Another year, another reading recap. 2023 is the first time in several years that I’ve kept close track of my reading, and it’s been nice to get back into the habit. I also love a data set, so let’s get to it!
Show me the numbers
- Total books read: 62 (+7 DNFs)
- Total pages: 20,725
- Fiction/Non-fiction: 33/36
- Physical/Audiobook: 45/24
- Longest book: The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime (566)
- Shortest book: Enchiridion (56)
Spoiler alert! Clicking the titles will take you to my original (spoiler-free) reviews.
The goal was to choose my five favorites, but a couple of my December reads were such a surprise that I couldn’t leave them off — or maybe it’s the recency bias. Either way, here’s seven books that I can’t stop thinking about.
Piranesi (Susanna Clarke) – Our book club’s selection for May, and we were all obsessed. Fortunately I knew nothing about the main character’s real-life namesake, so the twist wasn’t spoiled for me. And what a beautiful, horrifying twist it was! I was so glad to have read it as a group so we could be shocked and amazed together.
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (John M. Barry) – Not only wildly interesting, but also incredibly topical after 2020. There will always be disagreements about which countries had the “right” response to COVID-19, but I think Barry’s book gives us some insight into what we definitely did wrong in 1918. As horrible as this century’s pandemic was, Barry’s book showed how it could have been so, so much worse.
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder (David Grann) – Our July book club selection. On top of being a detailed look at what seafaring was like in the 1740s (not great!), it was also absolutely bananas from the start. Made my list of favorites because it had me saying, “I’m sorry…what?” for all 329 pages.
Thistlefoot (GennaRose Nethercott) – A gorgeous and unsettling vision of what the world would be like with just a touch more magic — where a house that walks on chicken legs is a novelty instead of an unbelievable hoax, and where lingering hatred can coalesce into a physical enemy. A tough read in many respects, but with such beautiful and interesting themes that I had a book hangover for most of September.
When Women Were Dragons (Kelly Barnhill) – September book club selection, reviews were mixed. It would benefit from being shorter and having a single decent male character, and would have been a more effective feminist commentary to an audience who isn’t already steeped in that topic. But I cannot stop thinking about a girl or woman becoming so filled with rage or possibility or even joy that she literally explodes out of her skin and takes on a new form. It reminds me that we’re all so much bigger on the inside than life or culture lets us be on the outside.
The Quick (Lauren Owen) – Thank goodness I picked this up without re-reading the summary. I’m a sucker for a gothic novel, and this had it all plus definitely evil vampires, which I’d completely forgotten was meant to be the angle. And as good as the whole thing was, I actually had to read the last chapter twice because it took my breath away — talk about a perfect gut punch after all that build-up and gently dropped breadcrumbs.
Nettle & Bone (T. Kingfisher) – I enjoyed this book precisely because it wasn’t what I was expecting. I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that YA is no longer a genre I enjoy, and frankly the novel’s blurb gives off distinct YA vibes (incorrectly, turns out). But I’ve read Kingfisher before and loved her storytelling, so I was ready to give it a try. I ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. It’s got a little bit of everything and was a great way to finish out my year of reading.
- The older I get, the more I love non-fiction. I used to read so little of it, but in the last decade the balance has shifted until I’m basically at 50/50 — with non-fiction often in the lead.
- I’m pretty quick to DNF unless it’s for book club. I try to give those selections more leeway because sometimes it’s about expanding reading horizons, but if I’m reading purely for fun it’s not worth continuing with something I’m not enjoying.
- I’m giving up on the Young Adult fiction genre. The tropes drive me nuts and make it more likely that I will roll my eyes until they actually fall out of my skull.
- I rediscovered audiobooks this year! I used to listen to them on my work commute, but with the shift to working from home I “lost” that time. There’s a limited set of things I can do around the house while also being able to process audio, and I certainly wasn’t going to clean stuff any more than I needed to. Fortunately several large cross stitch projects fell into my lap, and it turns out audiobooks and sewing work well together.