I enjoy skimming end of the year reading lists so I skimmed my own list of books that I read in 2023. Because I simply keep a list and no additional notes on books, it is interesting to look at the list and see titles I can’t remember anything about. There are a few titles I have listed there that if asked, I would deny having ever read. I won’t tell which those are here, but here are some reflections on my reading year…..
I enjoyed some fictional stories –
The Lager Queen of Minnesota – I really enjoyed listening to this story by J. Ryan Stradal. I don’t know how it landed on my hold list in the first place, the truth is, I had once tried his Kitchens of the Great Midwest and couldn’t get traction, never finished. But I fell right into this story and enjoyed it quite a lot. I went back to try Kitchens of the Great Midwest after reading Lager Queen, but it still wasn’t for me. Later in the year I read Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, which was okay, but I wouldn’t bother to tell you about it except for that I am. Based on this trail, I expect I will at least try whatever Stradal writes next.
I enjoyed listening to Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake even if I didn’t really care about the plot all that much. The characters, the setting, the gentle story made for a nice listening experience – Meryl Streep read it to me while I was out wrapping up things in the garden this fall. It was a nice pairing for that work.
Anne of Green Gables. Have I never actually read this before? I know the characters and the stories from watching the movies and having friends who love Anne and her world so much, but I think I may have never actually read the book. I really enjoyed listening to this delightful story this year.
I enjoyed listening to Ann Napolitano’s Hello Beautiful. I was quickly captured by the characters and the story developments. It caused me to read another of Napolitano’s books, which I did not like so much. But similar to my experience with J. Ryan Stradal, I will try whatever Napolitano writes next.
I enjoyed listening to Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews as I picked blueberries this summer and I later listened to Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, which felt like sort of a similar type of story, though that’s a quick comparison and I’m not sure how well it works. I did feel like Yellowface was too much “On the Nose” for my taste, but I did like listening to this interview with the author.
I recently listened to The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks and enjoyed the rambling story. I don’t know why I liked it exactly. It was just an easy story to listen to and that was nice. Plus, Tom Hanks reads it.
Speaking of writers reading their own work, I listened to two musicians read their writing this year – Brandi Carlisle ‘s Broken Horses and Bono’s Surrender. Both were good and I really liked the music embedded into the audio production of the books.
I listened to several nonfiction books this year that rise to the top as I review my list. Prairie Fires certainly expanded what I knew of Laura Ingalls Wilder. A Fever in the Heartland, my goodness! what an awful story of the KKK and a conman in the 1920s. I read The Wild Trees before our trip to the Northern California Redwoods. It is a remarkable tale about the discovery and exploration of some of the largest trees in the world. (Related Reading – the picture book: Thirty Minutes Over Oregon.) Jean Twenge’s latest book Generations was an interesting examination of generational characteristics and the technology that gives a lot of shape to the divides. Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, by America, was excellent and if I was going to recommend one book that I wish people would read, I would probably start with this. (and then A Fever in the Heartland and Generations)
For somebody who likes to play with words, I didn’t read as much poetry this year as I might have. I did really like Clint Smith’s Above Ground (his interview with Krista Tippett was a good listen and his nonfiction book, How the Word is Passed is excellent). I read Malcolm Guite’s After Prayer in January 2023 and I am headed into January 2024 with a copy of his Parable and Paradox waiting for me.
One day I was browsing the poetry section of the library and pulled a small book off the shelf, flipped through it, and then checked it out. It was a collection of notes people have typed on a typewriter located in a bookstore and also mini essay observations by the bookstore owner, Notes from a Public Typewriter turned out to be right in my wheelhouse, I enjoyed it very much.
As somebody who does not consider myself a re-reader (I usually say that I am NOT!) ….I can’t deny it this year. A handful of books on my list were not first time reads. David and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary in June and so I re-read Sheldon Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy, which was important to us in our engagement so long ago. I was curious 25 years later if I could remember why. But that’s a whole other post. I also re-read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I re-read Ramona The Pest as I was writing about my yellow boots last week and I re-read George McDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, which I revisit regularly and someday should write about.
I re-read Lisa Genova’s book Remember: the Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting this year. Genova is a neuroscientist who has set neurological diseases into fictionalized stories and settings, the most famous probably being Still Alice. I read through Genova’s fictional works a couple years ago and was inspired to revisit her nonfiction book Remember this year.
In June I heard a podcast conversation between Amy Julia Becker and Dr. Lydia Dugdale that inspired me to get a copy of Dugdale’s book, The Lost Art of Dying. I read it twice this year and no doubt will read it again.
There are many more good books on my 2023 list. Books I am very glad to have read. Books I would recommend if you asked. And as I mentioned at the start, there are also some I can’t remember having read – and might not even be able to say what they were about. (I should take more notes?!) There are also books I read for reasons I might still get around to telling about one of these days >>> Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, for instance.
As I close out this reflection, I think I’ll just add one more — I really enjoyed listening to Beth Moore read her memoir, All My Knotted Up Life. I have never done one of her Bible Studies and I didn’t know much about her before the Trump era brought her into my view, but I was curious enough when her memoir came out that I listened in. She’s funny! and her story is very hard and crazy making. It is full of deep, deep grief. And such grace. my goodness. the grace. My eyes blurred with hot tears of recognition and resonance as I listened to her close in on the final lines and fit the pieces of her story together in a hard-earned testimony to God’s faithful love, through it all.