(illustration by Rebecca Campbell)
2023 happened? We’re at the end of it? In one full year I posted maybe 2 or 3 times on here? I am so sorry about that! Reading did happen this year, and it was to be our Year of Chunky Reading, but at the same time work became overwhelming and prevented me from spending more time here.
I sincerely hope that changes for 2024 but I cannot make any promises right now. That pesky job is going to be just as overwhelming I’m afraid.
Looking back over the books I read this year, it was an okay year, there were some great and bright moments, but it feels as though too many mediocre moments overpowered much of the year. I keep track of the my reading (and want-to-read) on Goodreads so it is easy to go back and look over what I’ve read. I think I would be completely lost if I didn’t have this system in place. As I look over the list of books read in 2023, most of them seemed to merit mainly 3-stars, so it shows just an average reading year overall. Of course I will flesh out the ones that were great and 5-star reads (and 4-star) below. Every year Goodreads hosts their Reading Challenge and Hoarder Elizabeth and I purposely set our goal for a low number in 2023 as it was to be the year of reading those chunky books on our shelves! I forgot all about that (low) goal, and of course my focus shifted considerably where I was reading all kinds of other books outside of my planned chunksters, so I surpassed that goal of 40 books. I did read just around 60, which seems to be the average I’m managing to read over these past few years.
Where do I start?
I should probably actually start with the Chunky Books right? My original list at the start of the year is here, but you know I fell off that one right? You can’t be surprised by that? In the original picture 15 books are showing plus I bought 3 more and over the course of the year I’ve bought many more still! Some of those new chunkers made it in front of me over the original list of 15. So here’s an update on the books I did read that made it onto my Best Of list:
Best Chunky Books
My very first book was Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith and I loved it. It was the longest clocking in at over 1,000 pages and I thought it to be completely brilliant and very clever. I finished that one in mid-January. I ripped through it to be honest. She published another one in September 2023 and I of course ran out and bought it the moment it hit the shelves and The Running Grave replaced one from my original list. I finished reading The Running Grave near the end of October and while it was another excellent instalment and shorter than Ink Black Heart, I will admit I was pulling my hair out at the end as this one felt much too long. I was glued to the pages right up until around page 700, and then I became greatly fatigued. Once I had ~100 pages or so left I was pulling at my hair for it to come to its end – this one was a wee bit repetitive and of course we still do not have any action going on between Robin and Strike! #8 is on its way and I pray it’s succinctly told and Robin and Strike get it on!
Back to my original list, I then read Wayne Johnston’s The Mystery of Right and Wrong. Oomph. This one left a mark. I’ll leave my Goodreads review here for you to read.
I ventured off the list again and picked up this chunky one that was on my shelf and it turned out to be one of the best I read this year! Cemetery Road by Greg Iles. Fantastic storytelling with all kinds of old southern money and corruption and greed, secrets, lies, redemption. It was great!
Then I read Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. My chunky reading was giving me nothing but successes! Demon Copperhead was definitely one of them and like Cemetery Road was a book I passed along to friends, with one saying Demon was a life-changing book. Indeed. To see it win the Pulitzer and the Woman’s Prize was deeply satisfying. It is absolutely worthy of all the awards it’s received.
My reading kind of stalled a little bit here and there after Demon Copperhead. Not a surprise as it’s tough to find another so quickly after something so great. Like I said above, it had a couple of bright moments, but for the most part the rest of my reading year was okay. There are other books that I will highlight that I consider to fall into both the “best of” and “really great”. I’m going to mention two others here for “best of” and then the others are actually going to fall into “Really Great CanLit” because the others I’ll mention were all CanLit titles. I read quite a bit of Canadian books this year, and I bought many more Canadian books over any other kind this year as well. (I can do a feature of all the Canadian books I bought – they sit there on the shelf that holds all of my recently purchased books.) (Note to self)
Other Best Books
Two fit here: 1. Lisa See’s Lady Tan’s Circle of Women. I felt like this was the Lisa See I loved reading! Not since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls have I loved a Lisa See book like I did here.
2. Our book club chose The Last Flight by Julie Clark for our February 2024 meeting. I tore through this one. This was not at all what I was thinking it was about, and I couldn’t peel my eyes off of it! I added a quote into my Goodreads review and I’ll put that here, but what a book about women supporting women! Wow.
Really Great CanLit
Of the nearly 60 books I read this year, 21 were Canadian. I’m only going to mention 3 here however. (Well I can add the two Lane Winslow books I read, I continue to adore Iona Whishaw’s Lane Winslow series and I did read her two latest and enjoyed them both.)
- The Sum of One Man’s Pleasure by Danial Neil. I thought this was great! This to me was his best so far. I loved the structure of it, I loved the story, the characters. I highly recommend. It is one I did pass along to my friend to read – I think the story will be one she really enjoys.
- Let it Destroy You by Harriet Alida Lye. This was such an exquisitely written book, and it contained such a beautiful love story. What a shame this did not catch the eyes of the Giller judges. I had hoped it would make their list.
- All the Colour in the World by C.S. Richardson. The winner of the Giller Prize in my opinion. A beautifully and uniquely told story about Henry. It was a literary achievement in my opinion.
Another goal I set for myself last year was to return to audiobooks and I did make a nice effort with them. The ones I listened to were really very good with two being complete and absolute knock outs! I’m still nowhere near the number of audiobooks I used to listen to, and I have A LOT more downloaded to Audible than ever, so I really should get to work and get back into the listening habit.
Best Audiobooks of 2023
If you want to listen to something that will change your life, that will alter your state of being: I highly, highly recommend Yo-Yo Ma’s Beginner’s Mind. It is an Audible Original, so you could be limited if you don’t have an Audible account. I was left with tears streaming down my face while walking down the trail listening to this one. He is such a beautiful man, and oh how I wish the world would listen more to amazing people like Ma instead of the idiots being pushed at us daily. This audiobook is mixed with his stunning cello music and his message, his story, his life, his words are truly life-changing. 5 million stars.
I gave All the Sinners Bleed all the stars. To not listen to the audiobook, with the incredible narration by Adam Lazarre-White, is a definite injustice. He elevated Cosby’s already extraordinary storytelling gift and amplified it to 25-stars out of 5. It is absolutely the case where the book is better in audio.
The foot is never, ever taken off the gas pedal here. This story is relentlessly disturbing and dark but also relentless and profound with Cosby’s statements on hypocrisy, racism, white-supremacy, the state of the US and in particular, the South, religious fervency….Cosby is an important and incredible voice. I am a devout reader.
I began listening to In the Upper Country by Kai Thomas but my time ran out with the audio and I had to switch to the paper version. Which is a great loss because the narrators made this the perfect way to experience these stories within stories. This is Thomas’s debut and it was also the winner of the Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction and a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards but failed to catch the eye of the Giller Prize judges.
I’ll close out this post (it’s getting long-winded!) with one other challenge I took at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t a reading challenge per say but it did involve reading non-fiction every day. My daughter convinced me to download 75Hard. I may have only achieved a “75Medium”, but what I was very successful at during this challenge was: 1. No alcohol for 75 days. 2. Read 10 pages from a non-fiction book 3. Two 45-minute workouts with one being done outside and the rest of the challenge including drinking way too much water and be on a diet. I did lose some weight which was a large reason for taking on this challenge. I also read some really great non-fiction books, but I’m only going to mention one here because it was a pretty life-altering read. (I’m also in the complete mind-set to take on the 75Hard challenge again this January.)
Wintering by Katherine May was such a life-affirming read. I felt this book and there are a great number sticky notes and bits of paper stuck throughout to show it. May wrote this a couple of years before the pandemic and writes beautifully about our need to embrace winter and wintering – to slow down and quiet our lives and enjoy the pause winter grants us. I feel its message is just as important now as we seem to wish to return to that pre-pandemic pace of life. Perhaps too easily forgetting some of the wintering lessons we learned during the pandemic.
I think based on how this year is coming to a close, and how overwhelming work has become, I need to pick this one up again and read through the pages I marked. I am desperately looking forward to the Christmas break and I added an extra week to it just so I could properly “winter”.
I wish you all the very best for a wonderful and peaceful 2024.
Thank you as always for reading with us,