Chad Grayson

My Favorite Books of 2023

When this year started, I set myself a challenge on Goodreads to read 100 books. Currently, I have read 159 books, so I guess you could say I overperformed. Those are print books, eBooks, and audiobooks. I make no distinctions. There’s nothing on the list under 100 pages, either, so I didn’t really count individually published short stories, though I did count the collections.

I love books and I love talking about them, so I’m going write about my favorite books I read this year. A word about the list: This is a list of books that I read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year. And while I am numbering them (sort of), this is also not necessarily a list of the best books I read this year, merely my favorites. Most of the books I read tend to be science fiction and fantasy, though I do read a healthy amount of nonfiction as well, as well as some general fiction. I do not read horror, except in rare cases. This list is merely to give me a chance to talk about things I loved.

Also, I have combined entire series or multiple books in a series as one entry. I do not apologize for this.

So, because no one demanded it, here are my favorite books I read this year, in reverse order. The order changed several times while compiling the list so don’t get too hung up on the number assignments.

Honorable Mentions

The Creative Act by Rick Rubin (Nonfiction) This is a meditation on creativity in all its forms, though Rubin is primarily known as a music producer and his examples reflect that. It’s about how creative minds work. There’s a lot of talk about process, and how to get unstuck, but mostly it’s about how to live as a creative person.

The Undiscovered Country Vol 1-4 by Scott Snyder, Charles Soulle, and Giuseppe Camuncoli (Graphic Novel). This series takes place a number of years in the future, after the United States has sealed its borders and cut off all communication with the outside world. Thirty years later, a group is invited to return, and see what the US has become. What has it become? A bunch of independent regions who are all some flavor of fucked up. Also, time inside may be broken? This is a fantastic, thought-provoking adventure story. The characters are fascinating, the art is amazing.

How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi (Nonfiction). This is a book about racism in all its forms, the effects it has had on society, and how to combat it within yourself and within the culture at large. Kendi lets no one off the hook for any of this. It really made me think about several things in new ways.

And now the top ten, in reverse order.

10. Winter’s Orbit/Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell (Science Fiction). I told you I was combining books, though I’m really cheating here because while these are linked, they are essentially standalones. In Winter’s Orbit, an arranged marriage ends up overturning the political system of an entire star system. In Ocean’s Echo, Maxwell gives us a sci-fi spin on the fake dating trope. The world is Queer normative, which was refreshing. Both couples in each book were male/male. Exciting sci-fi concepts plus relationship drama. What’s not to love?

9. The End of Everything by Katie Mack (Nonfiction). I inhaled this book, I found it so fascinating. In it, Mack discusses, in an entertaining and surprisingly hopeful way, the current theories about how the universe might end, going into detail about when it might happen and what it might look like to the people (or beings) who are around for it. Some of these are distressingly plausible and could happen at any moment. She concentrates on the science, and how we know what we know, as well as what the implications are for our current world.

8. Far Sector by N.K. Jemison and Jamal Campbell (Graphic Novel). Rookie human Green Lantern Jo Mullen is assigned to the City Enduring, on the other side of the cosmos, and has to solve a series of murders and attempt to start a war from breaking out among the city’s thousands of factions. I usually don’t read stuff from the major superhero universes, but Jemison brought me in to this and it did not disappoint. It is also enough of a standalone that you can read it without caring about what else is going on in the wider universe. The art is gorgeous, which is a bonus.

7. The Engineer/The Gangster/The Doctor by CS Poe (Fantasy). A federal agent hunts down criminals in a steampunk world, while hiding from his own past as a war criminal, and along the way falling in love with an outlaw. I read the first book and immediately downloaded the rest that were available. The fantasy concepts and worldbuilding are original, and the love story is swoonworthy, which is all you can ask for with something like this.

6. Once and Future Vol 1-5 by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, and Tamra Bonvillan (Graphic Novel). As prophecy foretold, King Arthur has returned to reclaim his crown, accompanied by a motley assortment of creatures out of legend. This is not a good thing, because King Arthur is a powerful psychopath who does not have the people’s best interests at heart. An aging warrior, her grandson, and the grandson’s maybe girlfriend are all that can oppose the new order, as the British Isles are plunged into chaos. It’s a startling take on the legends, as well as a meditation on what heroism actually is. The story is complete in these five volumes.

5. Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher (Fantasy). This is not a story about a princess who wants to marry a prince. This is a story about a princess who wants to kill one. She has her reasons, and will assemble a collection of allies to help her. Also, a really sweet slow-burn love story. This won the HUGO, so it really doesn’t need me to recommend it, but I do.

4. An Echo in the Sorrow/A Veiled and Hallowed Eve by Hailey Turner (Fantasy). These are the final two volumes in Turner’s Soulbound Series, about a wounded battle mage illegally soul-bonded to his werewolf boyfriend. And this conclusion did not disappoint. A lot of amazing urban fantasy concepts, a veritable war of the gods, plus all the feels. I was eager to see Jono and Patrick find their happy ever after, and she made me sweat for it, but Turner delivered.

3. Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (Nonfiction). This is more than a book about productivity. It is a book about our entire relationship with time itself, and our sense of progress. It made me think of these things in new ways, and was also an enjoyable, engaging read. A book about what we’re really looking for and how we might go about finding it.

2. Last Exit by Max Gladstone (Fantasy). Ten years ago, a group of college studentsembarked on an epic quest through many possible worlds, on a mission to save reality. They failed, and one of them fell. Now, the survivors must complete the quest even though they now have hard-fought-for lives they are leaving behind. Serious Dark Tower vibes here, and a twist I did not see coming, but made perfect sense. A book about what we owe to the past, and what we owe to each other. Also, hope.

1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Fantasy). An easy pick for one of my favorite books of all time. Linus is sent to investigate Arthur’s Home for Magical Youth, and ends up finding more than he bargained for. A book about finding your family and your true love at the same time, and the lengths you’ll go to to fight for them. Also, about discovering who you really are, and the strength waiting inside you. I bawled like a baby through the last fifty pages, not even kidding.

And that’s it, my favorite books of the year. What were your favorites?

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