Books and reading are a lifelong habit for me. While not every book I read (mostly novels but some non-fiction as well) has lasting literary value, reading is a wonderful source of entertainment and pleasure.
Toward the end of the calendar year, critics, writers, readers, and review publications select their top books of the year. I took a quick look at some of these lists and selected a few of the titles I had read and enjoyed over the past year.
The Washington Post 2023 “Best” list included a category for mysteries and thrillers. And sure enough, one of my favorite authors, Australian Jane Harper, made the list. The Exiles is number three in her Aaron Falk series, which started with The Dry, the novel that got me hooked on Harper to begin with. I recommend any title written by Jane Harper.
Also recommended from this list is Happiness Falls by Angie Kim. This story is about a father who disappears one day while his disabled, non-speaking son returns home without him. Details emerge as family members try to piece together clues as to the father’s whereabouts.
A well-written psychological thriller, The Quiet Tenant by Clemence Michallon, was one of my favorites of the year. It was chosen as a summer notable book by the Washington Post, and as Best Crime Novel by The New York Times, yet I initially missed this one. Reviewed by a friend on Goodreads, I became a fan of this story of the kidnapped victim of a serial killer, who keeps her hidden in his house. How she chooses to stay alive and attempt escape makes for a gripping story. Michallon was born and raised in Paris and moved to New York in 2014. She is now an American citizen.
Many books I read have been well reviewed in advance of publication in Library Journal (LJ), a major trade publication. Two of my favorite titles of 2023 were listed by LJ as best literary fiction: North Woods by Daniel Mason, and The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese.
Daniel Mason is a San Francisco Bay Area author and physician affiliated with Stanford University, where he also teaches creative writing. I read and loved his first book, The Piano Tuner (2002), a historical novel, set in 19th century Burma. North Woods is his sixth book, also historical, set over several centuries in New England.
Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone (2009), is also a writer and physician at Stanford University. LJ describes The Covenant of Water, set in southern India, as a “rich, skillfully narrated tale (that) portrays not just the suffering and the rough rub of human failings but kindness, love, and art, while capturing India’s transformation during the 20thcentury.”
When I select books and reading materials, I lean toward fiction (entertainment!), but 2023 offered gripping non-fiction stories that held my attention as well as any novel.
The Wager by David Grann is still on the best seller lists nearly a year after publication, attesting to the power of good storytelling. Shipwreck and mutiny in 1741 of a British Royal Navy ship offers conflicting stories of what really happened. Based on ship manifests, diaries and personal recorded recollections of the event, the day-to-day struggles through storms, injuries, and darkness, the book offers mystery and uncertainty as well.
The UC Berkeley Virtual Alumni Book Club, established in 2023, has offered a couple of good selections and a moderated online discussion format. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Nazi Berlin Olympics (2013) by Cal alumnus Daniel James Brown is one of those books I always intended to read but never got around to until last fall. The story of the hard scrabble crew of the University of Washington rowing team and their extraordinary endurance and hardships is a page-turning human interest story. It was released as a film in December.
I hope that your year of books and reading was as good as mine. Look forward to new books by Amor Towles, Lucy Foley, Peter Swanson, Tana French, Anthony Horowitz and, of course, many others in 2024!