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The Best Books I Read in 2023

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So, as regular readers know, I typically announce a Book of the Year towards the end of each calendar year. However, this year, I’m doing things a little differently.

I’ve very much been on Team #BeatTheBacklog throughout 2023, buying very few new books, and so I decided that this wouldn’t be representative of the brilliant work that has actually been published this year.

Regardless, I have read some remarkably good books and I really want to share them with you! So, please consider these my top 3 book recommendations based on what I read this year!

Best Books I Read in 2023

“It’s engaging in the act of writing that makes you a writer, and you don’t need to wait until you’ve produced a certain kind of officially recognized output. If you write, you are a writer.”

Write it all Down is the best book I read in 2023, and arguably one of the best writing books I’ve ever read.

In fact, Cathy Rentzenbrink’s book is easily up there with On Writing by Stephen King, often considered the mainstay of required reading for any writer.

Aimed predominantly at newer writers, Write it all Down focuses on helping writers get past that need for perfectionism versus just getting words written down on the page. Through a four-part structure – Preparation, Excavation, Crafting and Editing, and Getting Work Done – Rentzenbrink guides the writer through the various difficulties (and joys) of writing.

Written through the lens of memoir writing, Write it all Down is a concise book at under 250 pages, with Rentzenbrink acting as a wonderfully supportive figure for aspiring writers.

But do not let this put you off if you are already an experienced writer. There are reams of observations on writing, delivered free of judgement or prescription, which any writer can enjoy and/or benefit from.

Meanwhile, Rentzenbrink also includes a number of fantastic writing prompts throughout, which I’ve experimented with and found success with every one. Phenomenal book for anyone interested in writing and the craft of memoir writing.

“Pandemics don’t approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. The arrive in retrospect, essentially. It’s disorienting.”

Sea of Tranquility is a triumph of artistic brevity. 

In under 300 pages, Mandel’s sci-fi novel manages to feature time travel, interplanetary exploration, a pandemic, and a richness of characters most writers can only dream of – all without feeling imbalanced.

And in a subgenre where writers have a tendency to prevaricate and infodump lore, this is really impressive.

This is a compelling mystery about a time traveller, told through multiple perspectives, that culminates in a thrilling ending.

And the best part? It’s a complete story, told in a single book, instead of the painfully tiring trend of trilogies.

“Sometimes we don’t need advice. Sometimes we just need to hear we’re not the only one.”

A celebrity memoir? Hear me out. Greenlights is well worth your time.

A memoir lives or dies on its central philosophy. Rather than an abridged autobiography, memoir is a skilled art form with a specific theme or topic that (ideally) resonates with the reader. Author and YouTuber Jerry B. Jenkins puts it best when he says that “memoirs are reader-oriented”.

Enter McConaughey’s ‘greenlight’ philosophy.

In short, he poses the notion that life experiences throw up signs. Green lights that open up opportunities, and red or yellow lights indicate obstacles or major life challenges. McConaughey suggests that with resilience and  learning from experience, even red and yellow lights can eventually turn green. Ultimately, it’s all about perspective.

Now, coming from the wrong person, this might all sound a little trite. After all, someone struggling does not require a ‘wellness guru’ to tell them that life will get better at an indefinite time in the future.

Thankfully, McConaughey does not come across like this. Rather, coming from a famous actor who had an underprivileged upbringing, Greenlights is all about empowering the reader in all facets of their daily lives. 

Packed with charm, fun anecdotes, and a compelling underlying message, McConaughey’s Greenlights is box office stuff (pun intended) and truly worth your time. Especially the audiobook version – what a voice!

Special Mentions

The following books are a little different; one is out of print and the other is due to release in January 2024.

But both are well worth your time as and when you can get hold of a copy!

Christ on a Bike, by Orla Owen

Available from 24th January, 2024, Christ on a Bike is another phenomenal piece of fiction from indie outfit Bluemoose Books. 

Orla Owen, perhaps best known for PAH, has written an absolute corker here. In brief, a young woman named Cerys inherits a fortune from a total stranger, for the simple action of signing his condolence book. 

Christ on a Bike, by Orla Owen

But because we’ve got a novel to read, there’s a catch. Naturally. 

Cerys cannot share it with anyone, nor can she make any material changes to the property she must now live in, per a legal contract. It’s a great setup with an equally solid pay-off to a reader who sees this 250ish page gem of a novel to its conclusion.

I’ll be publishing a full review shortly, so keep an eye out for that!

The Art of Escapology, by Nicola Ashbrook

Nicola Ashbrook’s The Art of Escapology is a brilliant anthology of flash fiction tales. From a couple of lines to a couple of pages, each story is remarkably precise and packs a lot of depth into such a small space.

I reviewed The Art of Escapology earlier this year, commenting: 

“Small but mighty, it’s an 88-page anthology of highly impactful writing.”

If you’ve never read flash fiction before, this is a great place to start.

However…

Unfortunately with the publisher on hiatus, The Art of Escapology is currently out of print, so I can’t include it in my top 3 in good faith, if you can’t actually purchase it.

However, there’s talk of a return in 2024 for Bearded Badger Books, so here’s a link to the publisher’s listing in case it gets another print run!

What were your favourite books of the year? I’d love to read your recommendations, so please do leave them in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “The Best Books I Read in 2023”

  1. I don’t consider myself a fiction writer, but WRITE IT ALL DOWN has caught my eye because that need for perfectionism sometimes prevents me from writing on my blog. Do you think there is value in that book for nonfiction (rather than creative) writers?

    Happy New Year! 😊

    Reply
    • Definitely – there are some great points around practical writing tips. It’s not written in a pushy way either. Plus, at the end of the day, it’s such a short book that you’ve not committed to a 500+ page writing manual. I’d recommend it to any writer to be honest.

      Thanks for the comment btw, Jenna! Hope you’re well, and have a wonderful new year too!

      Reply

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