2023 Year in books

Classic literature often portrays reading as the antidote to loneliness, sadness, and isolation. But I’ve found my love of books nestles more closely to the fact I am insanely, annoyingly, incorrigibly curious. About everything. 

I simply cannot fathom how so many go through life without experiencing the profound joy of a beloved character overcoming hardship, or fascination about a life you’ll never experience first-hand, or simply shutting off from the world to sit in hours of silence with a bloody good story about which you had absolutely no idea about four hours earlier. I certainly don’t pedestalize reading above all else; I love a good 10-part Netflix series as much as the next person, believe me. But a life without books? Unimaginable. 

My favourite book: ‘Yellowface’ by R. F. Kuang

It’s genuinely not often that I sit down to read a book…and physically, physically cannot put it down. I started reading this on Saturday morning, and was still sitting there, unmoved, hours later when Matt got home from football—and he was playing away that day. The pacing, the unique subject matter, the examination of human emotion, racism, and identity: all so elite that I bought this book and sent it to three of my friends to read as well. A standout novel for me. Just so, so, so good.

Honorable mention: ‘Anna’ by Amy Odell

Reading a book in one sitting is one thing, but it’s rare to find novels of this length—464 pages!—which you can comfortably finish in three days flat, too. However, Anna Wintour is a fucking killer and so speed through this biography I did. I loved her anyway, but this extensive exploration of her life is journalistic gold, told in such a way that made me feel fired up and incredibly inspired. My love for this book is partly to do with the fact she’s living out my dream job (the things that I would do for just a week in her shoes), but also because the storytelling, painstaking amount of research, and cultural criticism deserve an award in itself. A fascinating real-life account of an equally fascinating person.

The book I think everyone should read: ‘In Order to Live’ by Yeonmi Park

A friend recommended Yeonmi’s episode on The Josh Rogan Experience podcast, which I dutifully gobbled up on a long walk. I immediately ordered her book which proved one of the most interesting, harrowing, and incredible real-life stories I’ve read in years, documenting one woman’s experience of growing up and escaping from North Korea. It was hard to believe this wasn’t a work of fiction. There were so many moments in this book that had me running to my husband to excitedly recount “OMG! Did you know…” that I think he was glad when I finished it. I, on the other hand, couldn’t recommend it highly enough. (Side note: I also enjoyed ‘If I Had Your Face’ by Frances Cha, which is a fiction about North Korea but still beautifully, intricately written). 

The book that redefined great storytelling: ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey

What an impeccable storyteller. 50 years of wisdom, life experience, and unwavering self-reflection condensed into one of the easiest, most enlightening autobiographies I’ve ever read. Matthew McConaughey is so much more interesting, introspective, and intelligent than you think he is, and this book made me fall in love with him all over again. He threw away the expectations placed on a "celebrity autobiography" and delivered something entirely unique to him. A very rare tone of voice which you don’t often find in books, but which wrapped me up and made me think more about who I am and what I want out of life than I’ve done in a while. One of my favorite actors, and now one of my favorite authors, too. 

The book that made me cry: ‘All My Mothers’ by Joanna Glen

A book so engrossingly, beautifully wonderful that I barely knew what to do with myself—other than sob my heart out, twice. I truly didn’t think anything could ever compare to my love for ‘Still Life’ by Sarah Winham, but this did. What genre of book is this and how can I filter by it for the rest of my life!? 😭 I would read this a million times over and recommend it to anyone who deems themself stoic enough to withstand getting teary-eyed over mere words on a page. Because if this doesn’t make tears run down your face, you have a heart of stone.

My favourite character: Rachel from ‘Heartburn’ by Nora Ephron

One of the few times I’ve wished a book was longer; so, so, so much longer. This little banger is so funny yet so heartbreaking that I went through an emotional rollercoaster while making my way through it. Rachel was all of us who’ve ever experienced a cheating partner; vindictive, emotional, curt, incredibly snide, and perfectly human. I loved her. I’m so late to the Nora Ephron train—this was somehow my first book of hers (though I’ve seen a ton of her films)—but the second I turned the final page of this beauty, I immediately ordered three more. An insane talent for acidic observation. What a writer, what a book.

The book that changed my mindset: ‘The Mountain is You’ by Brianna West

Every now and then, I like to take a break from fiction and biographies to merrily gorge myself on Insta-adored self-help books. More often than not, I’m upset by my gullibility in believing that this self-help book will teach me anything that isn’t a creative rehash of all of the books that came before it. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t partly the case with ‘The Mountain is You’, BUT I still highlighted the absolute shit out of it and sent photos of particularly life-affirming passages to a mirage of friends for a variety of different reasons. There were sections of this book that felt like they’d been written just for me, and which helped to begin thawing the harshness I often direct at myself for simply being human. My favorite lesson? “The greatest gift that life will hand you is discomfort.” Zinger.

My favourite line: ‘The Lost Daughter’ by Eleanor Ferrante

Okay, it’s a few lines. But it’s bloody wonderful.

“How foolish to think you can tell your children about yourself before they’re at least fifty. To ask to be seen by them as a person and not as a function. To say: I am your history, you came from me, listen to me, it could be useful to you.” 

Emotional for me because I feel I’m slowly learning this lesson already in my 30s. That tattoo my parents told me I’d regret when I was 16? Guess who turned out right? The visceral frustration I felt at not being allowed on a boozy trip to Zante until I was (shock horror) 17 years old (!!), now feels unbearably trusting and, in fact, lenient as hell (I wouldn’t let my daughter go if she was fucking thirty). Growing older and realizing your parents had an entire life lived without you in it and intrinsically have your best interests at heart at all times (!!!) is something that’s slowly crept up on me more and more over the last few years, and this paragraph so perfectly summed up everything I’d been thinking but couldn’t put into words.

The ‘it’s a no from me’ book: 'The Three-Body Problem' by Cixin Liu

Simply what. the. fuck. I know this book has such a cult following (I was recommended it in glowing terms by not one but two colleagues at my previous workplace), but I just didn’t like it; not the pacing, not the characters, not the point. I found it unbearably slow and simplistic in parts, and couldn’t wait to get it over with (though held out hope until the very last page that an incredible twist could save it—none did). Maybe I’m not clever enough to understand the pages upon pages of insanely complex and, I found, pretentious for a mainstream book, scientific explanation. I generally enjoy the odd bout of science fiction, but this was not it. Cardboard characters, a nonsensical plot, and a rambling chronology that proved impossible to get even the least bit interested in. A snooze fest.

[The choice for this category could have equally been pipped by Crazy Rich Asians (simply what is the hype?), Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover (devastatingly appalling), or Sunburn by Laura Litman (beyond farfetched without a single likable character).]

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