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My favorite books I read in 2023

A book, held open in the middle

I don’t want to call these the best books I read last year: I read plenty of other well-written, worthy contenders. But these six titles are the ones that stuck with me and left me thinking about them long after I was done; they were, in that sense, my favorites. Maybe you’ll enjoy them too.

Readme.Txt: A Memoir, by Chelsea Manning

This memoir is one of those historical documents that reveal so much about their era, both in its supertext and in small details that are in themselves revealing. As well as the story of her leaks and their aftermath, Chelsea discusses what it’s like to work in military intelligence in gut-wrenching detail.

Regardless of your opinion of her actions (she’s one of my heroes), this is an important and uncompromisingly personal record of our era.

How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu

This ostensibly science fiction novel is not what I thought it was going to be. An early chapter was so heartbreaking that I thought I would have to abandon the book; it brought up feelings of loss I hadn’t felt since my mother died.

I still don’t know if I appreciate the catharsis, but that’s what this book is: the author conjures how deeply we feel in the face of the worst horrors. It’s poetry, in a way, using science fiction as a particular kind of lens. Artful and devastating.

Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, by Naomi Klein

A riveting analysis of the late-stage internet era, using the parallel paths of Naomis Klein and Wolf as a device to examine the multiple realities we've constructed for ourselves.

I particularly agree with a conclusion that pulls no punches about how to correct our paths and potentially save ourselves.

Severance, by Ling Ma

I loved this story about loss, meaning, and what it means to be an immigrant, dressed up as a science fiction novel. As with ‌ How High We Go in the Dark, this is my favorite kind of science fiction: speculation as metaphor in order to talk about something far more human.

But the science fiction is good too, and alarmingly close to the real-life global pandemic that took place a few years after it was written. This is a book about disconnection; its resonance goes far beyond its original meaning.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

I know, I know — it’s on just about everybody’s list.

But this beautiful novel about work, friendship, love, and identity deserves it. I suppose it's about video games too, but not really; it could just as easily be about any creative act.

I loved Zevin's writing, the melancholy through line, and the characterizations (although they've been maligned in some reviews). For me, the work is only diminished by the knowledge that she used concepts from some real-world games (e.g., Train) without credit. Ultimately it’s tangential to the meaning of the work, but it would have been so easy to fix.

Foundry, by Eliot Peper

A knockabout spy adventure that takes a few unexpected turns and sticks a landing that had me cheering.

It’s truly a lot of fun - I inhaled it in one sitting. It's also deeply researched, in a way where the detail only ever adds to the entertainment. (Without spoiling anything, I'm very familiar with some of the settings and cultural overtones, and they rang completely true.)

There are knowing callbacks to some of Eliot's earlier work (he’s clearly building a world across his novels), but this stands alone, and could be the start of a new series that I would gladly read the hell out of.

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