It took me ’til February, but here it is! This was a great reading year for me, if 32 books with a 3.9 star (out of 5) average says anything about the it. It was a fantastic mix of memoirs, non-fiction, engaging novels and a sprinkling of parenting books thrown in for good measure. No book clubs or anything mucking up my choices (although they can be really fun sometimes).
Mostly I read while breastfeeding on my Kindle but being able to read in bed again at night also helped a lot — man have I missed it!
Here’s a sampling of the best of them… and really there were too many this year, I kind of want to talk about almost all of them.
Best Really Good In-Depth Non-Fiction: We Don’t Know Ourselves: A History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O’Toole. Before reading this, I have to caution you that you really need to have a curiosity and interest for 20th century Irish history but boy, if that sounds good to you, you’re in for a treat. Even though that treat comes at over six hundred pages (and took awhile to get through) I still would not call it a slog. I really feel as though I much better understand and know the Irish character and loads of little bits and things that I didn’t even know I wanted to know about but glad I do now. I like that O’Toole weaves in the history along with his own coming of age but I almost wish there was a little more of him in this book. There’s a reason it was one of New York Times’ best books of the year (for 2022).
Weird Little Novella That I Still Think About: The Employees by Olga Ravn. We delve into exit interviews from employees who are both human and non-human or being interviewed by the management of a slowly failing experimental (space) ship. Very 2001: A Space Odyssey and I’m here for it.
To Be Most Read Over and Over For Ever More: The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater. I picked up this book, which is a mix of a cookbook and diary by a man who deeply loves winter (almost infuriatingly so) and Christmas while I was pregnant in my first trimester so had to put that one aside until last winter, but truly, I adore this journal. I’m a summer person through and through and any book that gets me to look at winter differently and even like it more is a must for me. Slater (or as I get to call him over the course of the read, Nige) has hilariously strong opinions on everything from tinsel to candles and I do sort of wish the book started in late November rather than early when I’m not ready to even think about winter yet and some of the recipes are pretty meaty (the man loves his pork), but I love to read along with this one every year.
Book I’d Push On to the Most People: How to Raise a Feminist Son by Sonora Jha. This book was kindly sent to me by Natalye when my baby was born and I truly do think it is a must-read for not only boy-parents but also any adult who has a young boy in their life at all. Mostly a memoir but also with distinct chapters that are there to teach you a specific lesson and actionable questions or journaling prompts that will keep you thinking. It took over a year to finish this (paperback, baby, you know) but it was actually better that way as the teachings were on my mind for longer. Do not sleep on this one.
Book That Most Immediately Changed my Life: Holistic Dental Care: The Complete Guide to Healthy Teeth and Gums by Nadine Artemis. Another extremely actionable book. I am “blessed” with dental issues in my genes and when I heard about this one coming highly recommended, I had to give it a read. Since summer (and somewhat unpleasant dentist visit) I have implemented the several step program outlined in the book and not only do my gums not bleed anymore but my dentist actually said things were looking good at my last appointment. GOOD! I strongly owe that to what I learned in this book. After yesterday, the next best time to start reading this is today if you want to change up your own dental routine.
Two of the Five Star Fiction Books I Read: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Two very different reads and both so good, both ones to clutch close to the chest once you finish them as you should with any dear book. The former, a modern story, I am in no way surprised that it is a huge best-seller. I loved seeing the close relationships between the characters, from deep friendship to love and how that changed over the years. Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up loving computer or video games would enjoy this even more so.
Heaven and Hell, on the other hand, published in 2007 as a translation from the original Icelandic seemed so unassuming (a story about fishermen?) that I had no idea what to expect in the least. Here goes nothing! What I ended up with was an incredibly poetic and timeless tale of love, friendship but also grief. Sad, thought-provoking, relatable, gorgeous and actually very uplifting, it ticked all the boxes for me and was exactly the book that needed to find its way to my hands in light of the recent family loss(es) experienced last year. I can’t recommend this enough for the grieving. It made my heart lighter.
Favorite Memoir of the Year: Stay True by Hua Hsu. The author (The New Yorker’s staff writer Hua Hsu) meets Ken in college — both completely different types of people from one another — and yet they develop an enduring friendship until something explosive happens that changes everything. This coming-of-age memoir was a five star read for me and a very dear account of a friendship (in this case specifically male friendship) and a person that changes Hua’s life and how he looks at the world.
Non-Fiction I Most Enjoyed While I Was Reading It: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason. This is so much fun!! If you have the slightest interest in Iceland and its culture, that is. I loved the dry and witty way that Bjarnason writes – how just very Icelandic his humor is but that it is helpfully geared towards foreigners in a kind way, like a local letting you in. Not too dissimilar from the first book I mentioned but just… lots more fun and off-beat.
If You Asked Me for a Fiction Book Recommendation I’d Probably Tell You: Trespasses by Louise Kennedy. It was a banner year for Irish-related reads, let me tell you. I am particularly interested in Northern Ireland under the Troubles (1970s) so this is one I had to get my hands on with a quickness and gosh. What a love story, and somehow really cinematic. A twenty-something teacher who works shifts in her family’s pub crosses paths with an older Protestant barrister all while drama unfolds around her community and with neighbors and her own students at the school where she works. I was a little miffed that the author didn’t usually name specific roads around Belfast in the story but otherwise I would describe it as heart-tugging perfection.
An Engaging Debut Novel I Would Be Remiss for Not Mentioning: If I Survive You by Jeffery Escoffery. The best way I would describe this series of linked stories is a madcap Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) style ride, but instead of a band of young Scottish addicts you have an extended family of Jamaican immigrants trying to survive modern life in Miami despite being chewed at by capitalism, racism and the constant, the looming threat of poverty and what it means to be American… or Jamaican… and feeling like you’re one, the other, but never quite both. It’s funny, it’s devastating (especially one chapter in particular I can never forget), it’s fantastic and incredibly compelling.
Honorable Mention… Alllll the childrens’ board books M and I have read together over the past year. So many! His favorite of 2023 has undoubtedly been Early Bird by Toni Yuly, I think owing to the bright simple illustrations, actions and simple text 🙂 We definitely have a little reader on our hands. I do wonder how could he not be when he always sees his mama with a book?