Ten Best Books of 2023

According to Goodreads, I have read 137 books this last year.  Because I am writing this on December 28, I have two more books that I am sure I will finish before the end of the year.  I read this record (for me) number of books because we didn’t have any television for four months during the summer.

Out of all these books, I have selected the ten best books of 2023, according to me.  They are the ten best books I read, not the ten best books published in 2023.  I like to read other people’s lists of best books because I often discover something that I find a very good read.

First of all, I have not listed the very best book I read in 2023 because it is one that I read so often.  In 2023 I read The One Year Bible.  I typically read through the entire Bible every other year, and The One Year Bible is a favorite way to do it.  Each day has a selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms, and a verse or two from Proverbs.  When you stick to the readings, you get through the entire Bible in a year.  The Bible constantly surprises, delights, and challenges me.  Taking God’s word seriously means there is always something new for me to learn.  The Bible is the #1 best book of all time.

Now, on to my list of the ten best books of 2023.

10.  Images of America:  Cumberland Gap National Historical Park by Margaret Evans Wiley.  I don’t expect that many people would put this on their list, but this was a very valuable book for Tom and me as we worked at Cumberland Gap.  The book has wonderful pictures with a great history of the area.  Tom and I used it extensively as a starting point for delving into the history of the park.  A lot of the answers to questions people asked us were contained in the book.  Rated G

9.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  One of the classics I reread this year.  This is a beautiful, timeless story with wonderful characters and a loving, but realistic, view of growing up in the deep south.  I love it every time I read it.  The movie is almost as good as the book.  Rated PG-13 because of the theme.

8.  A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  Historical fiction based in the Bolshevik Revolution.  Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat in 1922 and sentenced to house arrest in a hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him an opportunity to learn what it means to connect to others and become a man of purpose.  It is a beautiful book that made me laugh and cry.  Rated PG.

7.  The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.  Historical fiction set during World War II.  The story follows three women serving as codebreakers at Blechley Park in Great Britain.  Kate Quinn is my favorite historical fiction writer because she takes a true story with real people and creates a fascinating narrative.  Her books are so well researched that I feel like she was eavesdropping on conversations people must have had.  The books follow the women through time and show how their work during the war influenced their lives after the war.  Rated PG-13.

6.  Marple:  Twelve New Mysteries by various writers.  Modern mystery writers contribute a short story written in the style of Agatha Christie featuring Miss Marple.  I recently read all the Agatha Christie Miss Marple books and I was delighted to read this collection.  It was like visiting with an old friend.  The stories are fun and it was interesting to read the interpretations of the Miss Marple character.  Rated G.

5.  All My Knotted Up Life by Beth Moore.  Memoir.  Although I don’t agree with all her theology, I admire Beth Moore as a woman of faith and courage.  At a time when most evangelicals are supporting Trump, Beth spoke out against the hypocrisy of supporting a man of unrepentant moral failing.  When the Southern Baptist Convention took a turn to the right, Beth left the denomination.  All her life she has wanted to serve God, but the church keeps getting in her way.  This book is a candid reflection of how she has been complicit in misogamy, and how she has struggled against it.  The book challenges all of us to examine the idols we put in place of God.  Rated PG.

4.  Educated by Tara Westover.  Memoir.  Tara grew up in a radically conservative Mormon home in Utah.  Her father is a survivalist who didn’t believe in educated his children.  Tara is a brilliant woman who had to educate herself and then break with her family in order to achieve her dreams.  Another tale of misogamy and abuse, but more explicit and extreme than Beth Moore’s memoir.  The story is powerfully told and Tara manages to write about horrific circumstances without asking the readers to feel sorry for her.  Rated PG-13.

3.  The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra.  Mystery set in 1920’s India.  19-year-old Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry Ramu.  She is happy in her marriage but finds it difficult to be the kind of wife expected by her mother and mother-in-law.  Instead, she steps in to investigate when a man is murdered and an innocent woman is in danger of being charged with the murder.  Kaveri has lived a safe life and is married into an upper class family, but she learns about life in the city in new ways as she investigates.  The book is so well-written that I could smell the curry in the food.  Harini has published a second book in the series, with a third to be published in 2024.  Rated PG-13 with violence against women.

2.  The Chinese Groove by Kathryn Ma.  Fiction.  I loved this story about 18-year-old “Shelly” who arrives in the United States sure of his welcome and optimistic about his future.  Although life doesn’t unfold as expected, Shelly is irrepressible.  Even when things look darkest, Shelly sees the best in other people.  How could others not love and welcome him?  The Chinese Groove binds all Chinese immigrants together!  I kept waiting for Shelly to wise up, but eventually understood that his optimism and faith served as the groove for others.  A wonderful story delightfully told.  Rated PG.

  1.  Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt.  Fiction.  My favorite book of the year, and one I recommend to everyone.  Of course, the main character, Marcellus, is a giant Pacific octopus.  In some ways the story is similar to A Gentleman in Moscow because Marcellus learns to communicate and interact from his tank in the aquarium.  It is a story of healing, helping, and learning to live again after tragedy.  I loved all the characters in the book and was delighted at every turn, once I learned to accept an octopus as the main character.  But, as the book keeps telling us, an octopus is a remarkably bright creature.  Rated PG.

Those are my ten best books of 2023.  Have you read any of them?  What did you think?  What book was your favorite for 2023?