2023 Reading

Somehow I read 66 books this year, not counting the 12 I abandoned. I don’t know when I manage this. I read a little bit in the early mornings when Edith and I are waiting for her nanny to arrive; I don’t always manage this but sometimes she plays independently and I sit on the floor of her playroom and read my book. Edith goes to bed at about 7pm and I go to bed about 9, so usually I spend at least an hour of that time reading. And on the weekends, I read during her nap — usually I fall asleep for 30 or 45 minutes and then when I wake up, depending on how much longer she sleeps, I have about that much time again to read. That’s it, really, but I guess it’s enough to really get through some volume.

This year, I didn’t absolutely love that many books I read. Maybe I didn’t happen to read many truly exceptional ones, or maybe I’m just getting more critical. I really loved:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Actually, I initially rated this one as very good, but now I think I loved it, because I have thought about this one quite a lot over the past year. It has stayed with me. This might be because I have a daughter who adores her nanny and whose nanny adores her and sometimes I think about how devastated I would be for both of them if that relationship was severed.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I almost never truly love nonfiction books, so I’m extra impressed by those I do.
  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I’m late on this one, but boy does it live up to the hype. Single person representation!!! There’s so little of it, and this book gets so much right.
  • Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Books that I thought were really great, but didn’t quite adore:

  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • This Is How by M.J. Hyland
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. The writing in this is phenomenal. I can’t say I loved it, because I just do not care about a pack of animalistic men brutalizing everyone and everything they come across. But the writing brought me as close to caring about that as anything could, which is saying something.
  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
  • A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Books that I enjoyed:

  • Agatha Christie (I finished up the Marples this year and started in on the Poirots): The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, A Caribbean Mystery, At Bertram’s Hotel, Sleeping Murder, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder on the Links, The Thirteen Problems, Three Blind Mice and Other Problems, The Mystery of the Blue Train
  • Death In Venice by Thomas Mann, trans. Michael Henry Heim
  • Far to Go by Alison Pick. Incidentally this was by far the most painful book I read this year. I think of it often when trying not to think of it and every time I think about it, I have to jerk my thoughts away like I touched a hot stove. It really destroyed me.
  • Wise Children by Angela Carter
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  • The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
  • On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  • A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Also a tough one.
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
  • Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  • Weather by Jenny Offill

Books I thought were pretty meh:

  • Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
  • A Heritage and Its History by Ivy Compton-Burnett
  • The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  • Changing Places by David Lodge
  • Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
  • I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom
  • Agatha Christie: Nemesis, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, The Big Four
  • Animal by Lisa Taddeo
  • The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang, trans. Deborah Smith
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
  • The Great Mental Models vol. 1-3 by Shane Parrish

Books I thought were bad:

  • Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
  • Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

Books I didn’t finish:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel D. Cervantes, trans. Edith Grossman. I know it’s foundational and all, but I got the gist.
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
  • About the Author by John Colapinto
  • Mort(e) by Robert Repino
  • The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
  • Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald. I will probably revisit this some day, I just wasn’t in the mood.
  • The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I will probably finish this some day.
  • The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman


I am reading a book called The Philosophical Baby that’s about how our minds develop in early infancy, and I was reading along rather bored until I came to this extraordinary bit in a chapter about how our imaginations develop:

When children grow older, imaginary companions are usually replaced by a new kind of imaginary activity. “Paracosms” are imaginary societies rather than imaginary people. They are invented universes with distinctive languages, geography, and history. The Brontës invented several paracosms when they were children, as did the teenage murderers who inspired the movie Heavenly Creatures (one of them, in real life, grew up to be the novelist Anne Perry).

I’m sorry, what? You could not think of a better second example??? The parenthetical really puts it over the top. “Just as you’d expect from someone who bludgeoned their friend’s mother to death with a brick, she was indeed very creative!”

Day 18

What book is next on your reading list?

This isn’t so much a prompt as a question, but it enables me to reveal one of my many eccentricities: my reading list is a spreadsheet which currently includes well over 2000 rows. These rows are individual authors, many of which include more than one book. I started this spreadsheet when I worked at the law firm in Chicago, and I remember it was the old building (the firm moved while I was employed there), which means I’ve been maintaining this list since around 2003.

Sometime last year, I decided to start over, since with a baby my time is more limited, so I began a clarified spreadsheet of books I especially want to read.

It is now 583 rows and counting.

I have never understood people who are like “I need book recommendations!” Who doesn’t know what to read, who even are you? I will never need a book recommendation. Ever.

As far as which thing to read next, I went through a period when I lived in Albuquerque of compulsively buying cheap used copies of books that were on my list from Powell’s through the mail, so I have something like 500 unread books in my possession, and I just go through the stacks pretty much at random.

Then, last year when I had Edith, I had to switch to ebooks, so as I explained previously, I started sort of combing through the sale section and compulsively buying whatever books were super cheap. Currently I have 76 unread fiction books in my ebook “pile” and 41 unread nonfiction. And I’ve just been reading them basically in order of purchase.

To answer the explicit question, the “next” book in each pile is probably Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews and The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand.

2021 Reading

My reading life changed quite a lot this year, round about March. Newborns will get in the way of your reading and no mistake. Given that I do not have as much time to read these days, I finally made a change I’ve been meaning to make for some time — now, if I’m not feeling a book, I abandon it. I’ve always been a completer, but life’s too short and I’m too busy to be compulsive about reading for no reason. If I’m not enjoying a book, I don’t have to choke it down like vegetables.

Also, once I had Edith, all my reading switched to ebooks, on my phone, so I could read them in the dark while she’s sleeping (which is where I do most of my reading now). I don’t know that this made much difference to the way I read or the type of things I read, but it’s a big enough change to seem significant. I think it’s harder to focus when reading on a device; it’s too easy to flip back over to email or Twitter or Slack. It’s not an immersive experience. So I maybe read less also for that reason.

I read at least part of 72 books this year. Of those, I abandoned 4, so I read 68 books in full.

The books I loved included:

  • White Noise by Don DeLillo
  • Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez, trans. Gregory Rabassa
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  • Calypso by David Sedaris
  • Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (yes, I’m aware she was canceled)
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet
  • Ace by Angela Chen
  • No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (my favorite of the year)
  • Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner
  • The Hunger by Alma Katsu
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (second favorite of the year)
  • Luster by Raven Leilani
  • There’s No Such Thing As an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, trans. Polly Barton
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • Plain Honest Men by Richard Beeman
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Several of the Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie, specifically:
    • Murder at the Vicarage
    • The Body In the Library
    • The Moving Finger
    • They Do It With Mirrors
    • A Pocketful of Rye
    • 4:50 From Paddington

The following books were fairly enjoyable or interesting, or else just ok:

  • Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
  • Mirror Lake by Thomas Christopher Greene
  • Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, trans. Andrew R. McAndrew
  • Spooner by Pete Dexter
  • Holy Skirts by René Steinke
  • Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • Nice Try by Josh Gondelman
  • I’ll Be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamara
  • Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous
  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
  • Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Lavery
  • Singled Out by Bella DePaulo
  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
  • Some Trick by Helen DeWitt
  • White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
  • How Should a Person Be? by Shelia Heti
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, trans. Ann Goldstein
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • Night’s Master by Tanith Lee
  • Sync by Steven Strogatz
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  • Louisa the Poisoner by Tanith Lee
  • The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie (not as enjoyable as most Marples)
  • Several of the Jeeves novels by P.G. Wodehouse, specifically:
    • Thank You, Jeeves
    • The Code of the Woosters
    • The Inimitable Jeeves

Then there were those I did not enjoy:

  • Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  • Fury by Salman Rushdie
  • Queen Takes King by Gigi Levangie Grazer
  • Doubles by Nic Brown
  • G by John Berger
  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

And then the four I didn’t bother to finish:

  • Wrack & Ruin by Don Lee
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn
  • Cast a Bright Shadow by Tanith Lee

So overall, having a baby hasn’t completely put a damper on my reading, but it has obliterated my ability to think about, digest, and certainly to write about what I have read. For example, I would like to share some additional context for some of the books above — what I especially liked about a number of them, for example — but I’m fucking exhausted and I have to go to bed instead.

Maybe next year!

Recent Reads

I read 70 books in 2020, not including a few books I read for work and one I abandoned part-way through (see below). Here’s the last batch, followed by a list of the ones I especially liked over the year (15). This was a typical year’s reading for me, as I’m an antisocial hermit and a big reader just in general, and so my lifestyle this year wasn’t really all that different than it is any other year (except that I didn’t travel or see family, and also I got pregnant).

Continue reading “Recent Reads”