favorite books, books, reading, library, the transforming value of lifelong learning, writing, Pursuit of the Pudu, Destiny at Dolphin Bay, devotional, mystery, fiction, nonfiction, YA, writing craft, inspiration, education

My Favorite Books of 2023

Lists are fun, aren’t they? Several of my fellow bloggers have recently shared their top reads of 2023, so I thought it was high time for my (more or less) annual list of favorite books too.

Usually, it’s a challenge to choose just a few favs out of 100 (+/- again) books read over the course of a year. But this year has totaled at only 58, if I’ve counted right and written everything down. Only 58? Now, I realize that for some people that would represent quite a respectable amount. However, the number has diminished considerably for me.

In my defense (?), our first full year of bounce-back from the Covid pandemic in Chile resulted in a huge increase of day-job responsibilities. As well as getting accustomed to the more demanding schedule again. Some of the reads finished in 2023 also took more than a year to wander and wade through, however enjoyable.

“If all the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe, were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading, I would spurn them all.” –Francois FeNelon

This time I’ve selected my favorite books kind of the same way I read: in five categories. I prefer to read a little every day in each of these genres, although this past year it often didn’t work out so well. Mostly I hit and missed, sigh. Sometimes I picked up what felt more interesting at the moment. And sometimes, what was more necessary.

But here’s the list: These five made the final cut as the favorite books I read during 2023.

#1 – Devotional/Bible Study – God Has a Name by John Mark Comer

I recently discovered this “bright young” author/pastor from the West Coast and also read two others by him (Live No Lies and The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry). Picking just one as the best was a hard job! God Has a Name focuses on a phrase-by-phrase analysis of the name Yahweh taken from the Exodus 34 passage. Comer has at least two more books out that I’ve placed on my TBR docket.

What I absorb from books of this category often makes its way into studies I share with others. Or perhaps it may be just for the purpose of “fill my cup, Lord.” You can’t give, either in speaking or writing, without being frequently replenished—and richly.

#2 – Writing Craft – Keep Going by Austin Kleon

Kleon has combined words and art in several amazing and visually stimulating books that aim to encourage fellow writers and artists along the road. I also read his Steal Like an Artist this year and have another on my Amazon wishlist or library list for this coming year. Does that make me a bit of a binger? When you find a good thing…

I forage in this genre regularly to trigger and nourish creativity. It’s also about continuing to learn and improve. As a writer, you have to keep your sword—er, pen—sharp. It broke my heart to leave out the great Julia Cameron’s classic, The Artist’s Way, and screenwriting guru Robert McKee’s Story this year, but decisions, decisions.

#3 – General Nonfiction – 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by Mimi Sheraton

Wow, in this culinary tour de force, celebrated chef Mimi Sheraton takes us on a mouth-watering trip around the world. This looong book even has occasional recipes and many gorgeous photos to accompany the commentary. Workman Publishing Company’s 1,000 Before You Die series makes up an entire education in and of itself. Some people just dip in here and there, of course, but I dive deep. I’ve previously read 1,000 Books and put 1,000 Places on my list for this year.

“Reading is the major key to learning, but I also used reading to fulfill my needs for fun and romance and mystery and excitement and deep satisfaction.” –Joan Lowry Nixon, The Making of a Writer

As always, several more favorite books could have made the list. In this very broad category, I include history, science and health, essay, memoir, biography, etc. I may devour a subject I’m intrigued by for no reason at all. Or I may research something that’s connected to an aspect of my work. Everything adds to the accumulated treasures of wisdom and knowledge, one hopes.

#4 – Mystery – Still Life by Louise Penny

This first installment in the Inspector Gamache series follows a modern Montreal detective as he investigates a murder involving a peculiar painting in a quirky Quebec village. I’d bet the rest of Penny’s books are equally as good. Some have recently been made into a short miniseries. This one caught my attention because of its Canadian setting.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” –George R.R. Martin

I ask myself, though, if I’d remember it so well had I not seen the television episodes? Then again, I almost always forget who dunnit after I reddit, anyway 😊. I confess I’m most likely to pick up Golden Age-type mysteries when I have the chance to vegetate (which didn’t happen often this last year). Detective fiction comes in such a wide variety of precise sub-categories—cozy, thriller, historical, noir, etc.—that there’s something for everyone.

#5 – General Fiction – Hello, Goodbye by Kate Stollenwerck

In trying to stay aware of current trends and styles, I discovered this book in a search for Young Adult (teen) reads similar to those I write. The title of this debut novel could stand out a little more, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d classify it a high school adventure/mystery with a light touch of romance. But most of the story centers around the main character’s blossoming relationship with the grandmother she barely knows, only to… ahem, no spoilers. They both learn that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Sure enough, the plot contained elements that reminded me of my first novel, Destiny at Dolphin Bay. And because Kate Stollenwerck is an attorney-turned-pandemic-writer, it recalled my own wannabe YA mystery series called The Quarantine Tales, started during 2020.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” –Stephen King

The YA category can include a bunch of other sub-genres, including romance, fantasy, science fiction, and all of their side spinoffs. I had hoped to add a YA sci-fi, The Last Cuentista, to my list of favorite books this year. But it turns out I’m still savoring this exquisite multiple award-winner (including the Newbery Medal) into 2024, so it’s not finished yet.   

There you have it for our most recent voyage around the sun.

Know what’s kind of glaring? And also a little sad and even scary for the future? The conspicuous absence from my list of books with a specifically Christian worldview, except for the devotional, of course. Aside from John Mark Comer, none were written by Christians (as far as I know).

How did that happen? Do Christian writers not write about subjects and stories that interest me as a Christian reader? Have we so little impact in our own “Christian” circles, let alone any significant relevance to the secular world? How can we change that? Those are questions I’ll be asking myself in 2024.

“Stop cursing the darkness and light some candles.” —Unknown

What were your favorite books of this past year? I always want to hear of a good read to put on my TBR Before I Die list 😊. To be sure, neither you nor I can read everything, so we have to exercise discernment in our choices to spend our limited time and energy wisely. That’s where recommendations come in.

My 2024 list remains empty thus far. So it’s not exactly off to an auspicious start. Hopefully I can catch up. While I haven’t read much yet, I do have another book about to be published. Stay tuned for Pursuit of the Pudú in February.

My books won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ve no doubt. Just like not everything I read hits the top of my personal “favorite books” list. But would you pray with me, pre-launch, that Pursuit might find its way into the hands of those for whom it will make a difference—whether that’s through entertainment, inspiration, education, or transformation.

And now I think I’ll go finish The Last Cuentista.

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