My Favourite Books of 2023
As an avid reader, I've journeyed through a myriad of books this year - some were exceptional, others quite enjoyable, and a few that I'll tactfully leave unmentioned. In previous years, I might have simply given a quick nod of approval on social media, but 2023 deserves something more substantial. So, I've compiled a list of my favourite reads from the year.
Initially, I aimed to select just 12 books, but 2023 proved to be an exceptional year for literature, particularly in my favourite genres. Consequently, I felt compelled to include an "honourable mentions" section for those titles that were delightful, though they didn't quite make it to the top of my list.
Most of the books in my selection were published in 2023, but there are a few exceptions - titles that were released earlier but only crossed my path this year. I've decided they deserve a spot on my list as well.
Finally, you'll notice the books aren't ranked. I prefer to present them as a collection of equally treasured experiences, as I don't consider myself a critic with the authority to rank them. Each book has its unique charm and value, making them all worthy of mention.
Kliph Nesteroff's "Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars" is a vibrant tapestry of American entertainment history, echoes the pulse of the vaudeville era to the digital age, artfully dissecting the ever-evolving public sentiment and controversy tableau.
Nesteroff, with the deft touch of a seasoned historian, dispels the myth of a more tolerant past, revealing a lineage of cultural skirmishes and censorship battles. His narrative, rich in detail, chronicles landmark moments: from the risqué allure of Mae West to the animated antics of Beavis and Butt-Head, each vignette a testament to the shifting sands of societal norms and the perennial struggle for artistic freedom.
What sets "Outrageous" apart is its harmonious blend of meticulous research, and a narrative style imbued with humour and wit. This isn't just a book; it's a journey through the corridors of showbiz, each turn offering fresh insights into our collective psyche and the ceaseless tussle between creativity and control.
Nesteroff’s work is a clarion call to recognize the cyclical nature of cultural controversies. Much like the very entertainers he profiles, his storytelling captivates and challenges, urging readers to examine the broader context of today's 'culture wars.'
For aficionados of history, pop culture enthusiasts, and champions of free speech, "Outrageous" is more than a mere read; it's an essential cultural primer. It's a book that doesn’t just recount history; it animates it, breathing life into the pages with the same vibrancy found on the stages and screens it describes.
Kliph Nesteroff's "Outrageous" is a masterful exploration of showbiz and its intersection with societal norms. Its pages house a rich tapestry of stories, each an integral thread in the larger narrative of American entertainment. This book doesn’t just belong on a shelf; it deserves a spotlight.
Brian Merchant's "Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech." is not just a historical analysis; it's a mirror reflecting our contemporary struggles with technology's behemoths.
Merchant masterfully parallels the Luddite movement, which rose against the mechanization threatening livelihoods in the 19th century, with today's growing unease towards the colossal influence of Big Tech. This comparison isn't just a historical curiosity; it's a lens through which we can view our current technological and ethical dilemmas.
The book's fabric is woven with themes of automation, job displacement, and data privacy, reminiscent of the Luddites' fears yet distinctly modern in their manifestation. Merchant dives deep into the underbelly of Big Tech, exposing exploitative labour practices in the gig economy, the addictive design of social media platforms, and the risks posed by unchecked corporate power.
But "Blood in the Machine" is more than an exposé; it's a call to arms. Merchant draws on the spirit of the Luddites to champion a contemporary movement against the dominance of Big Tech. His writing, infused with urgency and passion, transforms complex tech issues into compelling narratives, making them accessible and engaging to a broad audience.
This book serves as a vital wake-up call, sounding the alarm on the potential perils of Big Tech's unbridled expansion. Merchant does not just inform; he inspires action, urging readers to be part of a movement that seeks a more equitable and just technological future.
In essence, "Blood in the Machine" is essential for anyone navigating the intricate intersection of technology, society, and ethics. Merchant's work is a clarion call for awareness and action, inviting readers to engage with and shape a digital future that prioritizes humanity over profit. It's a book that doesn't just belong on your reading list; it demands a place in contemporary discourse.
Jesse David Fox's "Comedy Book" profoundly explores comedy's role in the modern cultural landscape. This book is not just a recounting of comedy's history; it is a vivid narrative that captures the essence of humour as a transformative force in society.
Fox, a definitive voice in comedy criticism, journeys through the multifaceted world of humour. From the glitz of multimillion-dollar TV specials and sold-out stand-up shows to the grassroots comedy of TikTok, he illustrates how comedy has become an omnipresent, democratized, and powerful force in contemporary culture.
"Comedy Book" delves into the intricate relationship between comedy and politics. Fox's analysis of Jon Stewart's political legacy exemplifies how comedians have evolved into figures of cultural and political significance, often wielding influence comparable to that of politicians and celebrities. He navigates the complex terrain of highbrow and lowbrow humour, using figures like Adam Sandler as case studies to explore this divide.
A key strength of the book is its focus on how marginalized comedians create spaces for their communities. Through insightful profiles of Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, John Mulaney, Ali Wong, Kate Berlant, and others, Fox showcases the diversity and inclusivity of modern comedy. He addresses critical issues such as comedy in the age of political correctness, the impact of Will Smith's infamous slap, and the right wing's relationship with humour.
Fox's narrative also delves into comedy's therapeutic potential, examining its capacity to heal personal tragedies and foster connections. His comprehensive coverage extends from the nuances of comedy's past to its dynamic present, offering a rich tapestry of insights into America's pop culture and the art form's evolution.
"Comedy Book" is more than a historical account; it's a vibrant, eye-opening education on engaging with one of our most influential art forms. It's a riotous journey through the annals of American pop culture and a heartfelt tribute to the power of laughter. This book is not just an informative read; it's an essential guide for anyone seeking to understand the depth and breadth of comedy's impact on our society.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life" is a rich, practical guide drawing on the remarkable life experiences of a global icon.
With his distinctive blend of charisma and wisdom, Schwarzenegger outlines seven key tools that he deems essential for a fulfilling life. These tools, ranging from establishing a clear vision to embracing resilient problem-solving, are more than abstract concepts; they are actionable strategies honed through his extraordinary journey from bodybuilder to movie star to governor.
"Be Useful" stands out for its practicality. Schwarzenegger doesn't just preach principles; he offers concrete steps and actionable advice, making the book a hands-on guide for personal development. His anecdotes and experiences are powerful motivational tools, encouraging readers to aim high and work hard to achieve their dreams.
The book's accessible and relatable style is one of its greatest strengths. Schwarzenegger's advice is universal, transcending different walks of life, making the book relevant to a broad audience. He writes with a straightforward and honest tone, allowing readers to connect with his message easily.
Beyond self-improvement, Schwarzenegger emphasizes the importance of giving back and contributing to the betterment of others. This focus on purpose and meaning elevates "Be Useful" from a simple guide to a profound exploration of living a life that achieves personal goals and positively impacts the world.
"Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life" is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to realize their full potential and find their purpose. Schwarzenegger's unique insights and the book's practical approach make it a must-read for those interested in personal development, self-improvement, and making a meaningful difference. This book doesn't just inform; it empowers and inspires, equipping readers to take control of their destiny and leave a lasting impact.
Michael Harriot's "Black AF History: The UnWhitewashed Story of America" is a bold, unapologetic reexamination of American history through the lens of Black experiences.
With a blend of sharp wit and rigorous analysis, Harriot challenges the traditional narratives of American history. He brings to the forefront the stories and contributions of Black figures, often marginalized or omitted in conventional history books. His approach is not just about filling gaps; it's about reconstructing a narrative that acknowledges the full spectrum of American history.
The book's fusion of humour and critical insight is a standout feature. Harriot's engaging writing style captivates the reader, making complex and often painful subjects accessible and thought-provoking. His humour is not just for entertainment; it's a tool that disarms, engages, and drives home hard truths.
"Black AF History" goes beyond mere storytelling; it actively challenges myths and stereotypes about Black Americans. Harriot provides a more nuanced and accurate understanding of Black experiences in America, offering a perspective that is both enlightening and necessary for a comprehensive grasp of the nation's history.
Harriot's insights educate and encourage readers to confront the uncomfortable realities of racial injustice. He advocates for a future that embraces equity and justice, urging readers to be part of the solution in addressing systemic racism.
"Black AF History" is indispensable for anyone interested in American history, racial justice, and critical thinking. Harriot's unique blend of humour and historical analysis makes this book a powerful tool for challenging perceptions and inspiring action against racism. It's more than just a book; it's a catalyst for change, compelling readers to reflect, learn, and contribute to building a more equitable society.
Naomi Klein's "Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World" offers a critical dissection of the duplicity inherent in our contemporary culture, portrayed through the evocative metaphor of the doppelganger.
Klein, renowned for her incisive cultural critiques, embarks on an intellectual journey into the psychology of the doppelganger. She skillfully ties the myth's historical and cultural roots to modern anxieties about identity, self-doubt, and the obscured boundaries between reality and illusion. Her exploration is not just academic; it's a lens through which we can examine our own reflections in today's fractured society.
The concept of "mirror worlds" is central to Klein's thesis. She delves into the labyrinth of misinformation, echo chambers, and the manipulation wrought by digital algorithms. This analysis isn't merely about the mechanics of these phenomena; it's a probe into their profound impact on public discourse and collective consciousness.
Klein's critique extends to the capitalist framework, indicting it for fostering a culture mired in narcissism, polarization, and environmental neglect. She argues that the relentless pursuit of profit and growth has mirrored a society increasingly fragmented and disconnected from its core humanistic values.
The book culminates in a call to action, urging readers to unite against these metaphorical doppelgangers that threaten our societal fabric. Klein doesn't just lay out the problems; she invites collective engagement and action toward forging a more equitable and sustainable world.
"Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World" is a seminal work quintessential for those interested in social justice, cultural criticism, and the impact of technology on society. Klein's writing is insightful and passionately engaging, challenging readers to confront their assumptions and critically assess the mirrored realities of the 21st century. This book is crucial for understanding the multifaceted challenges we face and the potential pathways to a more just and authentic world.
David Lipsky's "The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial" is a comprehensive dissection of the insidious history of climate denial and the forces that fuel it.
Lipsky, an investigative journalist, probes deep into the machinations of the fossil fuel industry, revealing a calculated campaign of misinformation and denial that spans decades. His narrative storytelling presents the facts while weaving together intricate details of how powerful corporate interests have systematically worked to obscure and challenge the scientific consensus on climate change.
The book masterfully chronicles the evolution of climate denial, tracing the shifting tactics and strategies of deniers. Lipsky highlights how these campaigns have exploited fear, uncertainty, and political polarization, presenting a sobering picture of the lengths to which some will go to protect their interests, even at the expense of the planet's future.
A significant aspect of "The Parrot and the Igloo" is its analysis of the psychological underpinnings of denial. Lipsky ventures beyond the surface, exploring the motivations and ideologies that drive individuals to reject scientific evidence. This examination offers a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between psychology, ideology, and misinformation.
Lipsky concludes with a powerful call to action, urging individuals and governments alike to recognize the climate crisis's urgency and take decisive steps to combat it. His book is not just a recounting of a grim past; it's a clarion call for a more informed and proactive approach to one of the most pressing issues of our time.
"The Parrot and the Igloo" is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the roots and ramifications of climate denial. Lipsky's meticulous research and compelling narrative make it a pivotal work for those interested in environmental justice, climate change, and the role of corporate power in shaping public discourse.
Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski, and Julian Walker
"Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat" by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski, and Julian Walker is more than an academic exploration; it critically examines a contemporary cultural phenomenon, blending in-depth analysis with practical solutions.
The authors, also hosts of a podcast by the same name, delve into the alarming convergence of New Age spirituality with conspiracy theories. This blend, termed "conspirituality," represents a nexus where beliefs in energy, crystals, and alternative medicine intertwine with far-right conspiracies about vaccinations, child trafficking, and global cabals. While drawing on their podcast's themes, the book is not a rehash but an expansive and deeper exploration of these critical issues.
"Conspirituality" exposes the grave dangers of this amalgamation of spirituality and paranoia. Beres, Remski, and Walker present concrete instances where these beliefs have fueled vaccine hesitancy, the propagation of COVID-19 misinformation, and, in some cases, even acts of violence. Their timely and urgent analysis highlights the real-world implications of such misinformation.
The book also explores the psychological and social underpinnings of conspirituality. The authors examine why these beliefs appeal, citing factors like fear, uncertainty, and a desire for control. This exploration is crucial in understanding not just the what, but the why, of conspirituality's allure and spread.
Beyond diagnosis, "Conspirituality" is also a manual for action. The authors propose strategies for individuals and communities to combat the spread of misinformation. These solutions emphasize critical thinking skills and the importance of evidence-based information, offering a practical guide to navigating and countering the pernicious effects of conspirituality.
"Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat" is an essential resource for anyone interested in public health, the psychology of conspiracy theories, and the evolving New Age culture.
God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning by Meghan O'Gieblyn (2021)
Meghan O'Gieblyn's "God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning." This book is not just an exploration of technology's impact; it's a profound meditation on how technological metaphors shape our understanding of identity and existence.
O'Gieblyn's work intricately examines how technological advancements, particularly in areas like machine learning and artificial intelligence, challenge and redefine our traditional conceptions of humanity. She probes into existential questions about consciousness, sentience, and free will, bringing to light the profound philosophical implications of our increasingly tech-driven world.
The book's exploration of metaphors in technology is particularly striking. O'Gieblyn demonstrates how phrases like "human-machine" not only describe technological phenomena but also influence our perceptions and expectations of technology's role in society. These metaphors become lenses through which we view not only our devices but also ourselves, subtly shaping our collective psyche.
"God, Human, Animal, Machine" also engages deeply with the search for meaning in an era dominated by technology. O'Gieblyn's reflections extend beyond the realms of technology and science; they touch on the core of the human condition, questioning the potential of technology to fulfill our deeper needs for purpose and connection.
A unique aspect of the book is its personal dimension. O'Gieblyn weaves her experiences with technology and her reflections on faith and the human condition into the narrative. This personal approach makes the book an intellectual journey and an introspective one, resonating with readers on a more intimate level.
Each chapter of "God, Human, Animal, Machine" invites a re-evaluation of one's beliefs and assumptions. It's a book that doesn't just inform; it challenges and provokes thought, compelling readers to continually reassess their perspectives on technology and its intersection with human life.
This book is a must-read for those intrigued by technology's philosophical and existential implications. O'Gieblyn's insightful and engaging writing makes it an invaluable addition to discussions about artificial intelligence, the future of humanity, and the eternal quest for meaning in an increasingly complex and technological world.
Mehdi Hasan's "Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading, and Public Speaking." This book transcends the ordinary scope of communication guides; it is a comprehensive toolkit for honing the art of persuasion and effective expression.
Hasan, a seasoned journalist and political commentator, distills his extensive experience into a practical manual for mastering argumentation. The book covers the essentials of constructing robust arguments, recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies, and using evidence convincingly. These fundamentals are crucial not just for formal debates but for any situation where effective argumentation is critical.
Public speaking, often a daunting challenge for many, is addressed with practicality and empathy. Hasan provides valuable tips for overcoming nervousness, enhancing voice projection, and utilizing body language to reinforce one's message. These skills are indispensable for anyone looking to improve their oratorical prowess.
A pivotal aspect of Hasan's guide is the emphasis on tailoring communication styles to different audiences. He insightfully discusses the importance of adapting one's message, tone, and style to various contexts and groups, an often-overlooked skill in effective communication.
The book explains advanced persuasion techniques. Hasan reveals how to effectively use data, storytelling, and rhetorical devices to present an argument and to engage and sway an audience to your point of view. This exploration of persuasion transcends mere technique, touching on the art of influencing thought and opinion.
Real-world examples and anecdotes from Hasan's experiences enrich the book, providing practical lessons and insights. These case studies offer valuable takeaways, grounding the theoretical aspects of the book in tangible, relatable experiences.
"Win Every Argument" is essential for anyone interested in refining their communication, public speaking, and debating skills. Hasan's clear, engaging, and actionable insights make this book a valuable resource for students, professionals, and anyone eager to enhance their ability to articulate ideas and influence others effectively. This book is informative; it's a transformative tool for anyone seeking to communicate confidently and clearly in any arena of life.
Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change by W. David Marx
W. David Marx's "Status and Culture" is a deep dive into the intricate relationship between our quest for social status and the very fabric of culture itself.
Marx explores how the human drive for social rank fundamentally influences our choices and behaviours, extending far beyond personal preferences to shape broader cultural landscapes. This thesis is more than a sociological observation; it reveals the underlying currents that drive everything from fashion and art to music and technology.
"Status and Culture" delves into how creators across various cultural domains are motivated by a desire for status and recognition. Marx articulates how this quest influences artists, musicians, and designers, catalyzing cultural movements and trends. This perspective is not just about understanding culture; it's about comprehending the forces that mould and transform it.
Marx also addresses the dynamic nature of status symbols, examining how markers of social rank evolve with societal and technological changes. This exploration is crucial for understanding how cultural symbols and trends are not static but are continuously reshaped by the shifting sands of social perception and value.
In the age of social media, Marx's discussion of its impact on social status is particularly pertinent. He scrutinizes how platforms like Instagram and Twitter have transformed the landscape of status competition, amplifying existing hierarchies while simultaneously creating new arenas for social positioning.
The book is a call to engage with cultural trends critically. Marx invites readers to look beyond surface appearances and consider the deeper motivations and power dynamics that underpin our cultural consumption. This critical perspective is vital for a more profound understanding of the social messages conveyed through our choices.
"Status and Culture" is an essential read for anyone intrigued by the intersection of sociology, cultural studies, and social psychology. Marx's compelling narrative invites readers to reflect on the societal forces that shape our tastes, identities, and the continual evolution of culture. This book is more than an academic treatise; it's a guide to understanding the often-unseen drivers of cultural change and our role within this dynamic ecosystem.
Douglas Rushkoff's "Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires" goes beyond mere social critique; it's a profound examination of the stark disparity between the ultra-wealthy's survival strategies and the broader societal needs in the face of potential collapse.
Rushkoff introduces the concept of the "Insulation Equation," a framework to understand the mindset of billionaires preparing for societal breakdown. This notion posits that immense wealth is viewed as a buffer against the impacts of global crises, leading to a focus on amassing resources and advanced technology as a means of personal salvation. This concept is not just an analysis but a lens through which we can view the growing chasm between the elite and the rest of society.
The book delves into the various "escape fantasies" of the ultra-wealthy, from underground bunkers and space colonization to AI-driven transcendence. These endeavours, while fascinating, highlight a concerning trend: a shift towards individualistic survivalism that neglects communal responsibility and the shared fate of humanity.
Rushkoff's critique of the "fortress mentality" is particularly striking. He argues that this approach is not only morally questionable but ultimately self-defeating, as it undermines the potential for collaborative solutions to the challenges we face as a global community.
"Survival of the Richest" offers a critical perspective on techno-solutionism. Rushkoff challenges the notion that technology alone can solve our societal issues, pointing out how it often serves to widen existing inequalities and consolidate the power of the wealthy. This critique calls to re-evaluate our reliance on technology as a panacea for complex social problems.
The book concludes with an appeal for collective action and social solidarity. Rushkoff urges readers to reject the narrow "survival of the richest" mentality and instead work towards creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all. This message is a powerful reminder of our shared responsibility in shaping the trajectory of our world.
"Survival of the Richest" is essential for anyone interested in understanding the intersections of wealth, technology, and societal responsibility. Rushkoff's insightful analysis is both alarming and enlightening, prompting readers to question their beliefs and consider the broader implications of our choices, both as individuals and as a society. This book is not just a critique; it's a call to action, challenging us to envision and strive for a future that values collective well-being over individual escape.
Here are the honourable mentions of my favourite books read in 2023.
- Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism and What Comes Next by Brad Onishi. This book explores the origins and evolution of white Christian nationalism, a movement that seeks to impose a theocratic and authoritarian regime in the United States. Onishi exposes the dangers and delusions of this ideology and offers a vision of an inclusive and democratic society.
- The End of Reality: How Four Billionaires are Selling a Fantasy Future of the Metaverse, Mars, and Crypto by Jonathan Taplin. This book is a scathing critique of the grandiose and dystopian projects of four billionaires: Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreessen, and Elon Musk. Taplin argues these schemes are driven by greed, ego, and escapism and threaten to undermine our planet's social and environmental fabric. He proposes a regenerative economics that values sustainability and human dignity.
- The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet by Jeff Goodell. This book is a gripping and alarming account of how extreme heat is transforming the world as we know it. Goodell travels to various hotspots, from California to Antarctica, to witness the impacts of rising temperatures on ecosystems, societies, and cultures. He warns that heat is the ultimate threat that drives all other aspects of the climate crisis and that we must act with urgency to avoid catastrophe.
- Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy by Colin Dickey. This book is a fascinating and insightful history of America's obsession with secret societies and hidden power. Dickey traces the roots and effects of this paranoia, from the American Revolution to the present day, and shows how it has influenced politics, culture, and identity. He also explores the alternative tradition of humanism, which values reason, creativity, and responsibility.
- Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World by Malcolm Harris. This book is a comprehensive and provocative history of Silicon Valley, from its origins as a railroad town to its current status as the heart of the global economy and culture. Harris examines how and why Northern California evolved in the way it did. How it shaped and was shaped by the ideologies, technologies, and policies of the past 150 years. He also reveals the dark side of Silicon Valley's success and the challenges and opportunities it faces in the future.
- Humanly Possible: Seven Hundred Years of Humanist Freethinking, Inquiry, and Hope by Sarah Bakewell. This book is a sweeping and inspiring survey of humanist thought and practice from the Renaissance to today. Bakewell showcases humanists' diverse and influential contributions to various fields of knowledge, art, and society and how they have challenged dogma, superstition, and oppression. She also celebrates the humanist values of curiosity, compassion, and creativity and their relevance in our troubled times.
- Psych: The Story of the Human Mind by Paul Bloom. This book is a captivating and accessible introduction to the science of psychology based on one of Yale's most popular courses. Bloom answers some of the most intriguing questions about the human mind, such as how we perceive reality, why we have emotions, and what makes us moral. He also shows how psychology can help us understand and address some of the most pressing issues of our time, from mental health to happiness.
- Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy That Unhinged America by William Sommer. This book is the definitive and disturbing account of QAnon, the conspiracy theory that claims that a secret cabal of elites is plotting against Donald Trump and his followers. Sommer traces the origins and evolution of QAnon, its influence on politics and culture, and the threat it poses to democracy. He also explores the psychological and social factors that make people susceptible to QAnon and how we can reach out to them and counter their lies.
- The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman. This book is a witty and nostalgic reflection on the decade that gave us slacker/grunge irony, the internet, and the Clinton presidency. Klosterman revisits the film, music, TV, sports, and events that defined the nineties and how they shaped our collective consciousness. He also examines the paradoxes and contradictions of the decade, such as the rise of multiculturalism and political polarization and the decline of both the mainstream and the counterculture.
- The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey. This book is a thrilling and colourful story of James Strang, a charismatic con man who claimed to be the successor of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Harvey recounts how Strang persuaded hundreds of followers to join him on an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king and established a pirate colony. He also details how Strang's reign ended in violence and tragedy and what his saga reveals about the American spirit.
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What were your favourite reads in 2023?
Leave them in the comments below.