In what seems to be a new annual tradition, I'd like to discuss my favorite books from 2023. While I didn't achieve the same level of reading as 2022, last year was still one of the most productive reading years I've ever had—18 in total! You can see the totals of the books on my reading progress page, which at time of writing will look off since it doesn't count audiobooks in the counts (something I need to fix).
As a side note, I am curious if I can somehow automate the posting of recommended/recent books on that page. An interesting idea 🤔
In no particular order here are the books I recommend from last year:
The Book of Hidden Things, Francesco Dimitri
Francesco is quickly becoming my favorite author. I read Never the Wind last year and fell in love with his writing, and The Book of Hidden Things is more of the same excellent storytelling. Seriously, check him out.
Also he has a new book coming out this year, which I have already pre-ordered.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
This one was a really fun read. Neil Gaiman is a master and it shows. Really enjoyed this one, but I don't have much to say about it. A lovely story.
The Internet Newspaper, Adam Gnade
The cover hooked me immediately when I picked this one up on a whim from a local bookstore. The story takes place in San Diego (the author's and my hometown). If you like San Diego, 90's/00's music, and early 20-somethings mischief you'll like this. Also I love the size of this thing. Pocket novels are a lost medium.
The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence Principe
The book is an overview of the history of the practices of alchemy (mostly attempts to create a philosopher's stone and turn lead to gold), though it touches on the other uses for alchemy including metallurgy, medicine, and pre-modern chemistry. However the book really hits it out of the park when Principe does the homework and attempts to replicate several of the ancient alchemical recipes! Instantly I was hooked.
I read a lot of ancient history and one things I always try to keep in mind is that while ancient worldviews are very different from our own, and scientific thinking as we know it today didn't exist yet, that doesn't mean that people weren't experimenting, verifying, and sharing their ideas. For years people dismissed old alchemical recipes because we know their goal (chemically turn lead to gold) to be impossible, but that doesn't mean their experiments were useless, as Principe discovers. Some were very nuanced and precise. 10/10, fascinating read. Highly recommended.
It's available to rent for free on the Internet Archive, so please check it out.
Beren and Luthien, J.R.R. Tolkein
I read a lot of Tolkien this year and this one was my favorite. It's a little happier than the excellent Children of Hurin and features some of my favorite scenes from The Silmarillion. Basically if you enjoyed that chapter with the same name in The Silmarillion, you'll love this.
My favorite part: the song battle between a demi-god and an elf lord. 10/10. No notes.
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