The books I read in 2023, and how much they meant to me

Susan DeFCreative Writing, fiction, Reading, ReflectionsLeave a Comment

Everything is coming late for me this year, for various reasons. But I wanted to share with you the books I read in 2023, and how much they meant to me.

I’ve had a goal of reading 52 books a year for a while now, and in 2023, I came closer to that goal than I ever have before: 46.

A big part of that has been an app on my phone called Everand (formerly Scribd), which gives me access to a vast collection of ebooks and audiobooks for around $10/month.

Money well spent, considering the fact that this allows me to read and listen to books in what productivity expert Lauren Vanderkam calls “confetti time”: time spent in waiting rooms, in line, by myself at restaurants, etc. Basically, any time I might otherwise find myself mindlessly scrolling social media. (Not that I don’t do that as well, but I don’t do it AS MUCH, and that’s key.)

I read some of the new female heavyweights of sci fi: Martha Wells, Ann Leckie, and Becky Chambers. I immersed myself in their visions, their worlds, and enlarged my idea of what the future might hold, and what AI might become.

I laughed out loud every day that I read the cartoons of REVENGE OF THE LIBRARIANS by Tom Gauld—which is (hot tip) a perfectly perfect gift for any writer in your life.

I read up on story craft, and especially appreciated THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION by Donald Maas (whom I had the pleasure of teaching alongside at last fall’s Writer Unboxed conference in Salem).

And I was deeply moved by my friend Alissa Hattman’s SIFT—a spare, poetic meditation on the aftermath of climate change that somehow packs an oversized emotional punch.

Here are all the books I read in 2023, with faves denoted via asterisks*:

LIFE IS EVERYWHERE by Lucy Ives (brilliant postmodern weirdness)

THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL by Jonathan Gottschall (a fascinating explication of storytelling in human evolution)

ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie (amazing use of POV to explore the possibilities of AI)

HOME IS A MADE-UP PLACE by Ronit Plank (quietly powerful short stories)

A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE by Arkady Martine (loved this exploration of colonialism especially)

THERE IS ONLY US by Zoe Ballering (excellent literary spec fic stories)

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL ANGRY PLANET by Becky Chambers (this FIREFLY-like opener is charming, but hardly gives a hint as to the scope of this author’s vision, which is huge)

SIFT by Alissa Hattman (a lyrical post-apocalyptic meditation)

THE LAST HEIR TO THE BLACKWOOD LIBRARY by Hester Fox (lightweight gothic reading, but fun)

TRUST by Hernan Diaz (I LOVED this literary puzzle, which packs a real punch at the end)

*WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (one my very favorite books of the year—a great adventure story, and an extraordinary exploration of history, science, and privilege, with a super compelling Caribbean protagonist)

SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody (some really useful tropes and terms here for novelists, though I don’t subscribe to the method wholesale)

*THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION by Donald Maas (no one else comes closer to my own thoughts on creating depth and meaning in fiction—I think this text is invaluable)

BOTBOY, MY BOTBOY by Julie O’Toole (a fun self-published novel given to me by a friend)

*BABEL by RF Kuang (an AMAZING magic system in this historical fantasy—which taught me a lot about history—and an extraordinary exploration of the juggernaut of British colonialism)

THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS Vol. 1 by Nalo Hopkinson (loved the African/Caribbean deities in this series)

*REVENGE OF THE LIBRARIANS by Tom Gauld (this comic series nails the writing and reading life, and it’s funny as hell)

THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (I was completely sucked in by this academic thriller, but I have to say, Tartt’s vision of humanity is ultimately darker than my own)

UNFIT: THE TALE OF ONE PREGNANT TEEN IN THE BIBLE BELT BEFORE WOMEN HAD CHOICE by Lani Jo Leigh (this self-published memoir by one of my fellow Wayward Writers opened my eyes to how horrific the adoption industry was—and stands to become again—in the absence of legal abortion)

ANCILLARY MERCY by Ann Leckie

ANCILLARY SWORD by Ann Leckie (seriously, if you haven’t read this series, just do it)

*BLACK SUN and FEVERED STAR by Rebecca Roanhorse (I LOVED this fantasy set in a second world based on Meso-America—what a fresh world view, and what stunningly nuanced characters)

BINTI: THE NIGHT MASQUERADE by Nnedi Okorafor (I cannot get enough of this author)

THE SCENE BOOK by Sandra Schofield (honestly, I found little of value as a writer in this book, which felt very academic in its approach)

CHILDREN OF THE NEW WORLD by Alexander Weinstein (speculative fiction short stories—well done, but honestly nothing earth-shattering)

*SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel (literary spec fic, and one of my favorite books of 2023—I feel like this story opened me up, and changed me, in ways I can’t quite articulate)

SOUL JAR edited by Annie Carl (a Forest Ave anthology of stories by disabled authors that enlarged my worldview)

HALF-WITCH by Jonathan Schoffstall (this YA book by Small Beer Press is an absolute delight that should be shared with any young person in your life who loves magic)

*THE WOMEN COULD FLY by Megan Giddings (another of my absolute faves of 2023—feminist, literary speculative fiction at its finest, this one feels like it builds on Leni Zumas’s RED CLOCKS, into the realm of real magic)

DEVOTION by Patti Smith (a fine little mediation on art-making that any creative person should pick up)

NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney (I read this to see what the hype around this author was all about, and I was so impressed by her deep POV, and the deep humanity in this story)

SEVENEVES by Neal Stephenson (I finally read this doorstopper, and it changed my idea of what the future of humanity could look like)

THE GALAXY AND THE GROUND WITHIN

TO BE TAUGHT IF FORTUNE

A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBIT

RECORD OF A SPACEBORN FEW by Becky Chambers (I love the humanity of Chambers’s vision of space—if you love Star Trek and have not yet read this series, it’s time to do something about that! This series will give you hope for the future)

ALL SYSTEMS RED

EXIT STRATEGY

ROGUE PROTOCOL

ARTIFICIAL CONDITION

NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells (this series is such a testament to voice and character, and the power of what I call “attitude” to carry world building—I think it’s a masterclass in fiction, period)

GIDEON THE NINTH

HARROW THE NINTH by Tasmyn Muir (that first book? Absolutely brilliant. The second book? An absolute mess. I chalk this up to unreasonable publishing timelines following a big success.)

SPACE OPERA by Catheryne M. Vallente (fans of Douglas Adams, this one is for you!)

HOW TO SUPPRESS WOMEN’S WRITING

AND CHAOS DIED

ON STRIKE AGAINST GOD

THE FEMALE MAN by Joanna Russ (a great feminist sci fi author from the 70s—her work sort of blew the top of my head off, and I’m still making sense of it)

AN ALCHEMY OF THE MIND by Diane Ackerman (I wanted to love this NF exploration of the brain more than I did, TBH)

GOING POSTAL

THE WEE FREE MEN by Terry Pratchett (this dude’s so funny that you might miss how deep the books of Discworld actually are)

SONGS OF ENCHANTMENT by Ben Okri (a fantastically weird story, a fever dream)

ALL ABOUT LOVE by Bell Hooks (required reading for everyone, I think)

A BURST OF LIGHT by Audre Lorde (ditto)

Have you read any of these books? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.

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