As 2013 winds to an end, magazines and media compile their annual “Best of” issues and articles on all topics of interest to readers and consumers. Books are no exception. The first such lists I read came from Slate, pitched as “Best books of 2013: Slate Staff Picks.”
This list came out on Monday and is not to be confused with Tuesday: The overlooked books of 2013. or Wednesday: The best lines of 2013, and the best poetry of 2013. or Thursday: Dan Kois’ 15 favorite books. All capped off with Friday: The Slate Book Review Top 10.
I like finding out about great books I’d missed in a given calendar year and it’s fun finding out which books writers I admire enjoyed this year. Perusing the list, I’d only heard of a few. Egger’s new novel about social media domination was familiar and one I’d been considering picking up. “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” by Karen Joy Fowler about a child raised alongside a chimp as part of a psychology experiment sounded intriguing.
And then I was very surprised to see a book I’d read and which I’d found thoroughly unimpressive. David Haglund wrote in praise of “Necessary Errors,” a novel by Caleb Crain and I was curious what he liked about a novel I’d found so mediocre.
Having moved to Prague in 2003, two months after graduation to teach English, I was the target demographic for this coming-of-age story set in post revolution Prague, and following the mild adventures of a recent college grad who moves to Prague in 1989 to teach English.
And at first, I dug the book. Crain perfectly captures the feeling of living in Prague months removed from college. The sense that you are truly experiencing life, that you’ve taken a significant and worthwhile risk by moving so far from home, but combined with a dreading feeling that you are spinning your wheels, while peers back home move on with graduate school and careers. There is the magic of seeing a city with centuries of history become your home; and the loneliness of knowing you’ll always be a foreigner to the Czechs. Read more »