Books on a brown shelf with a teal background

Favorite reads of 2023

I’ve been anxiously anticipating the drafting of this piece for weeks … but especially the last few days, promising myself I’d celebrate the close of 2023 by gushing about my favorite reads of the year. And yay! It’s now December 31, and I’m officially at liberty to take a peek back over my reading from the last 365 days.

If you’re reading this, there were probably clues that I’m an enthusiastic reader. I mean, have you even met me?! But I know some readers haven’t, so let me just emphasize that I am an enthusiastic reader. In 2022, the year of job hunts and burning through hundreds of hours of accumulated sick leave before leaving a toxic work environment, I managed to finish 200 books by the end of the year. I knew 2023 wouldn’t manage to be quite THAT impressive, but I am proud of where I’ve landed.

So, first, my reading year in stats:

Below are my favorites, sorted into categories I made up as I wrote. I hope you’ll enjoy some of these!

Note: All links open in a new tab and go to Bookshop and/or — both of which support independent booksellers and fight against Amazon’s hegemony. I encourage you to shop from your own local independent bookseller!


Best book for inspiring action: Viral Justice: How to Grow the World We Want, by Ruha Benjamin. Words fail to explain how much I loved this book — it was profoundly wise, achingly vulnerable, and set my social-justice-minded heart on fire. In reviewing it on Goodreads, I wrote: “This is, without question, one of the best books I’ve read this year. Or ever. Alongside Heather McGee’s The Sum of Us and Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, Viral Justice is a clarion call to action. I could write pages and pages lauding the brilliance of Dr. Benjamin’s book. Instead, I’ll just recommend this book to everyone I know in the most strenuous of terms, buy copies for friends, and quote this book until you’re all sick of it. So just go read it, ok?” I’ve insisted a number of people buy this. And all credit goes to the University of Mississippi’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, which hosted a book club on the talk after Dr. Benjamin gave the inaugural James Meredith Lecture in September (which I missed — BOOOO!).

Best at explaining complicated history: How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, by Heather Cox Richardson. For starters, Heather Cox Richardson is doing heroic work with her daily Letters from an American newsletter on Substack, which is the most popular offering on Substack and which offers daily reflections on current events grounded in historical context. Her book about the Civil War was a revelation for me.

Best to help understand disabled life: Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong. I read this in the spring 2023 semester as part of a UT Chattanooga faculty book club. They had chosen the book as the common read for the 2023-2024 semester, and the book club was meant to generate some interest in the book among faculty in advance of the launch of programming. What was so profoundly moving about this edited collection was the sheer diversity of experiences and perspectives Alice Wong collected. I was so inspired by this collection that I began beating the drum to gather others in higher education who identify as disabled to write a similar collection of essays about existing as disabled in the context of academia. While my fall semester got a bit hectic, I’m committed to following through on those initial conversations. Perhaps most exciting, though, was my hail-Mary email to Wong herself to see if she would have any interest in partnering on the project. She had to demur–her schedule is impossible, and her health requires her to choose her commitments carefully–but expressed her support of the project, which I considered a major win. So stay tuned. And meanwhile, pick up this collection.

Best first-aid-for-faculty book: Unraveling Faculty Burnout: Pathways to Reckoning and Renewal, by Rebecca Pope-Ruark. I knew this book was going to hit close to home, coming out of The Troubles® of 2022/2023. I was right. As I wrote in my review: “Pope-Ruark has gifted us the fractured shards of her burned out soul … a precious gift intended to help us navigate our own choppy waters as higher ed faculty. This book’s target audience is women in academia who are constantly fighting the hustle culture of academic capitalism. 🙋🏻‍♀️ I loved this book. It’s like the prequel to my own work, or the justification for it. What I’m positive generated a massive vulnerability hangover for the author has the potential to change your life for the better.” Indeed, RPR’s book is a great partner to my own book, which should come out in fall 2024.

Best heartbreaking memoir: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry (as audiobook). I was skeptical about picking up this book — as I am with most celebrity memoirs. While I’m a longtime Friends fan (watching the show at night with a sleep timer set has facilited nearly 15 years’ worth of solid sleep), there was a STRONG chance this memoir would tarnish my image of Matty Perry and/or fulfill my worst fears about reading the worst version of apologism. I was pleasantly surprised. Perry managed to be honest and self-effacing while also using his considerable platform to shine a light on the horrors of addiction. He did not run away from taking responsibility, but it never felt (to me) like he was doing so in a performative way (possibly because I’m inclined to like him anyway). I read (listened to) this book soon after it came out, and then after spending nearly nine hours in audio company with Perry, I was especially devastated by the news that he had passed away alone in his bathtub.


If you’re new to my reading habits, let me explain: Around 2020, I stopped pretending that I was going to read Very Important Fiction. The world is too dark and too awful for me to let imagined horror into my brain; I’ve got enough of the Real Horrors, kthanks. So for the last four years, I’ve pretty much exclusively (and unabashedly) chosen happily-ever-after romance for my fiction reading/listening. I still read widely in the nonfiction category (including some of those Real Horrors), but my fiction choices are entirely escapist and uplifting, if not with some challenges and miscommunications along the way, as in all great romance stories.

OK, on to the bests!

Best series:

Abby Jiminez’s Part of Your World series (Part of Your World and Yours Truly). I’ve long adored Jiminez’s writing, but these two stories fully captured my heart in a way few novels do. If you’re looking for engrossing romances with nuanced characters, these two books are my NUMBER ONE suggestion out of the things I’ve read this year… and I feel like Jiminez hit PEAK AMAZING with Yours Truly. I wrote about this one in particular: “I wish I could award this book all the stars I docked every other book for on this site. It was so tender and sweet… and genuinely HILARIOUS. I read it entirely while reading in bed next to my partner, and much of that time I was consumed with giggle fits over the clever turns of phrase this talented writer gifted us. I group texted my squad so many giggle-inducing quotes.”
Spice rating: 3 out of 5

Elena Armas’s Spanish Love Deception series (The Spanish Love Deception and The American Roommate Experiment). Armas was a new-to-me author this year, but her two novels — which were, ahem, AGGRESSIVELY marketed to me by all the algorithms. I appreciated the diverse characters and the swoony love stories.
Spice rating: 3 out of 5

Other favorite fictional reads, all by some of my fav writers:

By the Book, by Jasmine Guillory (from the Meant to Be series, retelling Disney fairy tales with diverse characters). This book was a clever retelling — in an extreme way! — of Beauty and the Beast. The “beast” (Beau) wasn’t unattractive, just very large and very broody … and very reluctant to turn in pages owed his publisher, so “belle” (Isabelle) was sent to give Beau a pep talk and extract the overdue pages. I’ve loved the first two entries into this new series and have the third installment up in my read-this-SOON queue! (Also, anything Jasmine Guillory writes is going to be amazing, so keep that in mind, too.)
Spice rating: 2 out of 5

Love on the Brain, by Ali Hazelwood. Hazelwood is a STEMinist writer of romance novels that are both smart and swoon-worthy, and this one was a great example of what her considerable talents can accomplish. I read this one in January, and I still remember the catch in my throat at the opening chapter or two when Bee first encounters someone who witnesses a spectacularly embarrassing moment… only to find herself crossing paths with him (Levi) at the worst times and with the worst outcomes. This enemies-to-lovers romcom was pitch perfect.
Spice rating: 3 out of 5

The Do-Over, by Lynn Painter (a YA romance). I’ve come to love Lynn Painter as well, and this YA romance took all the best parts of Groundhog Day and all the angst of high school relationships. Emilie was a deeply likeable character, and the implausible-but-charming plot device allowed us to watch her grow. I’m so excited about reading more Lynn Painter next year!
Spice rating: 0 out of 5

Georgie, All Along, by Kate Clayborn. At this point, anything Kate Clayborn writes isn’t just an automatic buy, it’s an automatic PREORDER ASAP AND READ ASAP UPON RELEASE, which puts her in an category of literally one writer. Georgie and Levi were immensely lovable characters who have to journey to find themselves … and do so while finding one another, too. As I wrote in my review: “AHHHH!!!!! I loved this story. Swoony love and complex characters and WHAT DID LEVI WRITE??? Kate Clayborn has done it once more. ❤️❤️❤️ Sigh. I love love.”
Spice rating: 2 out of 5

Ghosted, by Sarah Ready. I read this one as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley, as Sarah Ready is one of my most consistently favorite authors. This story was unlike anything from her I’d read before, though! Here’s how I described it in my review: “I was hooked on this book almost from the first page! In this story, we meet Jillian and Daniel, two people who seem to be as different as two people can be. Jillian moves into an oddly-decorated studio apartment in NYC, and Daniel the shirtless ghost appears almost immediately, following her everywhere she goes and pushing her out of her comfort zone by refusing to stop chattering at her. Then… he disappears, just as she’s realized she loves him. WHAT?! I won’t spoil anything that happens next, except to say that I had exactly zero hangups on the ‘could this really happen?!’ qualities of this story because I trusted Sarah Ready to navigate it with care and heart. She did, and I simply loved this story. It’s one of my favorite novels of my reading year. I recommend enthusiastically!”
Spice rating: 2 out of 5

Best straight-to-audiobook / Audible original: Love at First Psych, by Cara Bastone. This was yet another brilliant entry into the Audible original library by Cara Bastone, whose previous works (in the Love Lines series, mentioned in my Best Reads of 2022 list) I’ve loved and listened to with family. Like those, Love at First Psych is totally PG/SFW and appropriate to listen to with your tweens/teens in the car. (Or parents, etc.) I loved the premise here — two college students assigned a group project for their upper-level psychology class to figure out if love at first sight is an actual thing. Great narration and a charming story. Free with Audible membership.
Spice rating: 0 out of 5

Queued up for 2024

GAH! I have so many books I want to read, like, NOW!!!

Here are a few I’ve got in my read-this-very-soon queue:



Your turn!

Tell me what I should consider reading next year! If it’s nonfiction, I’m probably pretty open to your suggestions. If it’s fiction and not a romance, the chances are good I won’t. But you can still recommend it.

Want more of my favorite reads? Here are my lists from 2022, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016.

And: YES, Yes, yes, there’s a glaring absence in 2021. Life was a shitshow then? You can see a list of the books I tagged as favorite reads of 2021 in Goodreads here, though.

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