Pictured above are all of the books I finished in 2023. I know this thanks to a spreadsheet that I use to track what I’ve read since I stopped using Goodreads in 2022. (My timing was apt; the platform’s power over book publishing has only grown more complex and morally troubling since then.)
But back to my reading, which was distracted and sometimes uninspiring in 2023. What can I say? I have a toddler and a growing business and a completist mind that sometimes works to my own disadvantage. Yet as always, I found much to love in books that I read last year. Here are 15 of my favorites:
Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
What a gorgeous book. This was an incredibly important reading experience that came at the right time in life for me. (A very apt Christmas gift from Ryan.) Gay’s ideas about education and gardening and basketball and skateboarding are all really about community care, which is to say, how we care for each other at our most human.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
This is a deeply empathetic and thoroughly reported ethnography about housing in America, particularly low-income housing in Milwaukee, both in a majority-white trailer park and in the Black slums. Nothing has opened my eyes as much to this crucial pillar of basic need that so often falls by the wayside for those on the margins.
Stay True by Hua Hsu
A moving look at late 90s nostalgia, including college fashion and identity, mixtapes, photography, and the comfort of hanging out with people who you don’t really know when you don’t quite know who you’re becoming yet, either.
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in An American City by Andrea Elliott
Incredible storytelling about a family struggling against racism and persistent poverty and all the attendant emotional fatigue that comes along with both systemic issues. Dasani’s story is told beautifully and realistically — which is saying something, considering how conditioned we are to hope for a reductive happy ending.
You or Someone You Love by Hannah Matthews
Stunning, worldview-changing book. I had no idea how much this book would resonate with me – it taught me a lot about community care and mutual aid and why these movements are critical and essential forms of showing up for one another.
Soil: A Black Mother’s Garden by Camille T. Dungy
What a wonderful, complex, self-assured memoir. I loved learning from Dungy about gardening as a way to nurture local species of flora and fauna, and how her hobby intersects with her life as a Black woman, mother, neighbor and teacher.
Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
This author beautifully braids stories from the natural world along with those of her own grief and complexity as she cares for her aging parents. Renkl sets a brilliant example in disclosing that she is a passionate but equivocal gardener. (Should humans intervene in wildlife? Should we even be setting out bird feeders?!)
Doppelganger by Naomi Klein
No other book has offered such resoluteness and clarity on the time we’re living in as this one. Funny, heartbreaking, and wickedly smart. I need to reread this book before the next election cycle ends.
Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult by Maria Bamford
I have always loved everything that comedian Maria Bamford has put into the world, and this memoir was no exception. (Listen to the audiobook, please — she’s a prolific voice-over artist and her parents are absolutely her best subject matter.)
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
This novel is a lyrical, fascinating mix of folklore, literary fiction, western, and coming-of-age tale. You’ve never read an American origin story quite like it.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Strange and enchanting but ultimately beautiful book about compassion and what it means to trust others.
The Guest by Emma Cline
Sexy, dark, delicious novel that I gobbled up quickly. I endured the suspense (and even enjoyed it) as Cline wove a story that skewers affluence, class, insularity and gender norms.
Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang
I didn’t know a dystopia could sound (or taste?) this good, but Zhang’s second novel was a sensuous delight, rich in detail and humanity.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Diving into an Ann Patchett novel for the first time may be the highlight of my reading experience on this earth. This story made me feel understood and cozy and cared for — gentle and hopeful and emotionally savvy in all the right places.
Family Meal by Bryan Washington
This book was such a surprising bright spot. It’s a novel about loss and grief, but also about sex and food and control and desire and family. To me, Washington’s tenderness and growth came through more in this novel than in his previous work.
This line from Washington’s author’s note in Family Meal is my 2024 motto, in reading and beyond: “Care and slowness are two gifts that we deserve, boundless pools we can offer ourselves and those we hold dear.”