2023 Reading Review

Let’s start this reading review with the stat that most people use: I read 52 books this year. A tidy average of one a week. Several of those were for school; a couple of them were for a class I ended up not taking. Nearly a dozen of these books were by Annie Ernaux because my favorite French bookseller site had a bundle of her work available to ship after she won the Nobel in 2022.

This is more books than the average American reads in a year. A Gallup poll published in January 2022 says people read almost 13 books annually, on average. That’s more than I expected, honestly. So even though Gallup says that number is lower than in the past, I’ll take it. Good job, Americans. A book a month (plus an extra for good measure) is not too shabby.

I am very generous in what counts as a book, and so is my reading tracker of choice, The StoryGraph. Hard copies of books, like paperbacks and hardcovers, count of course. So do ebooks, graphic novels, and audiobooks. I didn’t read any graphic novels this year, but I did use all the other formats. The StoryGraph lets you add your own custom tags, and I added one for my city’s library. So I can see that I borrowed an even dozen titles in 2023.

The app’s year-end wrap-up feature (kind of like Spotify, but with graphs!) tells me that my friends and family are definitely making fun of me when they talk about what I’m reading “for fun”:

The “funny” category is fourth largest on this list! Just before “hopeful”! Granted, this is after half of the pie is consumed by “emotional,” “reflective,” and “challenging” books. (The categories come from publishers, readers, and the app’s volunteer librarians. They overlap, and they’re pretty reliable.)

Thanks to all the Ernaux I tore through this year — she does often write short books — plus a few other titles, like l’Infra-ordinaire by George Perec, I read almost 20% of this year’s titles in French. I also started and finished in a very predictable way this year:

A Few of My 2023 Favorites

The links below are Bookshop.org affiliate links, so I may earn a small commission if you buy books through them.

I re-read H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald because a friend was reading it for the first time, and it reminded me of how much I love that book. Then because of that I bought The Goshawk by T. H. White, but I haven’t read it yet.

I read Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Boris Dralyuk, about a man who flees a village caught in the crossfire between Ukraine and Russia. The important thing to note is that this book was published in 2018. It is weird and charming and enlightening and true.

Speaking of weird, Treacle Walker by Alan Garner is … difficult to sum up in a quick paragraph. I think it was this review in the TLS by Carolyne Larrington that convinced me to pick it up. It was also short listed by the Booker Prize for 2022.

I came across some review or retrospective of Thomas Bernhard, or he was mentioned in something I read; I don’t remember. But I was interested enough to read The Loser, a novel about two friends and fellow students of the pianist Glenn Gould when he was a young man in Austria. It is entirely fiction. Even parts of the character Glenn Gould’s biography are made up. They never happened to the real Glenn Gould. But the discursive style of the narrator, the swaying back and forth between scenes he is remembering and scenes that are playing out in real time is unnerving but never disorienting. I have more Bernhard on my to-buy list, but weirdly they’re out of stock at most places. They’ve been around forever, so I should probably check used book stores.

In the fall, when reading for school became overwhelming, I borrowed Please Kill Me from the library. It’s a 400-plus-page oral history of the punk movement. These were not upstanding citizens, and they did straight up awful things. It’s not a book for everyone, but I needed a decent book about shitty people at the time, and this fit the bill perfectly.

I read The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead’s first novel, for a class over the summer and adored it. I wrote a paper on the use of the suit as a class marker in the book because I cannot stop thinking about Lila Mae and her perfectly tailored suit, and I could write another on the use of the uniform. I’ve got the secondary sources and the notes still. Dare me.

Coming January 16: Memoirs of a French Courtesan Volume 1: Rebellion by Celeste Mogador, translated by Kristen Hall-Geisler. Preorders are available now!