I think I read fewer books this year than in the past several years, but it’s still a solid list. This one tilts heavily toward fiction, mostly because I graduated from my creative nonfiction MFA program in May and just wanted to get on with some big honking doorstoppers. I like that tilt. It’s been fun to immerse myself in those longer, weirder novels that might otherwise be passed over on the bookshelf. Tree of Smoke, my final book of the year, for instance, sat on my shelf for maybe 10 years before I finally came around to it in a flurry of Denis Johnson reading. Worth the wait!
Of course, this year also marks the birth of our child, Louisa Shea. She has been the wonder of our lives these past six months, and we’ve placed colorful children’s books at the center of her world. She loves when we read to her. She engages with the illustrations, the rhythm of the words, the movement of the pages. It’s amazing to see, and I’m eager to see how her reading grows over her life.
As far as the best stuff I read this year, I’d have to start with Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels. The Sportswriter, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land and Let Me Be Frank With You were unbelievably good. Ford has an excellent eye for the innermost details of a character, for the minute-by-minute thought patterns that construct a life. Frank Bascombe is not the most endearing protagonist of all time, but his earnestness and his self-awareness make for great through-lines in a four-novel set like this. Not for nothing, Independence Day brought home a Pulitzer in 1996.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, The Goldfinch, Crossroads, A Fan’s Notes, The Shipping News and A Visit from the Goon Squad were my other favorite novels. Each one was mesmerizing. Don’t sleep on Annie Proulx’s writing style in The Shipping News! What a knockout!
On the nonfiction side, easy: To the Linksland, Michael Bamberger’s memoir about caddying in Europe in the early 1990s was a perfect book. For anyone who loves golf, this is a must-read. On Writing was great too; that one was a re-read from my college days. If you think of yourself as a writer, I have no doubt it’s on your bookshelf. It’s a good one to revisit every now and then. And I do want to get a Stephen King book on my 2023 list… I’ve read The Shining, but nothing else. It’s time, I think… Maybe IT?
My next post will be a five-year retrospective of reading. I’ve been recording every book I’ve read since January 2018, and I’m excited to see everything that landed on that list over the years. Aside from a few gems that came before (One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Magus, A Prayer for Owen Meany, White Noise, All the King’s Men), this five-year period contains all the life-expanding books that I’d now consider personal favorites and, to be a bit cloying for a moment, personal friends. More on that soon.
Out of Office by Charlie Warzel, Anne Helen Petersen
Second Nature by Michael Pollan
To the Linksland by Michael Bamberger
Mutations by Sam McPheeters
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
The Best American Essays ed by Kathryn Schulz
The Vietri Project by Nicola DeRobertis-Theye
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
The Bogey Man by George Plimpton
This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
Serious Face by Jon Mooallem
The Green Road Home by Michael Bamberger
A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Let Me Finish by Roger Angell
The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner
Norwood by Charles Portis
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
On Writing by Stephen King
Independence Day by Richard Ford
Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
True Grit by Charles Portis
End Zone by Don DeLillo
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Already Dead by Denis Johnson
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson