For the past few years, I've shared with you some of the best books I read in the previous year. 2023 was a tough year for me. In January, my husband and I began a pretty grueling divorce process that took most of the year. In August, a pinched nerve in my neck had me take a deep dive into physical pain and months of physical therapy. And in the final months of 2023, my 98-year-old father moved into assisted living and died on December 30.
During the past year, 64 books were my escape and my companions, my guides, distractions, salves, and anchors. There were a few clunkers I won't bother to mention, but here's my love song to books and writing...
My focus sucked in 2023, and I was anxious a lot, to say the least. So I re-read one of my favorite novels, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It's one of the most perfectly structured novels ever. It has tons of laugh-out-loud scenes balanced with some of the most tender moments I've ever read. I also re-read a bunch of easy but good mysteries set in Baltimore by Laura Lippman, The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, and took it easy with Kate DiCamillo's The Beatryce Prophecy.
READING FOR MY JOB AS A WRITING COACH: I am always reading books that I can recommend to my clients, or that help me do my job better. Two great examples: Refuse To De Done by Matt Bell and The Creative ACT: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin. A terrific book on craft, and a true love story to the short story is A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life by George Saunders. Saunders takes you through a handful of class short stories - teaching you how they work, charm, and astound the reader as he goes. One of my favorite books!
AUDIO BOOKS: During the worst moments of back pain when I couldn't really hold books, I tried some fiction via audio book. While the books were great - The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, Galatea by Madeline Miller, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, and The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo - I confirmed that I hate listening to novels.
FICTION: Some talented novelists distracted and relaxed me with their good storytelling and writing: Claire Keegan's Foster, Lynn Steger Strong's Flight, Celeste Ng's Our Missing Hearts, Emma Straub's This Time Tomorrow, Rebecca Makkai's I Have Some Questions for You, Anne Youngson's Meet Me at the Museum, and Ann Patchett's Tom Lake. I hated the focus on the white guys and the FBI in Killers of the Flower Moon, but loved the novel Mean Spirit, which Chickasaw poet and novelist Linda Hogan wrote about the Osage people and those same murders way back in 1991. Check it out.
ESSAYS & MEMOIR:
I re-read the classic The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard and loved The Crane Wife by CJ Hauser (after the title essay went viral during COVID), and West with the Night by Beryl Markham (what a life she led!). Poet Maggie Smith's memoir about her divorce, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, helped articulate a lot of what I was feeling last year. I also really liked Peggy Orenstein's funny and super informative Unraveling: What I Learned about Life Shearing Sheep, Dying Wool, and Making the World's Ugliest Sweater, Juliet Paterson's Sinkhole, and Margaret Kimball's graphic memoir, And Now I Spill the Family Secrets. And I absolutely loved Sabrina Orah Mark's memoir in essays about fairy tales, Happily.
EXCEPTIONAL LITERARY FICTION: Thanks to my writing buddy, there were a few windows where I tackled some challenging new authors, and was thrilled to discover the astonishing 1952 novel, Forbidden Notebook, by the Italian-Cubist feminist writer, Alda de Cespedes. Wow wow wow. And after Annie Ernaux won the 2022 Nobel Prize, I dug into her rich opus that re-imagines memoir, memory, history, and language with A Girl's Story, Happening, and The Years. A lot more women writers need to be translated into English.
POETRY: I am always reading poetry to find new books to teach, or just enjoy. Some of my favorite collections last year were: A Raft of Grief by Chelsea Rathburn, West: A Translation by Paisley Rekdal, White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia by Kiki Petrosino, Wilder by Claire Wahmanholm, Deborah Keenan's The Saint of Everything, Selected Poems of Gwendolyn Brooks, and three books by Louse Gluck (R.I.P.).
I'm glad 2023 is over, and I'm proud of how I got through it. I hope you're doing well, and 2024 is a space of peace and possibility for all of us. What did you read last year?
I'm a writer, teacher and certified professional coach. I'm gonna see if writing an occasional blog post is a thing I like doing and want to continue doing.