Reflections on a year of reading
A dive into my seven favorite books of 2023
Reflecting on the books I’ve immersed myself in throughout the year is a practice I greatly enjoy and consider a good habit. The ritual prompts me to analyze the content, style, and overall influence of the books I’ve delved into and serves as a catalyst for critical thinking. It helps me reinforce what I've learned from each book, identify patterns or gaps in my reading habits, and much more.
It has become a ritual I cherish and look forward to.
After reviewing my 2023 readings, I defined my seven favorite books of the year:
Shoot Me, I’m Already Dead by Julia Navarro.
"Reality is but the reflection of the actions of men, so that reality can be changed.”
This is the best Historical Fiction I've read. I took this cinder block of a book (it's 912 pages long) everywhere I went. It tells the story of two families, one Jewish and one Arabic, in the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. The novel is about living and surviving in a land marked by intolerance and outrage and shows how strong bonds can overcome religious and political differences. It has all the elements of good historical fiction: Well-researched, compelling characters, an intriguing and well-paced plot, and a balanced blend of fact and fiction.
Julia Navarro's masterful skill kept me captivated and emotionally engaged throughout the story, which is thought-provoking.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan.
“What would life be like, he wondered, if they were given time to think and reflect over things? Might their lives be different or much the same - or would they just lose the run of themselves?”
This little novella is among many people's favorites, and with good reason. Claire Keegan set out to achieve something memorable and knocked it out of the park. Small Things Like These tells the story of a hard-working man with an existential crisis looking for a sense of purpose. His state of mind leads him to examine the world around him and, by a change in perspective, realizes there are things he can no longer look away from, things that torment his conscience. It's about morality and bravery.
Keegan's writing style is stunning, almost poetic. The main character is quietly noble and very self-aware, which I liked the most about the book. It's worth mentioning that I read it on a Saturday when I had my own existential crisis, so the book's theme was a perfect fit for my mood.
The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee (translated by Gemma Rovira Ortega).
“All I ever desired I reached when I no longer desired it.”
I feel so lucky that my aunt gifted this book to me since I wasn't likely to come across it naturally. The Book of Fate is the autobiography of a woman in Iran. It's fast-paced since it covers from before the 1979 revolution up to the 2010s, offering a glimpse into the social and political changes in the country. It explores themes such as love, family, and the role of women in Iranian society. It feels like a solid insider view of that society, and you understand that Parinoush's story is the story of countless Iranian women.
Despite being banned twice by the government, it was a bestselling novel there, which tells you how powerful the protagonist's story is. I learned many facts about her culture, empathized with her strongly, and missed reading her thoughts after finishing the book.
Tales From The Heart: True Stories From my Childhood by Maryse Condé (translated by Martha Asunción Alonso).
“Beneath her flamboyant appearance, I imagine my mother must have been scared of life, that unbridled mare that had treated her mother and grandmother so roughly…Both of them had been abandoned with their “mountain of truth” and their two eyes to cry with.”
This is a slim volume of essays written in first-person about novelist Maryse Condé's childhood, which was spent between Guadalupe (her birthland) and Paris. She shows how she went from being "shy and polite" to a "problem child" as she watched her Francophile parents look away from all things non-Western and adopt a superior attitude toward neighbors.
What I liked the most is how each essay tells a different anecdote that shaped Maryse's perspective on the world and her life. It feels like you are completing a jigsaw puzzle of her early years. You witness her worldview changing, inviting you to ponder how your early experiences influence how you see and approach the world.
This book might suit you if you like short stories and first-person narratives.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sheehan Karunatilaka.
“Evil is not what we should fear. Creatures with power acting in their own interest: that is what should make us shudder.”
This was one of the first books I read in the year. I bought it because it was the winner of the 2022 Booker Prize. It tells the story of a war photographer, Maali, who wakes up and realizes that he is dead and in the afterlife; more specifically, "The In-Between," a crowded, chaotic place with long queues and a precise list of procedural formalities (bureaucracy in the afterlife). He has "Seven Moons" (nights) to complete the required formalities and proceed toward "The Light." It shows the deficiencies and irregularities of the justice and police system, which don't take his disappearance seriously, contrasted with his friends and family, who advocate for him as an individual.
The writing style impressed me the most; I've never read something similar. Maali narrates the novel in the second person, and he seems detached from his own story, almost unsentimental, while the reader becomes increasingly uncomfortable as they read.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.
“Every life has its kernel, its hub, its epicentre, from which everything flows out, to which everything returns.”
I bought this in London a few days after visiting Shakepeares's Globe, and it was a fantastic way of immersing myself in his world for a while. It tells the story of William Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, who inspired the name of Shakespeare's most famous protagonist, Hamlet. The book is slow-paced and heartbreaking in every single chapter. I enjoyed reading about their family dynamics and liked the novel's structure. Yet, it took me a while to get used to the writing style, which is what I disliked the most about the book. O'Farrell sometimes uses sentences with more than three adjectives, which quickly becomes annoying. I believe she tried to make her writing feel "rich," but it just didn't work for me.
Nonetheless, the story touched my heart, and I empathized with the characters. I would love to see this book brought to life on the big screen.
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.
“He who best discerns the worth of time is most distressed whenever time is lost.” (Purgatorio)
One day, before even thinking about reading these books (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), I was trying to mention one of Inferno's levels of hell, and I didn't know which one was the one I was thinking about, which was mildly irritating. I should know this! Then, Hozier put out a whole album inspired by hell and its different levels according to Dante, which was a clear sign that I needed to read The Divine Comedy. So I did. And I LIKED IT.
Dante was the OG tour guide of the afterlife. Initially thinking Inferno would be my favorite among his works, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying Purgatory more. Remorseful people turned out to be the most interesting.
These are complicated books; I had to read the endnotes alongside the Cantos to grasp each one thoroughly. Yet, it's fascinating to see and experience the structure Dante built for the afterlife. I was mindblown multiple times. It also made me think about what makes a person good.
The power of storytelling lies not just in the words on the page but in the emotions they evoke and the ideas they provoke. My 2023 reading list has been a tapestry of emotions, cultures, and perspectives, which I'll continue this year.
If you made it this far, tell me: What was your favorite book of 2023?
Until next time,