Every book I read in 2023
Last year, I:
- Moved (back) to New York.
- Taught myself to ride a bike in the city. (Thank you, Citibike. Also, you should have seen my pathetic first attempt on Valentine’s Day in Sara D. Roosevelt Park! I couldn’t really balance. A good samaritan witnessed my struggle and stopped to help me adjust my seat… but he couldn’t save me from myself and I crashed into a fence after he left. I also bought a helmet after Adeline Dimond told me over the phone that she didn’t want to have to feed me Jell-O for the rest of my life.)
- Passed Lea Michele yelling at her mom near Pier 25 while I was out jogging.
- Became friends with a fellow adoptee.
- Got ghosted and wrote a poem about it.
- Co-hosted a fun Halloween reading at the LGBT Center with my platonic spouse Jay and four very talented writers.
- Visited friends in upstate New York, Maine, and Philly.
…and I read a bunch of books! Honestly, 2023 wasn’t too bad. I spent a lot of time on my couch reading. And being bad at biking, until I got sort of okay at it.
A few years ago, I started keeping track of every book I read. Here’s my 2023 list in chronological order:
Severance by Ling Ma
A novel about a pandemic and the ensuing collapse of civilization. What I remember most vividly is Ling Ma’s clear, calm, borderline hypnotic voice. It was a relaxing read, even though it’s about the apocalypse.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Another novel: An academic going through an existential crisis falls in love with a merman in Venice Beach, LA. I remember Melissa from So Sad Today on Twitter (I was a big fan about a decade ago) and you can hear the Twitter account’s blunt/sad/dry/weird voice throughout this book.
300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso
“Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages,” is the premise. It’s a list of aphorisms, observations, and paragraph-length stories. For example: “The trouble with setting goals is that you’re constantly working toward what you used to want.”
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Useful, honest tough love about the creative process. The first section is practical, the second is a little more spiritual (death of the ego, dreams). I first discovered it via Ryan Holiday’s book list. When I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to make stuff. My one note is this book deserves much better cover art.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
GUH… I loved this book?? It follows a handful of servers and a hot bartender in an upscale restaurant loosely based on Union Square Cafe. They fall in love and lust and get drunk on Spanish wine and eat ramps. It’s cinematic. It’s suspenseful. It’s a snapshot of New York in the early 2010s. I recognize that my relationship with this book probably had a lot to do with what was going on in my life at the time (moving back to the east coast), but it was a deeply joyful read for me.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hadn’t read it since high school, wanted to give it another shot. The last line is still so good.
Where Cowards Go to Die by Benjamin Sledge
A memoir about Sledge’s time serving in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. What struck me most is how complex soldiers’ split-second decisions really are.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
I was sort of peer-pressured into reading this one (everyone at work was sounding off about how good it was). It reminded me of another one of my favorite novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Both are about two kids trying to make something together. Both are about growing up, fantasy v. reality, and fame. Both feel tailor-made for HBO adaptations.
My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum
An essay collection published in 2001 that still holds up. These essays are about lots of things, but mostly they’re about trying and failing to make your life match your fantasies. I love Meghan because she’s honest with herself about arrogant or embarrassing life choices she’s made (who among us). Meghan doesn’t just admit them, she tries to figure out why.
Debt by David Graeber
A 5,000-year history of money and an investigation into why the world runs on debt. It’s really about human relationships, which have been built on obligation and unspoken debts since the beginning of time.
The Funny Thing About a Panic Attack by Ben Kassoy
Weird-good poetry. There’s a great poem in here about IHOP, and another about donuts. The important stuff. (Ben’s so good at reading poetry aloud; I first heard some of these live at a poetry reading in June. I think he should tour.)
Raven Smith’s Men
Gay essays about dating. I had to Google some of the British slang, but Raven Smith is just as funny in writing as he is on Instagram.
Legs Get Led Astray by Chloé Caldwell
This essay collection was originally published in 2012 by an indie press, and I think it’s out of print now? I read it for the second time last year (I first read it in 2020). One of my favorite essays is called “Hunger” and it’s about an orgy (but also burgers). What I love about this book is its variation: each essay has its own tone, format, or angle. They each fall somewhere new on the poetry-to-prose continuum. Chloe is one of my favorite writers. Her more recent essay collection, I’ll Tell You in Person, is also a fave.
Product Management in Practice by Matt LeMay
I read this for work expecting it to be dry, but it wasn’t. A coworker asked me what it was about recently, and I was like… “It’s really just about communication.” I’m fascinated by the fact that most problems are basically communication problems (even if the problem is how you communicate with yourself). This book is ostensibly about building software but it’s really about communicating with other humans to make things together.
My 2022 list in chronological order, without much commentary (I read way more books in 2022 for some reason)
- Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s) by Sophie Lucido Johnson
- Goodbye, Again by Jonny Sun
- Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
- Normal People by Sally Rooney [i like sally rooney, okay??? i’m a rooney toon]
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Outline by Rachel Cusk
- Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman [so good, sometimes i reread pieces of it]
- The White Album by Joan Didion
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
- My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
- Designing Your New Work Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Texts From Jane Eyre by Daniel Lavery
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo [found it in an Airbnb in Seattle… where I was living out of a single duffel bag and had nothing to tidy up]
- Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O'Connell
- Motherhood by Sheila Heti [so good]
- Pure Colour by Sheila Heti [so weird… half the book is told from the point of view of a leaf]
- Calm by The School of Life
- Why We Hate Cheap Things by The School of Life
- San Francisco by Wildsam Field Guides
- A More Exciting Life by The School of Life
- The Meaning of Life by The School of Life [i was a little depressed]
- clarity & connection by yung pueblo
- The Red Zone: A Love Story by Chloé Caldwell
- Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum
- Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener [perfect portrait of sf in the 2010s]
- Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin