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My Book of the Year 2023

Hi! Welcome to my traditional annual reading wrap-up.


This year I read more than ever. More books (168 so far) and more pages (44,000), which divides nicely to be 14 books a month. There were some real landmark books in there too, and some hefty tomes.  But before we begin to look at the books, a quick recap of what 2023 was like for me.


Personally, 2023 was almost a business as usual year. With both my lovely grown up daughters working, as well as my wife and myself, we've definitely had our heads down! I had my first full year working for the National Trust, and my goodness I love this organisation, its purpose, its generosity of spirit and its people. It is easily the best organisation I have ever worked for, and my only regret is that I didn’t join sooner.


On a sadder note, we lost our lovely old chocolate labrador, Miss Lola, in August. She was ancient, fifteen and a half, but it doesn't make it any easier. We still have Ted, our shih tsu, however, and he is constantly entertaining.


As you will know, I love to travel, but this year was light on foreign trips. I did hold true to my self-commitment, which I made in 2022, to visit a new foreign country ever year for the rest of my life. I visited Portugal in March with Mrs PlacesandBooks. It has always been an odd anomaly that I have been everywhere else in Western Europe but not there.


I will try to do a separate blog on the Portugal trip if I get time over the Christmas break, but the highlights included tram rides in Lisbon, the Livraria Lello and riverside cafes in Porto, the Knights Templar monastery at Tomar, the gardens of Sintra and the lovely bookish town of Óbidos, including a coffee break in The Literary Man Hotel.


In the UK, I managed to get to my beloved Lake District twice, either side of a foot operation that slowed me down for a couple of months, a summer trip to the seaside heaven of Salcombe and a road trip around James Herriot country in Yorkshire and up into Northumberland. It was great to visit Lindisfarne, Bamburgh Castle, Alnwick Castle and the famous Barter Books in Alnwick.


My most bookish moment of the year though has to be at this summer's Hay Festival - volunteering in the National Trust's secondhand bookshop, and going to see Margaret Atwood speak with one of my very favourite bookstagrammers, Hanneke @the.fifth.musketeer - an unforgettable experience.


Just as wonderful was a visit to Virginia Woolf's home Monk's House with Jeana @hotcocoareads and Triin @wordchild in July.


The year was of course overshadowed by the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and in Palestine. I’ve not spoken much about this, but I am grateful for those that have, especially those that have sought to redress the media and political bias and bring the truth to light. Humanity’s ability to be inhumane never ceases to sicken me.


Books, as ever, are the educator and the refuge. So here’s my 2023 reading summary…


I really focussed on new reads in an attempt to reduce my TBR pile, and only re-read eight books. Less than 5% of my reading. That is incredibly low for me. Other than that I read mostly fiction, with a smattering of poetry and non-fiction thrown in. I read a lot of CHUNKY books: Lonesome Dove, Swann’s Way, Beyond Black, The Godfather, Infinite Jest, Doctor Zhivago, Nicholas Nickleby, Little Dorrit, and several of Trollope’s Barsetshire books.


Finally reading and finishing Ulysses in 2022 definitely gave me the confidence to read Marcel Proust and David Foster Wallace this year. I had no reading slumps and made a real dent in my TBR. On the downside, I failed to add much to my blog, but I suspect that this will be a theme, at least until I retire. It’s getting ever closer.



Reading Diversity


My reading diversity was a bit mixed:


· 107 by male writers and 61 by female writers. This is pretty weak for me, but I was focussed on reading all over the world, and it is hard to balance both.


· Books from 31 different countries, including: Chile, Japan, Botwsana, Austria, Argentina, Malaysia, Serbia, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Ireland, Iran, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Russia, Nigeria, Portugal, USA, Finland, Wales, France, South Africa, Brazil, Belgium, Australia, Egypt, Spain, Germany, and England.


That’s a really good range, and it wasn’t just the odd book - there were seven German books, two Chilean, five Portuguese, three Nigerian, two Japanese, etc.


· I didn’t keep a special note of LGBT+ writing this year, but do check out my Goodreads account if you want to explore what I have read. Link below...



My 2023 Book of the Year


I have broken down my 2023 reading into five categories – new fiction, non-fiction, poetry, re-reads and children's/YA. I’ll start with new fiction…



New works of fiction


Some great books in here, so many that I'm doing a top twenty rather than a top ten:


1. Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo

2. Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan

3. Precious Bane, by Mary Webb

4. Blindness, by Jose Saramago

5. The Outsiders, by SE Hinton

6. Lanark, by Alasdair Grey

7. Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym

8. Post Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig

9. Requiem, A Hallucination, by Antonio Tabucchi

10. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


11. Reunion, by Fred Ullman

12. The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

13. The Evenings, by Gerard Reve

14. Chess Story, by Stefan Zweig

15. The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa

16. Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust

17. Dom Casmurro, by Machado de Assis

18. Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini

19. Young Austerlitz, by WG Sebald

20. Maigret in Montmartre, by Georges Simenon



Non-fiction


It was an exceptionally strong year for non fiction, with some amazing books. Could it be that my Book of the Year is non fiction in 2023? I loved every one of this top ten:


1. Strangers on a Pier, by Tash Aw

2. Ain’t I A Woman, by Bell Hooks

3. Sky Above, Great Wind, The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryōkan, by Kazuaki Tanahashi

4. The Maniac, by Benjamín Labatut

5. Wandering/Trees, by Hermann Hesse

6. Adieux, A Farewell to Sartre, by Simone de Beauvoir

7. Home and Exile, by Chinua Achebe

8. Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell

9. The Autobiography of Bienvenuto Cellini

10. Home at Grasmere, by Dorothy Wordsworth


Just outside the top ten were four more excellent books:

Dust Tracks on a Road, by Zora Neale Hurston; Finding Hildasay, by Christian Lewis; Village Christmas, by Laurie Lee; and Paper Darts, the Letters of Virginia Woolf, by Frances Spalding.



Poetry


It wasn’t a very strong year for poetry, so I’ll list rather than rank. I read poetry by: Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Ryōkan, Fernando Pessoa, Wole Soyinka, Lord Byron, and William Wordsworth.



Re-reads


I re-read so few books that again I won’t rank them, I will merely list them. They were: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nicholas Nickleby and Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald.



Children’s / Young Adult Books


The quality of the books aimed at younger readers this year was amazing. My top five are all brilliant reads:


  1. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

  2. Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

  3. My Sweet Orange Tree, by José Mauro de Vasconcelos

  4. A Hundred Million Francs, by Paul Berna

  5. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Selma Lagerlöf



So which book wins the big prize?


So finally, out of all this lot, thinking about fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, poetry, and rereads, my BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023 is…


 Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo


This book was just so vibrant, so full of life, covering so many different intersecting lives, so much diversity, so exuberant and done so well, that I know two things: one, that this book will never leave me, and two, I will re-read it within five years.


Do check out my Goodreads account www.Goodreads.com/places_and_books for more of my thoughts on any of the books mentioned in this piece. And do comment below what your favourite book of the year was.


And finally…


And in case you are interested, here are my favourite books of the year from when I first started keeping records:


1982 Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien, England

1983 Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger, USA

1984 To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, USA

1985 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain, USA

1986 Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, France

1987 Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy, England

1988 A Room with a View, EM Forster, England

1989 Middlemarch, George Eliot, England

1990 Villette, Charlotte Bronte, England

1991 All Quiet on the Western Front, EM Remarque, Germany

1992 The Scarlet and the Black, Stendahl, France

1993 Crime and Punishment, Fyedor Dostoyevsky, Russia

1994 As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee, England

1995 Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, Russia

1996 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte, England

1997 Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, France

1998 Kim, Rudyard Kipling, England

1999 The Grand Meaulnes, Alain-Fournieres, France

2000 Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan, France

2001 Catch 22, Joseph Heller, USA

2002 The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, USA

2003 A Secret History, Donna Tartt, USA

2004 David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, England

2005 Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, England

2006 A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, USA

2007 White Teeth, Zadie Smith, England

2008 The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Australia

2009 A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz, Australia

2010 Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, England

2011 Any Human Heart, William Boyd, England

2012 The Road, Cormac McCarthy, USA

2013 We, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Russia

2014 The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, USA

2015 Quicksand, Steve Toltz, Australia

2016 Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbons, Scotland

2017 Just Kids, Patti Smith, USA

2018 Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, USA

2019 Underland, Robert Macfarlane, England

2020 Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf, England

2021 Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, Olga Tokarczuk, Poland

2022 The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel, England

2023 Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo

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