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My Top Five is a series of WHQR staff blogs that lists some of our favorite (or least favorite) odds and ends. Topics vary from music, to local life, to history, and to whatever else might catch our attention. Keep your eye out for some interesting stuff from our staff!

My Top Five: Books I'm excited to read in 2013

I often have trouble motivating myself to read recent books -- after all, there are thousands of years of world literature out there and I've only made it through the tiniest fraction! But I'll never finish all of the novels ever written, so in 2013, I am going to read at least five brand new works of fiction. I wouldn't quite call it a resolution, since those are destined to fail (and since it's already halfway through January), and because resolution implies some sort of struggle or sacrifice. These are all books I'm eagerly waiting to hit the bookstore and library shelves.

1. Karen E. Bender, A Town of Empty Rooms: What better way to kick off your year of reading than with an acclaimed local author? Karen Bender -- featured at WHQR’s Homemade Holiday Shorts in December -- explores matters of community, faith, and identity in this novel about a family recently relocated from New York City to a small town in North Carolina. Serena becomes enmeshed in the politics of the local synagogue, while her husband Dan and their son join a Boy Scout troop led by a mysterious neighbor. As Wilmington often feels like a city of transplants (and as discovering whether it resembles the fictional town of Waring, NC in the novel is an additional draw), the themes of isolation and connection, of community in flux, seem particularly relevant to local readers.    

2. Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Poet and erasure artist Mary Ruefle has a local connection as well -- she taught at UNCW as a Visiting Writer last spring and left a devoted cult following in her wake, many still posting her amusing and incisive quotes on Facebook. Even if you aren’t much of a poetry reader, this collection of lectures promises to illuminate the cleverness and passion that have converted so many students into admirers. David Kirby writes in his New York Times review that “it’s one of the wisest books I’ve read in years,” with ideas that apply not only to poetry but to all art and our brains at large.

3. Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: I’ll admit that I haven’t read either of Hamid’s other novels, Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but there’s so much buzz about this upcoming March release that it seems destined to be one of those books you want to read just to be part of the cultural conversation. The second-person story -- which parodies the form of business self-help books -- tracks an unnamed hero from rural poverty to urban wealth, and if even half of the blurbs about how riveting and marvelous it is are true, the book will be a worthwhile investment. 

4. George Saunders, The Tenth of December: Another book with a big New York Times boost -- you know, that article that declared this “The best book you’ll read this year”? True, it’s only January, but Saunders’s previous story collections are some of the most hilarious in existence, and have inspired an entire generation of tender-hearted absurdists. The author’s stated goal is to be more expansive than in the past, so even if you haven’t gotten into his near-future nightmare/comedy scenarios before, this might be a good time to give them a shot.

5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah: After reading Adichie’s short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck, comprising sharp and beautiful stories about life in Nigeria and America, I’m eagerly awaiting this novel, set to be released in May.  The narrative starts with a teenage couple in Lagos. Ifemelu leaves for America, but her boyfriend Obinze isn’t permitted entry and instead becomes an undocumented immigrant in London. The novel follows their lives for fifteen years -- will they meet again, and if so, how changed will they find each other?

BONUS: One book I’m excited to read in 2014:

Roxane Gay, An Untamed State: Editor of literary magazine [PANK], pop cultural blogger, essayist, and my personal nomination for Queen of the Internet, Roxane Gay’s first novel is slated for “early 2014,” as per a recent announcement on her website. I know little about the plot except that it involves Haiti and a kidnapping, but I love her writing generally so I’m hoping the release date gets bumped up a few months.

What books -- fiction, non-fiction, poetry -- are you looking forward to reading this year?

A Raleigh native, Michelle Crouch got her first taste of non-commercial radio at Swarthmore College's station as an undergraduate. She returned to North Carolina in 2011 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing at UNC Wilmington, where she also works as a graduate teaching assistant.