Reviewing the Goodreads Best Books of 2013 Without Having Read Any of Them

Our resident bibliophobe reviews the GoodReads winners without actually cracking the jackets. Composite

As part of a partnership with Goodreads, Newsweek has been keeping tabs on the Goodreads Choice Awards 2013. And at long last, the winners are in. So what's the best line from Dan Brown's Inferno? We couldn't tell you: Here are blind reviews of the winners in seven Goodreads categories. View all the winners (and read real reviews) here.


And The Mountains Echoed might have been a good title for a sequel to Heidi (a character we’ve seen far too little of since the Raiders beat the Jets in overtime) but it turns out it was written by the same guy who wrote The Kite Runner, a book that contained absolutely no instructions concerning the making or running of kites. Instead, a guy goes back to Afghanistan to find his friends are now in the Taliban, which would like me going back to Auburn to find my boyhood friends had joined the Tea Party. Which could happen if I ever went back to Auburn, or could find my boyhood friends. Seriously: they were that stupid. I hear this is a collection of interconnected short stories, which to me is another way of saying, “Too lazy to write a proper novel, with chapters and stuff.”


Inferno is the fourth outing for Dan Brown’s intrepid Harvard professor Robert Langdon, the man who made semiotics synonymous with “life of danger.” I’ve heard that Brown -- whose earlier Langdon books, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, sold a modest number of copies -- has called his alter ego “the man he wishes he could be,” which explains why he is played in films by Tom Hanks. In his earlier adventures, Langdon uncovered more conspiracies than Glenn Beck, including one involving Mary Magdalene and a bottle of sangria. This time, Langdon must stop the Bubonic plague from making a return engagement and finds clues in the works of Dante, Botticelli and the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I think there is a scene at the end where Doris Day screams just before the symbols crash.

Historical Fiction

I cheated by starting Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, but I was reading it during a stressful time this summer. Each night, before falling asleep, I got through a chapter in which her female protagonist died and then when I picked it up again the next day I had to go back and start over and even if I got through to the next chapter, the character seemed to die again. (Never peacefully, I might add.) It was like she was stuck in a tape-loop, which from a Buddhist perspective was interesting but I thought my copy was broken. “That’s the plot, you idiot,” my wife told me when I said I wanted to return it to the bookstore in Half Moon Bay. The reclusive British novelist had actually done an interview there, promoting her book in a kind of low-talker way, and I wanted to ask her when she was going to write another book starring Jackson Brodie, the gumshoe of Case Histories and When Will There Be Good News?, when she said she hated it when people asked her when she was going to write another Jackson Brodie book. Good thing I didn’t say anything. With my luck she would have screamed, “That’s it! I’m killing him off in the next book!” and everyone would have turned to look at me as if to say, Thanks. Thanks a lot, man.

Science Fiction

MaddAddam is a character invented by Mothers Against Drunk Driving who keeps getting killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, over and over again, until Jackson Brodie is sent in to stop this senseless killing from repeating itself. Either that or Brodie is the drunk driver, for as I recall, he’s a man who on occasion has a drop taken. No, wait. MaddAddam is the third and final book in a dystopian trilogy by Margaret Atwood, who began life as a Canadian poet and today lights up Twitter with her commentary. I don’t know about you but for me, the very idea of a “dystopian trilogy” is enough to make me want to confess to putting that stink bomb in When will there be good news?


Jim Henson is the first book written entirely by puppets, which is one of the reasons it took so long to bake it. I mean have you looked at the fingers on most of the Muppets? They hardly even qualify as fingers and to accommodate the endless rewrites demanded by Bert and Ernie, Apple had to design a special keyboard as long as Sesame Street. Worse yet, Tom Hanks came and danced on it, like that big piano in the FAO Schwarz store in Big, and then there were all kinds of arguments about fair use, who had rhythm, and whatever happened to Elizabeth Perkins? Is she going to end up playing his mother in the movie of Inferno, which will doubtless have a disco score? I hear the audiobook is read by Elmo, which is probably funny at first but must get really annoying after a while.


The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin reminds me: Did you see the HBO movie about her, starring Claire Danes? Think of her character, Carrie Mathison, in Homeland, who has brought lip-biting and eye-rolling to a fevered pitch this season. How much caffeine does that woman need to make her eyes tremble like that? (I keep thinking of Anne Hathaway doing her Jazz Freakout in the SNL parody.) Well, she started doing all that when she was playing Grandin, the pioneering animal scientist who has an awesome collection of cowboy shirts and bolo ties and would not find anything that I say or write the least bit random. Grandin, who I have seen speak and is a sort of hero to parents of autistic children, like me, exhibits none of these qualities but did develop a tight little chute that she could put cattle in to calm them down they were getting medicated, or led to the slaughter. She made one for herself too. Couldn’t she make something like that for Carrie? And do you think Brody, the jihadi congressman in Homeland, is any relationship to Jackson Brodie? How much would you pay to see them in a fight?


The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien represents one more cheapshot by the guy who just doesn’t know when to quit. After making bejillions with the The Lord of the Rings books and Hobbit tchotchkes -- that little Chia Pet Gandalf you can water; the suction-cup Smeagol that you can stick inside your baby’s crib -- he’s not happy to stay dead but had to come back and rack up another best-seller sure to spin off more crap your kids will be crying for. Of course, J.R. (as his friends called him) never had an original idea in his life: The Hobbit was just a rehash of the Nordic myth, Babbitt, so the Arthur he has “falling” in this collection of doggerel verse was inspired, of course, by the classic Kinks album. Even that wasn’t a novel notion; he came up with it only after his equally dead rival C.S. Lewis returned from the grave to riff off of the band’s Lola Versus Powerman in his tweet book, S*** My Poet Says. Really, guys: have you no shame?