A lot of my coursework as a graduate student involves reading, which is great, but it does mean that I don’t have as much time as I would like for leisure reading. That said, I was able to make time to read several books for pleasure this year, as well as to go see plays and musicals in New York City. Here are my favorite books and plays out of all the ones I read and saw in 2013.
Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
I want to note that, although this is an unordered list, Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was far and away my favorite book I read in 2013. Its shocking depiction of alcoholism, psychological abuse, and a woman abandons her abusive husband was years ahead of its time. You can read my full thoughts on it here.
Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel
I also read “The Birds” earlier this year, but My Cousin Rachel was my first trip back through a du Maurier novel since enjoying Rebecca last year. Much like Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel hooked me from the opening sentence and didn’t let go until the ambiguous ending. I finished it mere days ago and am still processing it, so you can expect a full Classics Club post on it in the new year.
Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale
Hailed as a gothic novel in the tradition of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, The Thirteenth Tale has many elements of its two predecessors, including a mysterious rich person living in a large manor and a scene of a fire, but what sets it apart from them is its focus on sibling love as opposed to containing a traditional romance. And in that respect, while it’s not as strong a novel as its two forerunners, it felt refreshing.
Classic Hollywood (auto)biographies
As a fan of classic Hollywood movies, I like to read about the stars of the Golden Age. This year, I read two excellent autobiographies and one stellar new biography: Rosalind Russell’s Life is a Banquet (co-written with Chris Chase), Gene Tierney’s Self-Portrait (co-written with Mickey Herskowitz), and Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean. Russell’s had me laughing at almost every page, yet it was also quite touching when describing her struggles with arthritis. Tierney’s was honest about her battles with mental illness before it was common for celebrities to do so. And Bean’s gorgeous book was meticulously researched and lavishly illustrated with stunning photographs.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
I hesitated to include this here because it was a reread, but since my reading experience was different enough that it felt like reading the book for the first time, I thought it would be appropriate to include. The book has often been described as “perfect,” and I have little to add other than that it is an emotionally shattering look into the American Dream.
Hergé’s Le secret de la Licorne and Le tresor de Rackham le Rouge
Reading these Tintin adventures in the original French was my first foray into that world since childhood. I read them as part of the Language Freak Summer Challenge, and what I enjoyed about them was not only the well-plotted adventure story but also the fun of reading comic books in French.
Plays and Musicals
Waiting for Godot at the Cort Theatre
This production starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart was easily the highlight of my theatregoing life so far, and it opened my eyes to the brilliance of Samuel Beckett’s famous play. You can read my full thoughts on it here.
Once at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
Once seemed to be Broadway’s hottest show last year, but it was pretty difficult to get cheaper tickets then, so I finally had the chance to see it over the summer. Incidentally, waiting allowed me to see Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who star in it. The musical is very similar to the 2007 film upon which it is based, albeit with a few song changes. But the heart and honesty remains untouched – or perhaps even strengthened on stage. It was a unique musical experience that I will cherish.
Macbeth at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play. But before a few weeks ago, I had never seen a professional stage version of it. This production at the Lincoln Center starred Ethan Hawke, but I walked away most impressed by Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, Daniel Sunjata as Macduff, and the off-kilter and eerie witches. The staging was another highlight; its palette of black, grays, and white dominated the stage, with an occasional burst of ominous red or decadent gold.
Romeo and Juliet at the Richard Rogers Theatre
Orlando Bloom as Romeo may have been the main draw here, but I actually thought this was an interesting production with some thrilling stage combat. And in a unique twist, the production decided to make all the Capulets black, adding racial subtext to the infamous family feud.
Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue Presents “The Brontes” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival
A rock musical satire of my favorite literary family, this production was pure fun from start to finish, capping off my very Brontë summer on a high note. Combined with Once, it makes me eager to see more musicals next year.
What were your favorite literature and theatre discoveries of 2013?