My year in books and reading, 2023


Just before I was born in 1960, my parents purchased a complete hardbound set of the Compton’s Encyclopedia; furthermore, they subscribed to the annual yearbook supplements. I believe the year 1959 was the first one.

Accordingly, my earliest childhood memories pertaining to books and reading are looking at the photos and drawings in these encyclopedias and yearbooks, and trying to dope out the words, because strictly speaking, I couldn’t read. By the time I greeted the kindergarten regimen, I had it sussed.

Another distant recollection about books and reading centers on a Catholic publication about the lives of the saints, with quite a few of the illustrations depicting the various means of torture deployed to make the case for future sainthood. As no doubt intended, they gave me nightmares.

Somehow I’ve escaped a fetish for masochism.

Following is my reading list for 2023. As you’d expect with me, the subject matter skews heavily toward European history, geography and travel, whether fiction or nonfiction. It’s who I am and what I do, and there’ll be no apologies. In my view the stork was drunk as $%@!, and in his muddled ineptitude mistook New Albany on the Ohio for Neuburg an der Donau.

Consequently, my Hoosier lifetime is only an accident.

My New Year’s resolution is to add short descriptions, so maybe there’ll be more to the exercise next year. Picking annual reading favorites always seems harder than with albums, as books often take longer to sink in. But if I had to pick three from the larger list:

  • We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, by Fintan O’Toole
  • The Hive, a novel by Camilo Jose Cela
  • France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain, by Julian Jackson

Reverse Chronology, December – January 2023

33 Beyond the Wall: A History of East Germany, by Katja Hoyer

32 The Wizard of the Kremlin, a novel by Guiliano da Empoli

31 Oldest Louisville: A Guide to Historic Treasures, by Kevin Gibson

30 Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country, by Jan Morris

29 A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle

28 Karaoke Culture, essays by Dubravka Ugresic

27 The Man Who Built the Berlin Wall: The Rise and Fall of Erich Honecker, by Nathan Morley

26 Berlin Stories, short stories by Christopher Isherwood

25 France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain, by Julian Jackson

24 No Meat Required: The Cultural History & Culinary Future of Plant-Based Eating, by Alicia Kennedy

23 Moscow 1937, by Karl Schlögel

22 The Thought Gang, a novel by Tibor Fischer

21 Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land, by Jacob Mikanowsky

20 A Monk Swimming, a memoir by Malachy McCourt

19 The Physics of Sorrow, a novel by Georgi Gospodinov

18 Judas, a novel by Amos Oz

17 Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe

16 Kokoro, a novel by Natsume Soseki

15 Ticket to Latvia: A Journey from Berlin to the Baltic, by Marcus Tanner

14 Summer of ’49, by David Halberstam

13 The Spirit of Mediterranean Places, essays by Michel Butor

12 The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky

11 Journey to the Alcarria: Travels through the Spanish Countryside, by Camilo Jose Cela

10 The Hive, a novel by Camilo Jose Cela

09 Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary

08 Sicilian Carousel, by Lawrence Durrell

07 Jan Morris: Life from Both Sides: A Biography, by Paul Clements

06 We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, by Fintan O’Toole

05 The Undercurrents: A Story of Berlin, by Kirsty Bell

04 Pale Fire, a novel by Vladimir Nabokov

03 Religio Medici and Urne-Buriall, by Sir Thomas Browne

02 Endless Flight: The Life of Joseph Roth, by Keiron Pim

01 The Rings of Saturn, a novel by W.G. Sebald