My Top 9 Books in 2023—and a Question
Plus: 6 Honorable Mentions, a Retrospective, and Tips for Reading More in 2024
This year proved a big one for Miller’s Book Review. I started 2023 with just over eleven hundred subscribers, and I’m currently a skosh under 3,700. Thank you for coming along for the adventure! The growth mostly boils down to your ongoing engagement and sharing.
I’m sure that’s what grabbed the attention of the powers that be at Substack who named Miller’s Book Review a featured publication in July.
I’m quite proud of that distinction, but it never would have occurred without your interest and support. Besides, you keep it challenging and fun. I’m profoundly grateful you keep opening my emails and sharing these essays and reviews with your friends. Thank you!
My Top 9
I read 83 books this year and reviewed 59. Since I’m happy to quit a book that’s not doing it for me, I’d say most of them were pretty good. That said, some were clearly better than others. What follows is my top-nine books for the year and six honorable mentions.
Gregg Hecimovich, The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts. Review: “She Wrote Her Way to Freedom”
Martin Puchner, Culture. Review: “‘Culture Is a Huge Recycling Project’”
Sam Miller, Migrants. Review: “On the Go: The Age-Old Human Adventure of Migration”
Shusaku Endo, The Samurai. Review: “Shouldering the Burden of Belief”
Erich Hatala Matthes, Drawing the Line. Review: “James and the Giant Question: Should We Cancel Roald Dahl?”
Anna Funder, Wifedom. Review: “George Orwell: Terrific Writer, Terrible Husband”
David Brooks, How to Know a Person. Review: “All by Ourselves: Redeeming Loneliness”
Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country. Review: “Undoing the Damage We Do Each Other”
John Wyndham, Trouble with Lichen. Review: “What Sort of Catastrophe Do You Prefer?”
It’s hard to say enough good things about these books. Hecimovich’s Hannah Crafts biography is a triumph of historical and literary research. Puchner and Miller’s books could easily be read as a pair—both arguing for the fundamental richness of a world in which people and ideas are free to mix. What about Endo’s The Samurai? Why not his better-known Silence? I think they also work well—maybe best—as a pair. But I found The Samurai especially poignant, hence its position on the list.
Funder and Matthes’s books also make a good pair as they deal with the same fundamental problem: What do we do with public figures who misbehave in private? And Brooks’s How to Know a Person does as well, arguing people are complex, not cancelable.
Then there are a couple of my favorite novels from the year—Paton’s because it’s so moving, Wyndam’s because it’s so fun. Both are thought provoking in wildly different ways.
But I can’t limit myself to just nine. I have a few others I want to call out.
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Review: “The Little Girl Who Helped Beat the Nazis”
Esau McCaulley, How Far to the Promised Land. Review: “’A People Born of Trauma and Miracle’”
Wayétu Moore, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women. Review: “‘Among the Dragons, There Will Always Be Heroes’”
Richard Deming, This Exquisite Loneliness. Review: “All by Ourselves: Redeeming Loneliness”
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Review: “Resistance Is Not Futile: It’s How You Stay Sane”
Andy Clark, The Experience Machine. Review: “What’s Reality? Make Your Best Guess”
I leave these unranked because any one could have come before another in the list. All are profound and worth attention. Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a gem and the crown of my 2023 classic novel goal. Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest is much different but both deal with the irrepressibility of the human spirit. So do McCaulley and Moore’s memoirs.
Along with those, Deming’s exploration of loneliness and Clark’s investigation of the mechanics of cognition provide compelling insight into the daily experience of being a person in a fraught but fascinating world.
Discovering the power inherent in the above novels and memoirs was partly what prompted my 2024 reading goal, which will contain both more classic fiction and memoir. I talk about that here and will be sharing my final reading list for the goal this weekend. Here, by the way, were last year’s top 9 and honorable mentions.
What about the question flagged in the headline? I want to know your favorite books from 2023. What are they? Please share those in the comments below. I love end-of-year lists. They let me know what I might have missed and give me ideas for the upcoming year. Plus, I love hearing what excites other people.
Last year was notable in several other ways worth mentioning. In the summer I began doing Q&As with authors—including both Gregg Hecimovich and Martin Puchner. I’ll be continuing this feature in 2024 and already have a few great ones lined up. Other Q&A highlights from 2023 include Nick Gillespie and Hollis Robbins. You can find all the Q&As here.
Perhaps not surprising, but C.S. Lewis proved popular. I was, however, not expecting him to prove so popular. In the current ranking of my top-seven posts, four concern Lewis:
In terms of total traffic, the Lewis–Eliot rivalry story attracted more eyeballs than any other post.
Are there any posts I wished had received more attention? I figure everything I published in 2023 got the appropriate level of attention except maybe one piece. I felt particularly proud of—and perhaps a tad too clever regarding—my review of Simon Garfield’s history of encyclopedias, All the Knowledge in the World. What made that review special? It has exactly 26 paragraphs, all alphabetical.
Anything else stand out? I have to mention my 2023 classic novel goal. What a delight that proved to be. I selected (with your input) twelve novels to read and review through the year and found myself grateful for every one of them. I can’t wait to get started on 2024’s list.
Everything Read and Reviewed
What follows is a list of every book I read and reviewed in 2023:
Edward Wilson-Lee, A History of Water
Massimo Pigliucci, The Quest for Character
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
Wayétu Moore, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women
Chuck Klosterman, The Nineties
Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio
Brandon R. Byrd et al., Ideas in Unexpected Places
Angel Adams Parham and Anika Prather, The Black Intellectual Tradition
Hollis Robbins, Forms of Contention
Claude Atcho, Reading Black Books
Jens Andersen, The LEGO Story
John W. Kropf, Color Capital of the World
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Mary-Alice Daniel, A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing
Rina Raphael, The Gospel of Wellness
Peter Burke, Ignorance: A Global History
Henry Cloud, Trust
Tracy Maylett and Tim Vandehey, Swipe
Louis Markos, From Plato to Christ
Erich Hatala Matthes, Drawing the Line
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Kevin Kelly, Excellent Advice for Living
Martin Puchner, Culture
Eugene Vodolazkin, A History of the Island
Jamie Kreiner, The Wandering Mind
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
C.S. Lewis, The Reading Life
C.S. Lewis, On Writing (and Writers)
Sam Miller, Migrants: The Story of Us All
James Crawford, The Edge of the Plain
Ray Edwards (with Jeff Goins), Read This or Die!
Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country
Sigrid Undset, The Wreath (Kristen Lavransdatter, Book 1)
Sigrid Undset, The Wife (Kristen Lavransdatter, Book 2)
Sigrid Undset, The Cross (Kristen Lavransdatter, Book 3)
Andy Clark, The Experience Machine
Tara Isabella Burton, Self Made
Simon Garfield, All the Knowledge in the World
Eric Hoel, The World Behind the World
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Peco Gaskovski, Exogenesis
John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Anna Funder, Wifedom
Esau McCaulley, How Far to the Promised Land
Henry James, A Turn of the Screw
Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Gregg Hecimovich, The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts
Sly Stone, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
John Wyndham, Trouble with Lichen
John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos
John Wyndham, Stowaway to Mars
John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes
John Wyndham, Foul Play Suspected
David Brooks, How to Know a Person
Richard Deming, This Exquisite Loneliness
Shusaku Endo, Silence
Shusaku Endo, The Samurai
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
And here’s everything I left unreviewed—or mostly so. I just posted one-sentence takes on each of these 17, but that hardly counts as a full review.
Charles Portis, Norwood
Charles Portis, True Grit
Charles Portis, The Dog of the South
Charles Portis, Masters of Atlantis
Charles Portis, Gringos
Simon Winchester, Knowing What We Know
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
Nicholas Spencer, Magisteria
Stephen De Young, Apocrypha
Mark Gregory Pegg, Beatrice’s Last Smile
John Anthony McGuckin, The Eastern Orthodox Church
Karen Swallow Prior, The Evangelical Imagination
Daniel Nayeri, Everything Sad Is Untrue
Wolfram Eilenberger, The Visionaries
Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is the Way
Nick de Semlyen, The Last Action Heroes
Matt Lewis, Filthy Rich Politicians
Now, I know what you’re thinking: 59 and 17 don’t equal 83. You’re right! I also read all seven of the novels by C.S. Lewis’s friend and fellow Inkling Charles Williams. I’m still planning on reviewing them, possibly before New Year’s, possibly just after.
Charles Williams, War in Heaven
Charles Williams, Many Dimensions
Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion
Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps
Charles Williams, Shadows of Ecstasy
Charles Williams, Descent into Hell
Charles Williams, All Hallow’s Eve
Reading More in 2024
When I first mentioned I’d read 83 books this year, a few people asked me how I possibly manage to read so much. My typical answer is that I basically have just one hobby and you’re looking at the results of it. That said, there are some practicalities and strategies involved.
When I first launched Miller’s Book Review, just before I started the regular publishing schedule, I posted my nine tips for reading more in the coming year. This link will take you to the post with its explanation for each point, outlined below, and the few additional links below will take you to posts that elaborate highlighted point.
Cut back on TV
Take books everywhere
Follow your whims
Vary your genres
To that list I’d add a tenth: Set a goal. It doesn’t have to be crazy ambitious, but a goal you track—and toward which you put some regular effort—is a great way to accomplish pretty much anything. They didn’t build the Empire State Building all at once. Rather, every brick and beam eventually added up to the completed structure. A reading goal works the same way.
So that was 2023, more or less. Now I want to hear from you: What were your favorite books in 2023? Share those in the comments below.
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