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This was the year of the classic book for me. Of course, I’m still reading contemporary books. On my list I included a modern fantasy, historical fiction, memoir, and current day police procedural. But of the top 10 books there’s a total of four solid classics on the list, as well as some books about classics.
Instead of sharing my complete booklist with you from the past year as I used to do, I am doing what I did last year and choosing my top 10 books of 2023: 5 fiction and 5 non-fiction picks. If you wish to see all the books I read last year, head on over to Goodreads.
Top 5 Fiction of 2023
This was my first time reading Thomas Hardy, which is kind of embarrassing for an English major who loves British Literature. I really loved the two main characters. Bathsheba felt very modern for a Victorian novel and is a woman who inherits a farm and is determined to run it herself. Gabriel Oak was strong and steadfast and understated. I loved it.
No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.”
Somehow I missed reading this classic novel during high school and never really had a desire to pick it up. I can imagine as a high schooler I’d have read it through the “romance angle.” However, having lived so much life and having experienced more than one church/ministry scandal I read this book through a much different lens.
Sadly, human nature usually sides with what one of the main characters, Dimmesdale, does—hides sexual wrongdoing in shame. However, Hawthorne (and the Bible) teach us another way—exposure through repentance. There would be a lot less church scandals if we could learn what it takes Dimmesdale seven long and anguished years to learn.
Also, the edition with Karen Swallow Prior’s forward and discussion questions is fantastic.
This book was a super fun read! Nell Young is working at a dead end job after being fired by her father from her dream job at the New York Public Library. But after her father unexpectedly dies under mysterious circumstances, Nell becomes wrapped up in uncovering a secret from her past that’s been kept hidden from her.
I loved the concept of this book and touches of magic. I think it’s perfect for readers who enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore.
This book was hard to categorize, but it was essentially a historical fiction time travel book. I’m usually not really into time travel, but I did enjoy this one. I also really loved delving into Ireland’s early 20th-century history. Having recently enjoyed Derry Girls on Netflix, which focuses on teenage Catholic girls in Northern Ireland in the 90s, I appreciated going even further back in time. I also found myself constantly googling “Michael Collins” and “Countess Markievicz” to learn more about these real-life characters who featured in this fictional story.
This series has stolen my heart when it comes to police procedurals. Like the Inspector Gamache series, it takes a few books to really get in stride with the series, but once you do, you are hooked. Honestly, the first book is probably my least favorite, just a warning to not give up with the first title. The series follows Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Duncan Kincaid as he solves crimes with his Sergeant Gemma James. The characters grow and develop and the mysteries are compelling.
Top 5 Non-Fiction of 2023
For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”
With thought-provoking quotes like this, Lewis sets it to persuade his audience of the importance of universal values. Indeed, this book hypothesizes where we are today: no universal values which ultimately brings about the abolition of man. Like a prophet he traces how we as a culture dehumanize others. Even ideas such as empathy and love are in question (Ann Rand would argue that selfishness is a virtue, which many wouldn’t outright say they believe but I think we see it lived out in various aspects of culture). A timeless book I couldn’t stop thinking about for days.
When I picked up this book I knew each chapter would discuss a different classic book from children’s literature. What I didn’t expect was that it would be written from a Christian worldview. Nor that it would so deftly deal with tricky issues in older literature such as race, power, and oppression. Her first two chapters are worth the entire book.
In her first chapter she deals with issues that are very current. How do you deal with the offensive parts in children’s literature? She discusses two options: banning or editing. Her third solution is worth reading even if you read nothing else from the book. Her second chapter about finding goodness in a person is also fantastic. In it she shares her own worldview and Christian faith and how that influences how she reads.
This book is for every parent, homeschooler, teacher, or lover of children’s literature. I can’t recommend it enough!
A thought-provoking book for those who love, read, or teach classics, Ryken discusses The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, and Great Expectations. His discussion on Macbeth and the traditional genre of tragedy was superb and could be useful in teaching tragedies in general. He’s also convincing me to finally pick up The Scarlet Letter. A book full of insight and depth to assist you to become a close reader.
I’d never read Common Sense, the book that helped shape our nation. Reading it reminded me once again that people were coming into a completely new framework at this point in history. It’s easy to look back and point fingers and say the Founders should have made everyone free at the founding of our country. And yes, they should have. But we also need to realize the idea of personal liberties and equality were actually new ideas–even for white people. These ideas were literally revolutionary. People had been living with the idea of “the divine right of kings” for hundreds of years. The medieval feudal system left strong traces behind it even when it was offically gone. Indeed, this is the framework that Paine attempts to disrupt. He spills a lot of ink trying to show why, in his opinion, the divine right of kings isn’t “biblical” like people had thought. And he’s quite snarky.
Carolyn is a graduate student who comes from a hard family situation but wins a full scholarship to Oxford University. Meeting TDH (Tall Dark and Handsome) prompts her to search and discuss her ideas about God as she studies, makes friends, and navigates her new academic world. I loved the descriptions of life in Oxford as well as the many literary references throughout. I immediately connected with her family situation and her independent nature. One drawback is the dialog just didn’t feel realistic at times.