January 3, 2024

2023: Best Books

A pile of books

Books purchased in 2023 but largely not read yet

You are, I am sure, stamping impatiently as you wait for my annual review of books. Last year, I promised I would not be able to read so much this year, owing to the PhD; it turns out that I read exactly the same number (59) but also have a couple of unfinisheds on the list. I won’t even bother to tell you what they were, our time is too precious, isn’t it my lovelies?

So in no particular order, here are the ten best books I read or listened to over the last 12 months:

Lowborn, by Kerry Hudson
Kerry Hudson was born into extreme poverty, and was homeless through most of her childhood. In her late 30s, now living in stability and love, she spends a year revisiting the towns and the B&Bs and council flats she lived in as a kid. Through the book you see her comie to terms with her horrifically traumatic upbringing, writing and acting with confidence and a real sense of belonging in her world by the end. I don’t kwow why I waited so long to read this, it was a real antidote to Shuggie Bain (featured on last year’s list).

A Short History of Queer Women, by Kirsty Loehr
This was an entertaining read, which I finished on a train heading towards Leamington Spa one Friday evening. The girl sitting next to me plucked up the courage to ask me about it, and as I’d finished it, I gave it to her.

Front page of a book, signed by Jeffrey BoakyeI heard what you said, by Jeffrey Boakye
I had this as an audiobook, read by the author, and it blew me away – this is purportedly a book about racism in the education system, but it says so much more about society as a whole and I think everyone should read it. I saw him speak at the Also Festival, bought the book in hard copy, and crept up to him like a lil fangirl and asked him to sign it. Then I pushed it heavily at all of my colleagues.

Bibliomaniac, by Robin Ince
This was a birthday gift in 2022, which tells you how long my to-read shelf is. I got so swept away in his lovely accounts of speaking in bookshops up and down the country, that I now cannot leave a bookshop without having acquired at least one book that I didn’t even know I wanted (see illustration above).

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

Far and away the best fiction book of the year, which I had on audiobook and then bought for Pete for his birthday. It is an epic love story set in a world of videogaming. Sam and Sadie are friends from childhood, and their relationship is stormy but creative. I loved the geeky detail, the wonderful, flawed characters, and the amount of time spent telling the story through the medium of a co-operative online farming simulator game. If you’re a gamer you’ll really love it, but it was recommended to me by non-gamer Lisa, so there you go, it’s just a wonderful book.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
I do not normally find JP’s books particularly appealing, but this was recommended by colleagues and is very relevant to my work, both in anti-discriminatory practice, and working in birth/parenting. Having that background certainly added layers to my reading of it, and it was a well-told story that kept me glued to it throughout.

Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart
This was an audiobook, and I took a while to warm up to it, but when it did kick in (about half way), it kicked hard. A less traumatic read than last year’s Shuggie Bain, with a similar gay Glasgow poverty porn setting, engaging characters in shitty situations, and a surprise redemption for the horrible older brother. I went straight into this from Fern Brady’s memoir, which was also excellent, and basically the non-fiction version of the same story.

After Birth, by Elise Albert
This has been on my to-read pile for a very very long time, and was another case of “why have I left it so long>” I thought it would be all earnest and birthy, and there were some elements of that, but in fact it was such a strong insight into the head of a new mother, her need for connection, and the warping of her identity in the first year after the birth of her baby. I want to give this to someone else to read, so let me know if you want it.

Ticket to the World, by Martin Kemp
A free audiobook, sadly not read by MK himself, but I really enjoyed the immersion in the 80s pop scene. So much glamorous name-dropping, without being nearly as annoying as Dave Grohl; and I loved how honest he is about his own vanity. Nice insights as well into the Wham! backstory, as well as how it felt to be a musician who just wasn’t a great musician. Made me listen to a lot of Spandau Ballet, and then read Tony Hadley’s memoir, which was bitter and badly written, and mainly consisted of stories about how he got shitfaced and fell over.

Hallucinating Foucault, by Patricia Duncker
Finally a rather random little book which I loved more and more as it went on. A literature student rescues the writer he is studying from an asylum in France, and they fall in love. It is deep and moving, with a lovely exploration of the power dynamics between the two men. One of those books that leaves you bereft that it is over.

A stack of copies of my book: Why Mixed Feeding MattersAnd not forgetting that my own book was published in September. If you’re reading this blog then you are probably not the target market for it, but if you know someone who is expecting or who has just had a baby, you can buy a signed copy from me and I will be so chuffed.

Karen

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