Fave fiction reads of 2023

Hi friends,

Whatever else this holiday season holds for you, I hope it involves at least a little bit of time to hole up somewhere cozy with a warm beverage and a good book. (Is that just an introvert’s vision of an ideal day?)

So, this seems like as good a time as any to mention some of my favorite reads of 2023. We’ll go for fiction this week and non-fiction next week. (Or, you know, sometime soon-ish.)

I don’t read a ton of fiction, but of the books I did read this year, there were a lot of great ones. I’d love to share them with you—and also hear what you’ve read that you enjoyed! 

In no particular order, these are my “highly recommend”s:

Loved the delightfully quirky, highly intelligent characters: Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s daughter Mad, and her dog Six-Thirty. (I’ve watched part of the TV series and would like to say that, in my opinion, based on the book, Six-Thirty isn’t supposed to be nearly so stinkin’ cute. Plus, I don’t think doodles existed in the ‘50s? I forgive him, though, because he’s the goodest boy.)

I’ve also enjoyed the TV series so far. But I do think it misses what were, for me, a lot of the best parts of the book. (It was a little comforting to learn that the author, Bonnie Garmus, apparently agrees.) The book is just such a delicately wonderful cocktail of rage and humor. I’m here for it. 

Who would have thought that a novel about video game designers (and one that delves so deeply into their work life) would be so utterly engaging for a total non-gamer like me? What a book. 

Do be emotionally prepared to have your heart ripped right out of your chest, though—that’s all I’ll say about that, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I thought this book was gorgeously written, and I learned a ton about the brutal histories of ethnic violence and displacement in Cyprus. 

Also, after reading this book you might also never look at a fig tree the same way. (It took me maybe a page to realize this, so that was a funny time, but parts of the book are narrated by a wise and insightful fig tree, which is awesome.)

If I had known that this book was a sort of femicide murder mystery, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. (I only did pick it up because I thought Makkai’s other book The Great Believers was really good, even though it’s a total heart-ripper-out-er.) 

It just feels too difficult, to me, to do the who-killed-her kind of book in a way that isn’t in some sense using (very real, very common) violence against women as a sort of entertainment. But I found this book gripping—fast-paced while also thoughtful, and somehow able to pull off the femicide mystery thing in a legitimately feminist way. 

A friend spoke highly of this book, and to be honest I thought the premise sounded a bit cheesy (the idea that there’s a whole library of books full of the alternate lives you could have lived, and what if you had the chance to go try some of them?)—but she recommended it highly enough that I checked it out anyway, and I actually loved it. A super quick read, and unexpectedly riveting. I appreciated how it dealt with with depression, suicide, and despair in a way that turned out hopeful and life-affirming. 

Looking at these all together, I’m seeing some common themes (not necessarily in all of them, but generally speaking): 

  • Books that deal with serious themes in a way that isn’t totally despairing or hopeless.
  • Books that offer an engaging, sympathetic, humanizing window into areas of life I’m not personally familiar with (whether video game development or ethnic conflict in Cyprus).
  • Not terribly fluffy, but also not terribly dense and slow going. (Probably because I read so much nonfiction, I appreciate a novel that goes by quickly!) I would say this was most true of The Midnight Library and least true of The Island of Missing Trees—which is not to say that The Island of Missing Trees was dense, just a little more so than the others.

What fiction have you enjoyed this year? Or have you read any of these and have thoughts about them? I’d love to hear.

Wishing you some lovely moments of rest this holiday season,


2 responses to “Fave fiction reads of 2023”

  1. Fun post. I just added several of these titles on my “For Later” list at KCLS. I read Tommorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow  a while back. I’d seen it recommended, put it on my holds list and by the time I got it, had forgotten what it was about or where it was recommended. I really enjoyed it, and was surprised a book about video game designers had me so riveted.  

    • So good, right? And lol I often do that…”Where did this book come from? Oh well, I must have thought it was a good idea at some point for some reason!”

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