The books I enjoyed most this year, 2023
In no special order and not necessarily published recently
In case you missed it—
The Autists, Clara Törnvall. So often throughout history—and in our own time!—autists are accounted for with myths and explanations that ignore their real value. As Törnvall says, “The autistic woman remains unknown in our time.” This book changes that perspective. And in less than two hundred pages! This will be an eye-opening and useful book for people with preconceptions about autism and autists, and for those who know nothing at all. Give it to the people you know who work in HR. My evangelical review.
Parfit, David Edmonds. I paid full-price to get this book right away, something I almost never do. It did not disappoint. Full of interesting details about Parfit’s remarkable personality. Despite his affinity for Sidgwick, Parfit is very much like Mill. Prodigious, high-minded, aesthetic, musical, socially odd, astonishingly productive, romantically unconventional, and strongly motivated by death. My review.
What We Owe The Future, Will MacAskill. Published in paperback this year, a wide-ranging discussion of the importance of our moral obligation to the future. Some remarkably shallow moments, such as in the discussion of abortion, but an important idea excellently presented, with some in-depth history.
The Glutton, A.K. Blakemore. One of the best new novels I have read for years. Visceral, absorbing, poetic prose, and a story that often makes you gasp. In the first few pages we learn that a man so gluttonous he ate a golden fork (and possibly a child) is manacled in a hospital in the post-Revolution French Republic. One of the nuns decides to enter his room when she hears strange sounds emanating from within… Written with invention, piquant on every page. A very fine contribution to our current age of great historical fiction. I immediately ordered her other novel.
Yellowface, Rebecca Kuang. I got through this in one gulp. Some critics said it was breezy, I found it exhilarating. My review. (I also tried Babel and was very absorbed but didn’t read the last fifth—it was too long to sustain its ideas. Same with The Poppy War.)
Non-fiction not published this year
Seven myths about education. Daisy Christodoulou is right about everything and doing God’s own work. More power to her elbow. *Every parent with concerns about their children’s schooling should read this book.* (She writes on Substack at No More Marking.)
The King of Content: Sumner Redstone’s Battle for Viacom, CBS, and Everlasting Control of His Media Empire. Journalistic biography of a strange and fascinating business figure and a late bloomer. This book will probably only appeal to people interested in business, when really it is one of the stories and lives that will come to be seen as symbolic of our times. The scene with the fire!
Building St. Paul’s. Very short and dense with facts about how Wren built St Pauls, including information about all the workers, stone cutters, etc. Utterly fascinating. As good as God’s Architect or Brunelleschi’s Dome.
The Obituary of Richard Smyth. I was perhaps more moved by this list of the people who died in Smith’s parish in the mid-seventeenth century than anything else I read this year. One short entry about a vicar’s wife who drowned herself haunted me especially, and I went to the approximate spot on the Thames where it happened, quite by coincidence, shortly afterwards. I was struck by the number of priestly suicides, sometimes on holy days. A book that makes history live. (Thanks tofor the recommendation—and Adam Smyth’s review.)
Life of John Stuart Mill, Capaldi. By far the best biography of Mill, written by a philosophy professor from Florida. Recommended if you have read multiple works by Mill. Also Mill on liberty: a defence. John Gray at his very best.
The dragon in the West: from ancient myth to modern legend, Daniel Ogden. Exactly the book I wanted it to be. Read it to learn about the history of dragons from ancient Greece to Saint narratives and beyond. Good pictures.
Fiction not published this year
Chrestomanci, Howl. Two series of Diana Wynne Jones novels that I read obsessively. Give them to anyone over the age of ten who enjoys magic. J.K. Rowling took a lot of inspiration from these novels, but Wynne Jones is the superior writer.
Madame Bovary. The perfect novel, Anna Karenina excepted? Lydia Davis translation.
Molière, Richard Wilbur is a sublime translator of the divine Molière.
Bleak House. Perhaps the great English novel. Dickens was more utilitarian, and more a novelist of ideas, than he is known for.
Several of the links here are Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.