12 of My Favorite Books in 2023

For a few years now, I’ve been lamenting that I wasn’t reading at the pace I was accustomed to in the past. This year, I’m happy to say… I’m baaaaaaaaaacckkk!!! :p

It was a good reading year, ya’ll. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and encountered so many new authors and new ideas. Today’s post features some of my favorite books of 2023, among which are some of my new all-time favorite books, both fiction and non.

I hope you’ll find something new to read here. Be sure to leave me your suggestions for next year!

Total books read: 95

Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 66:29

Number of books per rating: 5 stars (8), 4 stars (33), 3 stars (36), 2 stars (8), 1 star (0).

(Note: All links are Amazon affiliate links.)

Writing Books

The Anatomy of Genre by John Truby

Thank God I live in a world with John Truby. Thirteen years ago, I read his Anatomy of Story and immediately knew I was connecting with a mind that spoke the language I so deeply wanted to speak. Thirteen years later, he’s touched me with another book that once again speaks to me exactly where I’m at as a writer and a person, both reflecting and broadening my perspectives of the craft. This is not a simple glossary of genres with the standard how-to beats. This is a revolutionary examination of story as the archetype of all life. It will teach you how to write (and transcend) your genres, but more than that, it will take you on a profound journey through history, sociology, and philosophy. Truly masterful.

Writing for Your Life by Deena Metzger

This is one of those books I think I shall need to read more than once in order to tap every drop of goodness. Although more focused on memoir-type prompts rather than fiction (but there’s some of that too), this is a tool for recognizing and using story as a deep-dive into one’s self and the meaning of life. Rich, beautiful, and provoking in all the best ways, this is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

I quoted Metzger in the following posts this year:

General Non-Fiction

Identity: Youth and Crisis by Erik H. Erikson

Someone put me onto Erikson after noticing that I, too, speak about “life cycle archetypes” in my teachings about archetypal character arcs (although in a totally different way from Erikson). Written in the late 1960s, I feel the book has weathered the test of time well and offers deep insight not only into its contemporary generation, but also into the timeless struggles of the human growth arc into individuation. The prose is dense (he apologizes to his editor wife in the acknowledgements), but very juicy and worth the read.

The Five Personality Patterns by Steven Kessler

This book was, in a word: a revelation. I’ve been studying personality theory and models for decades, and this exploration of the five security patterns that develop in early childhood is by far one of the most insightful, useful, and practical. It showed me things about myself that shocked me, even after all these years of study, and it offers some of the most practical, embodied tips for getting out of negative patterns that I’ve ever seen presented. I’m buying copies for everyone I know. Highly recommend.

Brussels: A Cultural and Literary History by André de Vries

A great little primer on Brussels in particular and Belgium by extension. It’s a fast read, but well-organized, entertaining, and interesting.

American Nations by Colin Woodard

One of the best overviews of American history I’ve ever read. I’ve been fascinated by the theory ever since hearing it summarized in a podcast years ago. The book fleshes out the main theory (of eleven distinct North American subcultures) by exploring their causal impact from the earliest European colonization efforts through the War of Independence and the Civil War to present day. Brings nuance and insight to many aspects of American life, everything from personal relationships to political tensions.

The Cottage Fairy Companion by Paola Merrill

I started watching Paola’s beautifully earnest YouTube channel last year and couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous Northwestern settings and the simple but profound insights she shares from her rural life. The book is a lovely extension of everything she presents in her videos—her own beautiful spirit above all. Wise beyond her years, vulnerable, honest, but always positive, her thoughts on quiet intentional living inspire and uplift.

Fiction

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Honestly, I have no words. I hardly feel qualified to even offer an opinion on this book, except to say it may be the single most masterful story I have ever read. The topic is so raw and powerful and serious, and yet the story never loses itself in its message. The writing is poetry of the highest sort. The characters are authentic and real and always surprising. Nothing about this book feels rote; it feels channeled. A truly incredible experience.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

Sometimes when I finally get around to reading a book that has been in the popular consciousness forever, I end up wondering, Where has this book been all my life? And yet, so often it turns out that the book was the one waiting for me, until the perfect time in my own life. (I suppose Coelho would say that is the Language of the World.) I’m glad I got to wait until now to read this simple, profound, fun, deep little book. I understand it now in ways I never would have had I read it earlier. I will return to its wisdom again and again, I am sure.

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

A macabre poem written with blood in the snow. This is a can’t-look-away dark fairy tale that rises above itself through its resonant nightmarish symbolism and imagery and its incredibly rich prose.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

I don’t know quite what I was expecting when I picked up this epic saga of Arthurian legend—but it wasn’t this quirky, almost Pratchettesque blend of tragic irony and good-natured humor. Each section was published as its own book when it first came out, and each has its own flavor. Like most people, I suspect, I was most enchanted by the first volume (“The Sword in the Stone”) about young Arthur’s boyish misadventures under his tutor Merlin. Overall, a tour de force, highly entertaining, and a rightful classic. My only regret is that I missed out on growing up with it.

Watch Your Mouth by Kandi Steiner

One of the author’s best. A deep, situational romance that rises above its own tropes to feel like a true exploration of emotions. For once, the breakup in the Third Act (one of my least favorite tropes) is actually heart-wrenching and feels true.

My Books

And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile next year, here are a few more! 🙂

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2023? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Lucretia Whitener says

    I’m currently reading American Nations, and I agree, it’s totally fantastic! Wish they would use this as a textbook in American history classes. I did read The Once & Future King in high school; it was truly great as well.

  2. I actually read fewer books this year than I normally do. Honestly, my favorite book I read this year is How the Immune System Works by Lauren Sompayrac, which is non-fiction and on the surface has nothing to do with writing, but Sompayrac is actually an excellent storyteller. Even though it’s a textbook aimed at medical students, some people say it feels like reading a novel, and they’re right. How do our heroic immune system cells win against the villainous pathogens? (Or how do the pathogens win, since that happens too). (Or how does the immune system fight itself, in the case of autoimmune disorders). I also read Sompayrac’s How Pathogenic Viruses Think, which also feels a bit like a novel except the viruses are the heroes who just want to survive and the human immune system is the villain trying to exterminate them.

    As far as real fiction as opposed to medical textbooks which are more fun to read than most fiction, my favorite is Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. That story feels so complete I hesitate to read the sequels.

  3. Julia Barnes-Brown says

    Hiya~ Longtime reader, first-time[???] commenter here. This post was tasty reading, and it gave me more for my TBR! As for me, I read 14 books this year— I finally joined Book of the Month club (BotM) because they had a discount promotion thingy some promotion and WOW did it ever motivate me to read more! One of my non-BotM books was a continuation from starting last year, but all the others were read and finished this year.

    So. That continued book was The Once and Future Wishes by Alix E. Harrow. I finally finished it this spring, and I loved it so much I planned to read her other two novels this year (I’m going to read/buy the omnibus of her two reworked fairy tale novellas, Fractured Fables, when it comes out next year). Her latest novel, Starling House, was a BotM pick for October, and when I tell you I’ve never anticipated a book more in my life??? And when it surpassed my already sky-high expectations?????? My god. Absolutely my favorite book of 2023. (Fanfic writing is my first writing love, but for some reason I rarely want to write fanfic about books. I’m sitting on a couple microfic ideas for Starling House, which might give you a sense of how thoroughly it’s captured my brain…)
    Witches, along with Alix’s first novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, filled out my top three of 2023. I cannot sing Ms. Harrow’s praises loudly or constantly enough.

    If I recommend all the books I read this year this comment will be WAY too long, lmao. But: finally read The Kiss Quotient and it was 100% just as great as I hoped (love the other two in the series too); my first BotM book was Taylor Adams’ The Last Word and I swear I read it in 3 days and I haven’t read a book that fast in YEARS; Lily King’s Writers & Lovers had quite a lot that spoke deeply to my writer brain— I’m not an underliner but underlined a bunch in that book.

  4. I read Beloved for the first time this year as well, and the final chapters in particular blew me away. The writing was powerful and not a single word was wasted. I have heard a lot of good things about The Once and Future King, so maybe I’ll finally get around to reading it.

    A book that I’m reading for the first time this year is News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I was looking for westerns that are more literary in style, rather than purely genre westerns, and this one came up. I’m a little over halfway and so far I’m enjoying it very much. It has elements of the traditional genre (shootouts, a journey through dangerous land, etc.), but its focus is on character development and the writing is almost elegant in its simplicity.

  5. Hey Weiland–impressive list–heavy workload–you are young beyonf your years–bought your book on outlining–very clever for a Jungian scholar–RRay

  6. For truly reading, Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Cooperfield was amazing. For listening to audiobooks, again BK’s, Flight Behavior, and now listening to Kristen Hannah’s, The Nightingale. Wow, those women can write great stories and description! Another fun listen is Claire Taylor’s Killhaven Police series.

  7. I

  8. I will be getting hold of several of these, thanks for sharing your finds. It’s been 2 years of unexpected big surgeries for me, on the health front. That may explain why I’ve been glad to discover several sturdy series’s.
    First and foremost, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, magical contemporary police work in the UKs capital, I love this series so much that I am making it last as long as possible. Plus bonus, he’s still writing it!
    Also, a quirky police series by Christopher Fowler, the Bryant and May books, two elderly and odd chaps and their colleagues in the Peculiar Crimes department set about solving serial murders, also set in London.
    I’m also liking Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, as a cool yet accident prone and
    broke wizard PI tackles US crime of the magical kind. Plus I read the first of his son James’s series, that’s looking good too.
    For nonfiction I came across Stephen Grosz’s account of some of his casework in psychoanalysis in The Examined Life. Food for thought. As was Elton John’s autobiography, Me. Good title. I love his energy, and how he’s bounced back from health challenges is inspiring! What an amazing and full-on career he’s had. And some crucial moments of luck, such as when he was handed Bernie Taupin’s contact details as a consolation prize, after failing to get an opportunity he’d tried for. The excesses in his recreational drug taking days got boring, it was nice when he stepped out of all that, and met his partner David.
    I still love to read YA fiction, and a highlight I found this year was Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. Read it for the interesting reflections on depression, and for the amazing characters, especially Tiny Cooper.

  9. Cathy Robinson says

    Thanks for sharing your favorites!
    I read 50 books. I absolutely recommend The Creative Act by Rick Rubin. Tremendous book on creativity with many applications for my writing. Has become an all-time fave. In terms of writing books, I also enjoyed 3 A.M. Epiphany.
    In non-fiction, I most enjoyed Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey and Genesee Diary and (in an entirely different way) The Microstress Effect.
    In fiction, I most enjoyed Trust (fascinating structure), The Covenant of Water and Light Bringer (Red Rising #6).

  10. Loved reading about your roundup, Katie. I discovered both Deena Metzger’s Writing for your Life and Kim Hudson’s The Virgin’s Promise here on your blog and they were also amongst my favorites this year. I know I will read Deena’s book again–it has some of the best writing exercises. Thank you so much for all you do here.
    My favorite books this year:
    The Great Passion by James Runcie–historical fiction in Bach’s household. The music and the writing are beautiful. Great insights on creativity and singing.
    The Book of Everlasting Things by Aanchal Malhotra is a gorgeous story spanning generations beginning before partition of India. It’s Hindu-Muslim story of love and longing, loss and healing, blending Urdu calligraphy and Indian perfumery.
    The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese is set in the community of St. Thomas Christians. There’s a medical mystery, secrets and superstitions.
    Pride’s Children–Purgatory/Netherworld by Alicia Butcher Erhardt–stories inside stories of friendship, love, between three people (two actors and a novelist who’s chronically ill). It is about faith and family, living the creative life, integrity, and above all, story. Waiting for the third book!!!
    Foster by Claire Keegan. Luminous story of a small child left in the care of strangers who blooms and blossoms.
    Jesus I Trust in You: a 30-day retreat with the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia was life-changing!
    My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. Got to know him better.
    The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman–middle grade biography with Merian’s gorgeous drawings of her investigations of insects
    Christmas Blossoms by Priscilla Smith McCaffrey and Gwyneth Thompson Briggs is a beautiful story of a Chinese Christian, how he kept the faith. It might become a family classic.
    Bazriel and the Frozen Bells of Noel: a reluctant angel’s rescue mission into France by Pringle Franklin is a very imaginative Christmas story, perfect read aloud, with great works of arts.
    Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis is a classic that I will turn to again and again. My husband and I read aloud a chapter at a time. Sometimes repeating a chapter that’s dense.
    Merry Christmas to all and a happy, healthful New Year!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, The Virgin’s Promise is so good. One of my all-time faves. So glad you were able to discover it as well!

  11. This was a great round-up! I loved what you said about The Alchemist finding you when you were ready. I feel the same about a few Maggie Stiefvater novels I’ve read this year, particularly The Scorpio Races.

    I’m reading my 38th book of the year— Brandon Sanderson’s Yumi and the Nightmare Painter. And after NaNo this year, I realized I knew very little about my characters, so I started your very own Creating Character Arcs! Working my way through Chapter 1’s questions currently.

    And thanks for the reminder about the Anatomy of Story!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Oh, yay! I hope you enjoy Creating Character Arcs. 🙂 I keep seeing Scorpio Races around; maybe I’ll give it a try!

  12. The Once and Future King has been on my tbr for a hot minute. I really need to move it to the top of the pile. And stop buying more books.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Haha. For a while there, I was so proud of myself for not buying more books than I could keep up. That kinda went out the window this year… My shelves are overflowing.

  13. Extension Squad by RM Scheller! It became my new favorite book series.

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