Unlike the 2022 list, I’m actually writing this post before the new year.
This year’s book list isn’t as robust as last year’s, but it does include a few re-reads. For what it’s worth, any book that holds up after re-reading it is worth mention.
My partner and I have a new hobby of listening to an audiobook together when we take the dog for walks, which means some books take longer to get through because of the gaps between walks and the lengths of walks. But if you have wireless headphones, I highly recommend listening to a book with your partner. It’s a lot of fun!
Without further adieu, here are the books I read in 2023.
A Deadly Education
This was my first ever TikTok book recommendation. A post appeared on my partner’s FYP (for you page), and recommended the Scholomance series for fans of fantasy, magic, and queer romance. Naomi’s heavy expository writing style was a sharp departure from past books I’d listened to, but didn’t take long to get used to. After a few chapters, it felt as if we were reading Galadriel’s (the main character) diary. Novik’s worldbuilding is some of the more comprehensive worldbuilding and system building I’ve seen in the genre of young witch and wizard stories. It’s a great read, and I’ve already read it twice this year.
The Last Graduate
The sequel of “A Deadly Education” and the second in the Scholomance trilogy, “The Last Graduate” elevates the stakes of the first book, and forces characters to grapple with dangers never seen. Novik manages to lead readers down a seemingly obvious path, only to rip you back in another direction, leaving you questioning how anyone will make it out of the series alive. The Last Graduate touches on elements of balance, karma, prejudice, and fear through the lens of teens trying to survive their highschool education. I enjoyed every minute of it, and thankfully didn’t have to wait for long to see the trilogy payoff in the next book, which was released only days after we finished “The Last Graduate”. I have also read this book twice.
The Golden Enclaves
The final installment of the Scholomance series, “The Golden Enclaves” is a rarity among trilogies in that it leaves the reader satisfied with the outcomes of the story, while also opening the door for more installments in the future. While the series is decidedly done, I can see a scenario in which the world of the Scholomance becomes adopted by a generation similarly to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I found myself laughing, crying, and pulling my hear in fear while reading this book. Novik really gives it her all in wrapping the series together. I read this book twice, and I am sure it will not be the last time I read the Scholomance series.
Avatar: The Rise of Kyoshi
F. C. Yee and Michael Dante DiMartino
If you were born between 1990 and say 2000, you likely grew up watching the Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. If you saw the show and liked it, and you’re all grown up now, the Rise of Kyoshi series is a dark and gritty telling of the story of the Earth Avatar, Kyoshi. Despite the original TV series relying heavily on visuals to convey the power behind bending the elements, FC Yee and Michael Dante DiMartino paint a vivid picture in your mind of the power behind bending, and the strength and movements required for the supernatural feat. It’s an entertaining expansion of the Avatar universe, and it takes on a darkness in tone that adults might find lacking in the original TV series. I highly recommend it.
Avatar: The Shadow of Kyoshi
F. C. Yee and Michael Dante DiMartino
The sequel of the Rise of Kyoshi, “The Shadow of Kyoshi” continues the story of a young avatar learning to master her powers and bring balance back to a world thrown into chaos. Without revealing too much of the plot, the Shadow of Kyoshi deals with friendship, family, love, and loss in a way that pays great respect to the themes outlined in the original Avatar series, while also staying true to the now developed character for Kyoshi. If a studio ever wanted to make an adult-animation Avatar series, I would vote for Kyoshi to be the incarnation.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
This book was hard to read. Growing up with tv shows like iCarly meant I had a vision of who certain child actors were, even if that vision was falsified and heavily sculpted by media conglomerates like Nickelodeon and Disney. Jennette McCurdy’s autobiography is a compelling and heart wrenching story of finding meaning, independence, and power in her life while working to survive abusive family dynamics, harassment at work, and the general pressures that come from being a child celebrity. It is worth a read for anyone who was a fan of her work, or for anyone who is looking for perspective on healing from abuse. But do not read lightly. The book demands a respect and introspection that not many other books demand.
I first read Becoming in early 2019, during my final semester in college, and shortly after the book’s release. I originally read it because I wanted to see a non-politician’s glimpse inside the White House. Certainly, I was not disappointed. Michelle guides the reader through her life for 8 years as the First Lady of the United States of America, addressing the joys and challenges that come with notoriety, power, and political responsibility. But the book is more than her story as First Lady, it is her life story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the stories that made Michelle the iconic women we know today. Re-reading it brings me a sense of peace for the political strife we feel far too often today.
The Hunger Games
In Anticipation for the prequel movie “A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”, based on the book of the same name, my partner and I decided to reread the Hunger Games trilogy. Originally having read the books at the tail end of middle school and right into my freshmen year of high school, I had forgotten how unapologetic the books were about depicting child violence. While some may scoff at this, “Garrett, it’s a book about kids killing each other, of course it’s violent”, I say this: the movies departed so drastically from the books in their depictions of certain aspects of the violence of the games that it forced a kind of cultural reset. People frame the hunger games as some kind of angsty “against the government” propaganda for teens. The reread has been entirely worth it simply to reexamine the book through a more well rounded political and social context. It will likely be a book I reread regularly for that very reason.
So much media is focused on heteronormativity. Even as an openly gay man, I tend to forget the sheer lack of representation in a lot of common media. The fact that characters are queerbated for the audience, only to be shoehorned into heterosexual roles is something I don’t think about because it happens so often. Perry Moore’s “Hero” is a refreshing change of pace. The sexuality of the main character isn’t the focus of the book, just as Captain America’s heterosexuality isn’t the focus of the comic books. Instead, it is a character trait that adds a depth to the book, and recontextualizes it in a queer theory space. The book is for anyone, you don’t need to be gay to relate to the story, but it’s nice to see a story where the protagonist has similar experiences as you. I enjoyed it, and was a little sad it was over, because I wanted to spend more time with a character whose thoughts aligned so closely with that of my community’s youth.
Under the Dome (re-read)
Under the Dome was the first Stephen King novel I’d ever read. My mother bought it right away, being an avid King fan, and convinced me to read it when she was done. I sped through it faster than either of us anticipated. King once again writes not about the supernatural or the horrors of the unknown, but instead writes about people using the supernatural as a framing device. With Under the Dome, we see a microcosm of what the whole of humanity is capable of. The love, compassion, kindness contrasted with the disgust, evil, and wickedness makes you hate characters for having the audacity to appear on page. The audiobook is an excellent adventure as well, really placing you in the moment of each crisis that the little town of Chester’s Mill experiences. This book is one of my regular re-reads, where I come back to it every two to three years. I highly recommend it as an introduction to Stephen King if you can manage the long format of the story.