2023 in Reading

I was hanging out with some new friends recently and the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, toward books. Someone asked me to guess who read the least out of the assembled company. (Weird move, but okay.) I guessed that one person had grand bookish intentions, but really only read one “big ideas” book a quarter, another escaped into lengthy fantasy series, and the third was a wild card bouncing between fiction and pop psych. Not far off, it turned out. But that’s subject matter, not quantity. Someone said they had a hunch I went through books “like food,” which is true. “A book a month?” someone suggested. I looked shifty. “A book a week?!”

I had to pull up this list to check. It feels off to make that claim when I read so many graphic novels, but it’s true. I love books. I love devouring them. I love thinking about them and talking about them and letting them change and shape me.

Interesting that so many of my top favorites this year were comics! Getting back into working on Seacritters has me wanting to explore the medium more than I usually do, and I found some real gems. I love looking over the list and remembering where I was while reading each of these. It’s a strangely vivid experience. Getting lost in Hilary Mantel at Christopher’s was otherworldly. Plowing through Aidan Truhen at home was a riot. Being bewitched by Trung Le Nguyen’s lines on a beanbag in the Ojai Library kids’ section was nostalgic and peaceful.

I look at these lists and struggle to explain to new people what and how I read. In some groups it’s a shorthand for belonging—in others it’s a gateway to somewhere else.

(Previously: 2022 in Reading, 2021 in Reading, 2020 in Reading)

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
🔄 – Reread
🎙️ – Audiobook
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Oh Hell Yes
  1. 📖 Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow – Gabrielle Zevin ❤︎❤︎
  2. 📓 The Quiet Eye – Sylvia Shaw Judson
  3. 📓 Soundings: the Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor – Hali Felt
  4. 🔄 💬 Diary Comics – Dustin Harbin
  5. 🔄 📖 This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  6. 📓 The Wisdom of Insecurity – Alan Watts
  7. 📓 Also a Poet – Ada Calhoun ❤︎❤︎
  8. 💬 The Well – Jake Wyatt, Choo
  9. 💬 The Magic Fish – Trung Le Nguyen ❤︎❤︎
  10. 📝 The Wrecking Light – Robin Robertson ❤︎
  11. 📓/💬 Solutions and Other Problems – Allie Brosh
  12. 💬 Snapdragon – Kat Leyh ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  13. 📝 Four Reincarnations – Max Ritvo
  14. 💬 It’s Okay That It’s Not Okay – Christina Tran ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  15. 💬 Queenie: Godmother of Harlem – Elizabeth Colomba & Aurélie Levy
  16. 💬 Garlic and the Vampire – Bree Paulsen
  17. 💬 Garlic and the Witch – Bree Paulsen
  18. 💬 Lightfall Book 1: The Girl & The Galdurian – Tim Probert ❤︎❤︎
  19. 📓 A Sacred Shift – marlee grace
  20. 💬 The River – Alessandro Sanna
  21. 🔄 📖 The End of Mr. Y – Scarlett Thomas
  22. 💬 Skim – Mariko & Jillian Tamaki ❤︎❤︎
  23. 💬 Lightfall Book 2: Shadow of the Bird – Tim Probert ❤︎
  24. 💬 Grass of Parnassus – Kathryn & Stuart Immonen
  25. 📓 Facing the Wolf – Theresa Sheppard Alexander ❤︎
  26. 📖 Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell ❤︎❤︎
  27. 🔄 📖 A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
  28. 📖 White Cat, Black Dog – Kelly Link ❤︎
  29. 📓 Recollections of my Nonexistence – Rebecca Solnit ❤︎
  30. 📓 Art + Faith – Makoto Fujimura
  31. 💬 Ducks – Kate Beaton ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  32. 💬 I Thought You Loved Me – MariNaomi
  33. 💬 Dear Sophie, Love Sophie – Sophie Lucido Johnson ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  34. 💬 The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins
  35. 📖 Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  36. 📖 Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel ❤︎
  37. 📓 The Old Ways – Robert Macfarlane ❤︎❤︎
  38. 💬 Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy – Jonathan Hill
  39. 💬 Equinoxes – Cyril Pedrosa ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  40. 💬 Feeding Ghosts – Tessa Hulls ❤︎❤︎
  41. 📖 The Mirror and The Light – Hilary Mantel ❤︎
  42. 💬 Hoops – Matt Tavares
  43. 📓 The Book Lover – Ali Smith ❤︎
  44. 📖 /📓 Kick the Latch – Kathryn Scanlan
  45. 📖 The Big Over Easy – Jasper Fford
  46. 💬 Himawari House – Harmony Becker ❤︎
  47. 💬 Always, Never – Jordi Lafebre ❤︎❤︎
  48. 📖 Just Like Home – Sarah Gailey
  49. 📖 The Fourth Bear – Jasper Fford
  50. 📖 To Rise Again At a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris
  51. 📓 Giving Up the Ghost – Hilary Mantel
  52. 🔄 📖 Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett
  53. 🎙️ 📖 A Magic Steeped in Poison – Judy I. Lin
  54. 🎙️ 📖 A Venom Dark and Sweet – Judy I. Lin
  55. 📓 Enchantment – Katherine May ❤︎❤︎
  56. 📖 Fugitive Telemetry – Martha Wells
  57. 🔄 🎙️ 📖 Thud – Terry Pratchett
  58. 📖 System Collapse – Martha Wells
  59. 🔄 📖 Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett
  60. 📖 The Price You Pay – Aidan Truhen
  61. 📖 Seven Demons – Aidan Truhen
  62. 📓 Mending Life – Nina and Sonya Montenegro

Four Reading Rhymes

I’m washing my eyes with words and hoping something turns up that works as I’m moving forward.

Robert Eggers, on writing dialect for The Lighthouse

7. People pretend there are readers and non-readers. But there are just people willing to practice the patience necessary to get hypnotized, and those who quit before their eyes turn into spirals. To read is to welcome this hypnosis, await its arrival, then trust its direction.

Gabi Abrão

Life happened because I turned the pages.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

In the Dark

Jacob wrote six very good sentences today about jealousy and being an artist. I needed them this morning because there’s nothing like moving back in with your parents and mostly disappearing from the face of social media and undergoing a massive gear shift in the trajectory of your career to bring up feelings of unworthiness and comparison; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.

The fifth sentence (“The purpose of an artistic star system is to undermine solidarity”) brought me up short because I interpreted “star system” as “constellation.” The constellation is one of my favorite metaphors for how creative people—all people, really—exist in the world. On these grounds his statement didn’t seem right at all. On second reading I realized he meant “star system” as “a system in which certain people are held up as shining exemplars while the rest fade into obscurity,” to which: absolutely yes. The dangers of worshipping celebrity.

I’m flying solo this week while my mum attends my godfather’s funeral in England, but I’m not really solo. We’re trying overnight caregiver coverage for the first time; something I advocated for because loss of sleep is infinitely more disruptive to me than structuring my days around changing my dad’s Depends and making him meals and bathing him and metering out the distribution of pills.

There are so many gifts to trying overnight care, but one of the biggest has been getting me back on my early to bed, early to rise rhythm. I’ve been waking up of my own accord at 5:30 or 6, feeling more rested than I have in months. It grants me a gift my dad taught me to love: an hour and a half of luxurious time to myself first thing in the morning.

Many of my happiest memories of being with him are around this time of day. In high school, we’d listen to Erik Satie on my boombox in the kitchen while he made me eggs. In middle school, we’d drive to the tennis courts at Libbey Park and hit balls back and forth under the amber sodium lamps until the sun came up. (Neither of us knew how to play tennis, but it didn’t matter.) Earlier still, I’d wake up to the sound of him tapping away at the keyboard with two fingers in the corner of the bedroom, writing.

Those hours felt like secret time. Sacred time.

I still treat it as such. This morning it was dark enough when I got up that didn’t realize the valley was shrouded in mist. Now I can see that the lawn outside my window is spangled with a galaxy of dew-soaked spiderwebs.

All this is to say that in the blissful hour I’d been granted this morning, I dove back into Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s memoir. She writes a great deal about context, and the way subcultures and communities act as greenhouses for culture, so when I read Jacob’s post, the string layer came back online. Solnit writes:

In a way, this has been my life’s work, the pursuit of patterns and the work of reconnecting what has been fractured, often fractured by categories that break a subject, a history, a meaning into subcompartments from which the whole cannot be seen. […] The art of picking out constellations in the night sky has cropped up again and again as a metaphor for this work.

Elsewhere she quotes the poet Diane di Prima: “You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology.”

I believe this with all my heart.

There is no content creation without context creation.