My Favorite Books of 2023

Every year, I’ve found great joy in sharing my favorite books with others. Here are my favorites from this year. Hopefully, you can find something you might enjoy from this list too.


The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth by Sam Quinones

If I could only recommend one book for you to read this year, it is this one. You don’t have to even try to find someone who is struggling with addiction these days. Walk down the street, and there they are. And if you are like me, your life has already been drastically changed by loved ones struggling with drug-addiction or who’ve lost that battle.  This book helped me to understand not only my own family with a lens of greater compassion, but the monster that is facing our nation. 

It asks the monumental questions, how did we get here and what can we do about it?  And through masterfully interwoven personal stories of heartbreak and triumph, Quinones is able to give answers. He gives the overarching history of how we got where we are today, the science behind why these drugs are far worse than those of the past, and shares poignant personal stories filled with darkness, hope, and compassion.  You are guaranteed to cry at some point while reading this book, either from the sheer beauty of the heroic people he writes about, or from the devastation that addiction has caused.  So let’s stop looking away or pretending the problem doesn’t exist.  Reading this book is a great first step in finding solutions.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Having read “The Warmth of Other Sons,” and having loved it, I didn’t even read what this was about.  I trust her authorship. In her other book, I loved her in-depth historical research and ability to find personal stories to tell the story for her.  She does the same in this book, but this book is based on a thesis: racism in America is really casteism by a different name. 

Wilkerson makes a great case for this throughout the book.  And as always, her research is excellent and her writing, lovely.  For some readers, this book will make you uncomfortable and rethink long-held ideas.  And that’s a good thing.    

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrass Tyson

Do you want to simultaneously be amazed by the universe, humbled, and feel downright dumb?  Then is the book for you.  I just can’t help but love Tyson’s ability to write about such enormous and complex subjects with such humor, while breaking it down for little simpletons like me.


Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

This is at the top of the list because it’s terrific.  This was a must-read, funny, delightful, whirlwind of a book.  I loved how creatively he told his story.  He and his Persian family immigrated to America when he was a child and the way tells his story is much like the Persian rugs (with all of its intricacies) he writes about, being blown around in a tornado.  It’s a marvelously told story that you won’t want to miss out on.

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

This book surprised the heck outa me. This is not one that I thought would ever be on my list because it’s not the best or the most beautifully written, but it is important.  I thought it was a self-help book and I try to avoid that genre in general because I find them trite and not for people who’ve lived a lot of life (and spoiler alert: this book is both a memoir and a self-help book).  So why did I read it? Well, you can thank Ethan for that.  He read another of Goggin’s books and said that I should read one because I was so eerily similar to Goggins.  This intrigued me because here’s what I knew about the author: he’s a former Navy Seal, who, outside of his military accomplishments, has performed many ridiculously crazy physical feats over the years and he swears like a sailor (which is appropriate, LOL).  So what in the world could I have in common with this übermensch?  

It didn’t take me long to find out.  And the more chapters I read, the more I couldn’t believe that there was someone in the world so much like me.  Goggins had a very rough upbringing and even though, on the surface, our stories seem different in the obvious details (he’s an African-American man from the Midwest, I’m a white female from the South), we had many similarities and have both taken away many of the same ideas, strategies, and reflections from life.  He overcame many of the same obstacles that I did and he figured out the same strategies to get through hard things that I also figured out long ago.  The difference being, he gave his strategies nifty little names in order to share them with others.  In many places the book was uncomfortable because we have many shared faults, but I appreciate his honesty and vulnerability in sharing them with his readers.  Yes, I feel weird saying this because it feels strangely self-promoting, but I do think these are really important concepts and tools.

Disclaimer: if you can handle the cursing, it’s a great book.  

Here are a few more memoirs I recommend:

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jenette McCurdy

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Beautiful Country by Julie Qian Wang


Silence by Endo Shusaku 

Deep.  Thought-provoking.  And the best fiction book that I read this year.  The forward of the audiobook, written by Martin Scorsese is a wonderful entry to the story itself.  As it happens, I had already seen the movie made by Scorsese based on the book and it’s one of my favorite movies of all time.  Super dark, because hey, the subject matter is martyrdom, but it is so beautiful and redemptive and although it’s fiction, it is based on historically true events.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

Unlike all of the other novels in this category, this book is a compilation of short stories.  Ethan and the kids bought me this as a gift and what an amazing gift.  Each story, with its starkly differing narration, is fully engrossing.  Not only was I always left with a desire to know how the rest of the character’s life played out, I found that I was unable to go directly to the next short story without some time in-between to digest.  I had to let one go before I could move on to the next.  All that to say, if you are like me and have only short blocks of time to devote to reading at each sitting, this might be a great choice for you.  The stories are all very different from each other, but all are truly wonderful. 

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

“I stopped our trishaw outside the Chalet and said to Phuong, ‘Go in and find a table. I had better look after Pyle.’ That was my first instinct – to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was a greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we should be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm…”

His words speak for themselves.  I love Greene’s subtle way of disguising important concepts with seemingly simplistic story-telling.  It’s a short book, but a good one and you should read it.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This was a beautiful read.  I loved how the house in the story is portrayed as its own character: at once beautiful and a point of envy and pride for some characters while being repulsive, and too ostentatious for others.  The house is the center around which all of the characters are pulled in its gravitational wake.  The book is about bitterness, grief, forgiveness, and understanding.  

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Sometimes you just need to laugh and the absurd humor in this book will do it for you.

Other terrific Fictional reads:

Emily Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (this pairs well with the non-fiction “The Worst Hard Times… by Timothy Egan) 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (pairs well with the non-fiction “Call Me Indian” by Fred Sasakamoose)

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Everything I Never Told you by Celeste Ng 

Children’s Literature

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

“‘You were wrong,” he said.  “All of you.  You asked me to renounce my sins; I ask you to renounce yours.  You wronged me.  Repent.”[…] Despereaux stood before the Mouse Council , and he realized that he was a different mouse than he had been the last time he faced them.  He had been in the dungeon and back up out of it.  He knew things that they would never know; what they thought of him, he realized, did not matter, not at all.”

This is probably my all-time favorite children’s book.  One of the greatest joys of my life is reading some of my favorite books to my kids. This one, in particular, holds a special place in my heart.

Long ago, my 7 year-old brother Daniel told me all about this book that his teacher had helped him check it out from the school library. He was obsessed. It was the first book that inspired him to be brave and made him cry with hope. He identified strongly with Despereaux (even though he had no idea how to pronounce his name). Years later, I stumbled upon this book at the library and remembered how much he’d loved it, and decided I needed to know why he’d loved it so much. It didn’t take long to understand. There are few other children’s books that hold so much beauty, hard truths, depth, and complexity while still holding the young reader spell-bound.

Charmed Life by Diana Wynn Jones

This was an author that was recommended by Neil Gaiman in his memoir, so I thought I’d give it a try.  DELIGHTFUL!  I can’t wait until my kids are just a bit older so that they can enjoy them with me.  Magical, funny, and with unexpected plot twists.  Mainly though, I love the messaging within the two books I’ve read so far: learning to trust the right people.