister Frantz Schmidt of Nuremberg an "ordinary" citizen--as a professional executioner for 45 years, he put to death nearly 400 people and tortured hundreds more. But, what's remarkable about Schmidt's diaries--translated and edited by historian Joel F. Harrington--is that they reveal astounding compassion, insight and religious faith from someone who murdered on behalf of the state.
Extremes of human behavior
A bestseller in the U.K., psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz's collection of case histories hit American bookshelves this spring. Each entry--many of them only a few pages long--explores the extremes of human consciousness with subtlety and compassion, but it's Grosz's knack for Sherlock Holmes-esque suspense that’ll keep you turning the pages. [Bonus: If you want to know even more about "The Examined Life," check out our interview with the author.]
The white American male in decline
In "Angry White Men," Stony Brook University sociologist Michael Kimmel links white American men's waning sphere of influence with a new brand of extreme conservatism. Kimmel argues that a specific cohort of American males--white men, he says, who are also predominantly heterosexual, lower-middle-class and Christian--are angrier than ever. It’s a thought-provoking read.
How a megalomaniacal toy company CEO ticks
When author J. Robert Lennon wrote a roman a clef loosely inspired by a certain millionaire head of a popular American doll company, the novel mysteriously disappeared from the catalogue before bookstores had a chance to put it on the shelf. Eight years later with "Happyland," Lennon's scathing and funny satire is finally available to readers in book form.
Tech-obsessed teen tackles love--online
Television host-turned-author Katie Sise's new novel, "The Boyfriend App," marries our society's app obsession with genuine pathos: To win a college scholarship after her father's death, computer whiz Audrey McCarthy uses her hacking skills to create a dating app for her high school. No surprise, it works like gangbusters--but it also brings about romantic drama and a citywide conspiracy. It's refreshing to see a YA heroine who isn't a star archer or a manic pixie dream girl, but who is still more savvy and driven than her peers.
Where does cruelty begin?
We dug Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom's penetrating study of the biological underpinnings of morality, "Just Babies." In the style of Malcolm Gladwell, Bloom writes with wit and crystal-clear prose, summarizing research proving that we are, in fact, born with an innate ability to distinguish kind actions from cruel ones.
The story of a marriage, intimately observed
Called a "James Joyce of the Upper West Side," Stephen Dixon is the kind of seldom-but-genuinely-appreciated writer of whose importance critics occasionally remind us. You might surmise from the deceptively simple title of Dixon's 16th novel that "His Wife Leaves Him" is the story of a breakup. Rather, it is a closely observed and intricately crafted exploration of a marriage, from first meeting until the last parting.
A surreal and affecting comics world
If your knowledge of comics is more skewed toward superheroes, pick up this collection from cartoonist and "Adventure Time" designer Michael DeForge. Culled from his award-winning anthology series, webcomics and mini comics, the stories are grotesque and brutal, but also elegant and searching commentaries on high school sports, how the media portrays animals and "Spider-Man." Oh, and there's a guy whose torso is Snoopy. Often compared to "Ghost World" author Daniel Clowes, DeForge creates bizarre, complex, nuanced art that will stay in your head long after you've turned the page.
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