My Top Six Books from 2023

I love sharing and receiving book recommendations, although my to-read list is long enough. Why six top picks? To showcase three nonfiction and three fiction titles this time. 

But first, a couple notes about my reading life. Of the 105 books I read last year

  • I listened to 65. If you still wonder whether audio books count as really reading, note that those of us with eyesight difficulties shout for joy every time we can check out an audio version from the library. Even fewer titles are available in large print, although e-books abound and have the wonderful feature of adjustable print size. 
  • I granted 19 books five-star ratings. Note that A) I rate within genre, so a murder mystery and a tome on education theory have the same chance of getting a top rating. B) I use sci fi author Robin Hobb’s rating system where a 2 means it was good and I finished it, a 4 means it’s getting in the way of things I should be doing, and a 5 means I’m not writing my own books because I’m so lost in reading the one in front of me!
  • Here, I’m highlighting six of my 5-star favs that are ones I think might be missed without a shoutout like this.

So here they are (links are to goodreads.com to give you freedom in where you choose to get them)

Outlive by Peter Attia. The author quit his medical training in the middle of his residency because he couldn’t stomach any longer the emphasis on drastic cures (think chemotherapy and dialysis and…) rather than prevention. He turned to finance and then to blending the two in a masterful use of research to communicate to the rest of us what you need to be doing now to have the best possible last decade of your life. Yes, it’s exercise, sleep, and diet, but Attia gives information as to why for example the “diet wars” are misplaced. Gluten or no gluten? Depends. Vegan? Read his blog discussing a new Netflix show is based on a flawed research study to sample the wisdom he’s trying to add to these conversations. Exercise? You may discover some new motivations or more attractive forms—for you!

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mere Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. If you live to be 80, you’ve got just 4,000 weeks of this amazing thing called life. And all too often, we fail to get intentional about we do with our time, our relationships, our resources until something happens to call the future we assume we’ll have into question. Instead of “life hacks” to fit more in, this book helps you accept limits and make the most of what matters most to you. And Burkeman does it with wisdom and humor. 

If God is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk: Finding a Faith that Makes Us Better Humans by John Pavlovitz. John is a politically active Unitarian pastor. IMHO, this book will appeal to people with a wide range of beliefs, across different faiths, who would love to see a shift (one needed for millennia) in what is done in the name of God. It’s funny, wise, and convicting at the same time. Why is it humans can’t get it through your head that “Thou shalt not be horrible” shouldn’t have to be spelled out for us!!

8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster by Mirinae Lee. Sometimes, fiction can convey truths missing from nonfiction, especially truths with a capital “T”. Parts of this book are brutal, conveying life in North and South Korea during WWII, the Korean War, and the Cold War. Yet you will fall in love with lead character Mook Miran—her wit, her courage, her drive to survive. And, you’ll learn a history most Americans have been sheltered from and really should know…

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman. I read over 30 crime novels last year—I listen to them while gardening, cooking, running—and if it’s really spell-binding, I’ll vacuum or rake leaves just to keep listening. My favorite series minimize violence and maximize the interactions and growth of the detectives, like this, the fourth installment in Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series. Yes I love the premise of four senior citizens solving cold cases—and then real murders, made easier because no one takes them seriously. And the stream-of-consciousness diary entries from dear Joyce are amazing. But…this volume poignantly and tenderly portrays the struggles of one character whose Alzheimer’s is going from manageable to tragic. 

The Last Chairlift by John Irving. I heard John speak at our local library author series shortly after finishing this book, which he says will be his last long novel. He also said that he has a trans child himself—and that others need to understand the fear for their children that he and other parents of nonbinary children feel. My takeaway from this book—which I’d label a tragic farce through its amazingly varied tangle of kinds of relationships—is that if you aren’t open to different ways of loving, you just may miss out on relationships that could be the most important people in your life.

What did you read that I missed? Let me know.

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Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.