If you’ve already read all of PW‘s 101 Best Books of 2013, don’t worry–we have a few more suggestions, this time the personal picks from our staffers. The books below are not necessarily published in 2013, just ones we read in 2013 and wanted to share.
Daniel Berchenko, copy chief:
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938). I’m not sure why it took me so long to read Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell’s memoir about the Spanish Civil War—countless friends have earnestly recommended it to me over the years. For me, the Spanish Civil War calls to mind the macho heroics of Hemingway, or the pathos of Picasso’s Guernica. What else is there to say about it? Earlier this year, after recommendation number 500, I finally broke down and read Homage to Catalonia, and I’ve been earnestly recommending the book to people ever since.
Orwell went to Spain in late 1936 with a single goal: “I had promised myself to kill one Fascist” (“after all,” he reasons, “if each of us killed one they would soon be extinct”). But Orwell spent most of his brief time at the front trying to stay warm and looking for tobacco. He did eventually participate in a terrifying night raid on an enemy position, and was later badly wounded by a sniper’s bullet. But he failed to fulfill his stated purpose. (“I used to think of the recruiting poster in Barcelona which demanded accusingly of passers-by: ‘What have you done for democracy?’ and feel that I could only answer: ‘I have drawn my rations.’ ”)
What stands out about Orwell’s account is his utter humility as a British journalist who knew nothing about guns or war, but who was determined to fight fascism, in a conflict on foreign soil whose battle lines were increasingly muddled by factional infighting on the left. Orwell vividly recounts the horrors and absurdities of the war (in tone, Homage to Catalonia is closer to MASH than For Whom the Bell Tolls), as well as the revolutionary euphoria of living in anarchist-controlled Barcelona in early 1937. Even more gripping than Orwell’s account of his experiences at the front is his lucid analysis of the political situation in Spain, which describes the veritable alphabet soup of communist and anarchist parties that he fought with (and, occasionally, against). Mostly by chance, upon arriving in the country, he fell in with the POUM, a communist party opposed to the pro-Stalin official Communist Party of Spain (PCE). As the Soviet Union poured more money and weapons into the conflict, the PCE’s ranks swelled, and it eventually turned its sights on the POUM and some of the other leftist parties that had been governing Republican Spain as a coalition. By the summer of 1937, the POUM and the PCE were fighting openly in the streets of Barcelona, and Orwell was forced to flee the country, narrowly escaping arrest (many of his comrades were not so fortunate).
Matia Burnett, assistant editor, children’s books:
In her memoir Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight M.E. Thomas (a pseudonym) writes about living and often thriving with a psychological condition that is perhaps one of the most maligned and misunderstood. She is a diagnosed sociopath, but while her inability to experience empathy in the way others do has set her apart, Thomas is not a criminal, and does not dwell on the fringes of society—quite the contrary. Thomas’s book is not truly a confessional, but rather an exploration of the illusion of human normality that is philosophical, edifying, and profound. Continue reading