Hope you find some gems that you may not have seen on other end-of-year lists!
Top Ten of 2023
This is part of a subgenre that I really like: mixing nonfiction with memoir (see also: The Country of the Blind, Ancestor Trouble, A Thread of Violence, We Keep the Dead Close, etc.). Here the author examines her own chronic illness and that of Alice James, the history of women's health (not good), arsenic wallpaper and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the effects of environmental toxins, the stresses of late capitalism and wealth inequality, and the unsustainable demands on doctors. Then she ends with a rousing call to activism in the appendix.
I was utterly transfixed by this. Weaving together two of her major life experiences—a high school teacher who dealt in conspiracy theories and a made-up sexual misconduct suit against her wife—Viren investigates how to combat falsehoods in your day-to-day life as well as in the political realm. (Note: it's hard.) The description of the sabotage she and her wife suffered from Jay had me on pins and needles.
I can’t remember the last time I learned so much from a book! I promise you this: The Country of the Blind is amazingly interesting and informative, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
I love linked stories! This was my favorite story collection of the year. It followed various members of a Black extended family over several decades and focused on all the rules and secrets involved in navigating family relationships. My top three were The Gatekeepers, with its hilarious and quotable ending, Rioja, about bringing a new girlfriend to Thanksgiving, and Mote, about a toxic childhood friendship rekindled in adulthood.
I am so happy that Katherine Heiny is back to short stories. This collection touched on dealing with an elderly parent, the uncovering of an affair, a blip in a long marriage, and helping an ex-wife move, all delivered with heart-wrenching humor.
I don't know how to describe what made this book so fantastic but I need you to go and read it right now. I can't even find a quote to post because the effect of the book is cumulative—the hilarity and poignancy wouldn't come across out of context. I also can't think of anything to compare it to—maybe it has a tiny bit of Sigrid Nunez about it? Recommended for: people who constantly read things aloud to their spouses.
This fictionalized account of a trip that Somerset Maugham took, and how it resulted in his story The Letter, did one of my favorite things as a reader: made me go down a rabbit hole. I now have to read The Letter, watch the Bette Davis movie, read his other story Rain, watch the Joan Crawford movie, and then read The Narrow Corner. I love Somerset Maugham (and Selina Hastings' biography of him), so thank you, Tan Twan Eng! NPR said:
The House of Doors encompasses at-the-time risky interracial and homosexual love stories, a scandalous murder trial, and a paean to the art of transforming life experiences into literature.
I want this book to win some awards this year. It had a lot of thematic depth (addiction, sibling relationships, intergenerational trauma, etc.), but at the same time, it was a joy to read. It reminded me a little of Pizza Girl and a little of Halle Butler, but with more to say.
I thought this was even better than Hill’s debut The Nix, which is really saying something. This zeitgeisty novel was my favorite reading experience of the year.
I absolutely loved this and I was fully invested in all of these characters but OH WOW THAT ENDING. I think you need to keep one of Rose's predictions in mind when interpreting it. I read this back-to-back with Wellness and fully recommend that pairing!