Hi, loves. 🌿
All of the books, 2023 edition
This morning I went searching for my 2023 daily planner. My family is out for a few hours (!!) so I could safely scavenge the kid’s room. She took it over (I’m not sure why) when we came back from the UK and I returned to my old reliable Ink + Volt planner. (The one I got in Cambridge was a sort of tweeny thing from Paperchase — RIP — I bought a few days after our arrival.)
In any event, why am I telling you this? While we were away, this is where I kept track of all the books I read this year (and where the kid was, for a time, trying to compete with me for number of books read). Because she stole it from me when we got home (again, not sure why or how), I now can’t seem to find it, which is sort of hilarious because how can a person in midlife remember where she left her coffee mug/ear buds/phone, let alone half the books she read?
Maybe it’s for the best because I will only be able to tell you the ones that were truly memorable? I share these not as a wow, look at how much I read this year (I did no better or worse than any other year, despite being on sabbatical?) but because I love hearing what people are reading, what I’ve missed, and what I have to look forward to. So please share your lists with me!
Some of these I loved (many were rereads, actually) but some I thought were sort of meh and one I actually wanted to hurl across the room. Some I didn’t finish. That said, this is only my opinion and I am squarely of the view that we all like different books (see here), and that different times in our lives call for vastly different literary needs! And amazingly, that’s possible, given all that’s out there! I think Jon Batiste was spot on when he said, upon winning a Grammy, that music and art find you when you need them the most. So who is to say what’s “best”?
Here goes, in order of how I remember (with surely loads forgotten):
When we left for the UK I was halfway through Alice Elliott Dark’s wonderful Fellowship Point and had to leave it behind (too heavy) but I spent a few middle-of-the-night jet-lagged hours finishing it on my kindle and sobbed sobbed sobbed (this one I will read again someday). When we first got to Cambridge, I consumed a lot of Louise Penny’s Gamache series (comforting and easy to breeze through and very consuming); maybe books 1-5? I think I’m now up to 8? or 9? Anyway, love them. I read Prince Harry’s Spare! I fucking loved it, really I did.
I reread a lot in the winter when it was cold and dark and we had few friends and I needed a sense of familiarity: Rumaan Alam’s Rich and Pretty, Lynn Steger Strong’s Flight, Daisy Alpert Florin’s My Last Innocent Year, Catherine Newman’s We All Want Impossible Things, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I read big chunks of Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Poetry Unbound for teaching. I cried through Ann Napolitano’s Hello Beautiful. Same goes for Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again. At a certain point I got really into Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books (which take place, in part, in Cambridge). I reread Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret, wondering if the kid was ready for it (but still haven’t watched the movie!).
On a trip to London I remember reading Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine (Gail Honeyman) and bought and abandoned Monica Heisey’s Really Good, Actually at a shop in Hampstead. I inhaled Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behaviour. I read Priscilla Gilman’s The Critic’s Daughter. In a fit of panic, I read Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families (which elicited this classic response at home). I read Dan Kois’ Vintage Contemporaries and really loved Nicole Chung’s A Living Remedy. I loved Zachary Sklar’s The Work. think I read Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies? Oh, and Jenny Jackson’s Pinneaple Street.
I finally broke down and bought Emma Cline’s The Guest (suffice it to say, it did not make it back from Cambridge). I tried Adrienne Kennedy’s Tresspasses and Tessa Hadley’s Free Love. I absolutely adored Jessica George’s Maame and have been recommending it ever since. I read a few stories in Katherine Heiny’s Games and Rituals (I’ll read anything of hers). I read most of Claire Dederer’s Monsters and all of Pooja Lakshmin’s Real Self-Care. When I had Covid and was alone for five days with “Love is Blind,” I read Domenica Ruta’s With or Without You and Rebecca Serle’s One Italian Summer.
At some point I read Matthew Perry’s book (!), Annabel Monaghan’s Nora Goes Off Script (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and Same Time Next Year (less so). The last book I read before leaving Cambridge was These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany. I remember crying through the ending while the kid slept above me on her bunk bed.
When we got back to LA, I read Lydia Kiesling’s Mobility, was entranced by Edan Lepucki’s Time’s Mouth and Jennifer Close’s Marrying the Ketchups. I’d had Qian Julie Wang’s Beautiful Country for years and finally read it on almost one sitting. I read a lot of parenting books (if I’m being honest they are all half-read and permanently by my bedside): Lisa Damour’s Untangled, Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s Never Enough, This is So Awkward (Cara Natterson and Vanessa Kroll Bennett). I slogged through Crossroads. I read It. Goes. So. Fast. (Mary Louise Kelly). Read Liz Moody’s 100 Ways to Change Your Life (I like her podcast). Reread Elizabeth McCracken’s stunning An Exact Replica of the Figment of my Imagination. I really enjoyed Meg Howrey’s They’re Going to Love You, also inhaled Caitlin Shetterly’s Pete and Alice in Maine. For class I reread a lot of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton and Ada Limón and Sharon Olds.
I just finished Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake and Michael Cunningham’s Day. I just started Caroline O’Donoghue’s The Rachel Incident. On my bedside are both Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness (which I first started in Munich in 2012), and Nathan Thrall’s A Day in the Life of Abed Salama.
Of course I bought a lot of cookbooks. In Britain I got Skye McAlpine’s A Table Full of Love and Rukmini Iyer’s The Sweet Roasting Tin. Back home I got Sam’s Bake Smart, Yossi Arefi’s Snacking Bakes, Adeena Sussman’s Shabbat, and was gifted Jake Cohen’s I Could Nosh.
I love making these lists because it feels like time travel; I can actually feel myself reading these books in various places. I needed them and enjoyed them (or didn’t) in a particular time and space: on trains to and from London, in our tiny bed in Cambridge, in an Air B and B in Paris. And then it was so nice to come home and be able to be surrounded by our books again. They tell me so much about my year.
Tell me about yours.
People + Bodies is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.