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My Favourite Reads of 2023

It’s always nice to look back over another year’s reading and try to pick my favourite books of the year. There is usually some Booker Prize longlisters (three this year), because they’re excellent books but undoubtedly also because I read them recently and have them fresh on my mind. There is usually some classic or modern classic. There are always some books I couldn’t stop thinking about for months. And sometimes, there is a surprise or two. A book, that I didn’t expect to end up on this list, that I essentially rediscovered while going through the 85+ books I read this year and could not ignore.

In 2023 the books I read were overwhelmingly fiction titles, potentially a result of this being my first year in more than five of not being in academia at all. So rather than choosing equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction titles, my best books of 2023 list consists of ten novels plus my two non-fiction highlights.

In chronological order of when I read them, here are my Top 10 books of 2023:

a darkly humorous Scottish classic, unfolding a tragic tale of adolescence in the mid-19th century. Janet, the ill-fated protagonist, is discovered murdered beneath the castle stairs, adorned in her mother’s black lace wedding dress, mourned only by her pet jackdaw.

2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

centres on a deaf-mute man named John Singer who becomes a focal point for a group of disparate characters seeking understanding and connection. Each character grapples with personal struggles, including racism, loneliness, and societal expectations. The novel explores the profound impact of human interactions and the search for meaning in a world marked by isolation.

revolves around a father and his two sons coping with the sudden loss of their wife and mother. Enter Crow, a mystical and enigmatic figure inspired by Ted Hughes' poetry. As a manifestation of grief, Crow intervenes in the family's mourning process, offering both solace and disruption.

In an unnamed American town, the arrival of a mysterious, genderless, and racially ambiguous figure named Pew disrupts the community. As the town prepares for a Forgiveness Festival, Pew is passed from household to household, becoming a receptacle for confessions and fears from well-meaning yet conflicted townspeople.

Set in the rugged southern Appalachia, it follows the journey of a boy born to a teenage single mother, endowed only with his late father's looks, copper-colored hair, wit, and survival instincts. Narrated in Demon's unfiltered voice, the story explores foster care, child labor, love, loss, and the challenges faced by rural communities in the depths of the opioid crisis.

Marine biologist Leigh seeks solace by the waterfront. Enthralled by the undersea realm, she excels in marine biology and embarks on global expeditions. Joining an exploration team investigating a newly discovered trench in the Atlantic, Leigh hopes to unravel the mysteries of Earth's origins. The journey leads her to the Mojave desert where a groundbreaking space agency is unveiling a cosmic pattern beyond human comprehension. Faced with an agonizing choice between family and interstellar exploration, Leigh grapples with the profound implications of her discoveries and the cosmic journey that beckons.

7. Another Country by James Baldwin

navigates the complex dynamics of race, sexuality, and identity in 1950s Harlem. When Rufus Scott spirals into depression, it triggers a chain of events that profoundly impacts everyone around him. Baldwin's exploration of love, betrayal, and cultural clashes unfolds with searing prose, revealing the intricacies of human connections.

In rural Ireland, the Barnes family faces financial ruin as Dickie's once-thriving car business collapses. Imelda, his wife, resorts to selling jewelry on eBay. Their daughter Cass, once a top student, enters into a rebellious phase, and twelve-year-old PJ contemplates running away. To alter their fate, one must trace the roots of their troubles – from a disastrous bee sting at Imelda's wedding to a pre-Cass car crash.

On a dreary evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack faces a chilling intrusion when the GNSB appears at her doorstep. The secret police want to interrogate her trade unionist husband. As the country descends into chaos, Eilish grapples with the nightmare logic of a society in disarray. When her husband vanishes, she finds herself fighting for her family's survival.

10… everything I read by Toni Morrison last year

Love weaves a tale of redemption and self-discovery set in post-World War II America. Revolving around Bill Cosey, an influential hotel owner it explores themes of love, loss, and the impact of the past on the present. The novel delves into the lives of the women who were connected to Cosey, revealing the complexities of relationships and the enduring power of love.

Paradise unfolds in the 1970s in an isolated town named Ruby, inhabited by descendants of former slaves. Set at the Convent, a home for a disparate group of runaway women, the novel explores themes of race, gender, and the weight of history.

Set in the fictional community of The Bottom, Sula revolves around the friendship of Sula Peace and Nel Wright. The narrative spans from childhood to adulthood, exploring the impact of societal expectations, race, and personal choices on their relationship.

Recitatif is a short story by Morrison that challenges the reader's assumptions about race and identity. The story follows the lives of two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who meet in an orphanage. Morrison intentionally keeps the racial identity of the characters ambiguous, inviting readers to confront their own prejudices.

As promised, there are two non-fiction titles I want to add to this list.

The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan

In her compelling debut, philosopher Amia Srinivasan challenges conventional discourse on sex. With a thrilling and sharp perspective, she explores the intricacies of sexual dynamics, transcending the limitations of the current focus on consent. Drawing on a rich feminist tradition, she reimagines sex as a political phenomenon, navigating through issues of discrimination, preference, freedom, racial injustice, accountability, power, and liberation.

Wie es ist, darf es nicht bleiben by Werner Heine

Now, I saved the best for last here and of course it would have been impossible for me to conclude my year's reading without mentioning the one book that meant the most to me in 2023. The author is none other than my role model, my hero, the man who taught me to read and shared his love for books and passionate engagement with the state of the world with me: my granddad. I gladly and proudly share this extended letter to me with the world. In this book, he reaches into the depths of his 80 years of experience witnessing German history and major political development of the post-war years up until today. Drawing on his insights accumulated over decades of journalistic work, he lays out comprehensively and convincingly where we have gone wrong socially and politically, what hypocrisies we try to hide behind lofty labels of values and why the only answer to a history of injustice and exploitation is communism. I will write a post about this book, once I feel able to do it justice. In the meantime, those who read in German should go pick up a copy and those who don't should learn it quickly so they can do the same!

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