What We Read in 2023
In keeping with our annual tradition, we recently asked Library staff about the books they enjoyed reading (and listening to) most in 2023. Also in keeping with tradition, responses provided a rich variety of books. We hope you find something here that sends you to the stacks (or reaching for the Cloud Library app).
Carolyn Waters, Director & Head Librarian
I read several books this year – all very different – that have all stuck with me long after reading, and that I’ve recommended over and over. Solito, by Javier Zamora, is the heart-wrenching and inspiring memoir of a young boy’s solo migration from El Salvador to join his parents in the United States. Zamora is a poet and the story is made even more poignant through his lyrical prose. Stories from the Tenants Downstairs is Sidik Fofana’s New York City Book Award-winning debut novel that weaves the connected stories of the residents of the fictional Banneker Terrace in Harlem; the characters are drawn with humor and compassion and the language Fofana uses to tell his stories is fresh and exciting. Recently reissued by McNally Editions (though I read the Library’s first edition from the stacks), The Feast by Margaret Kennedy, is what a friend described as White Lotus in the 50s. If you’ve watched the HBO show, you know. The novel starts with a foreboding tragedy, but Kennedy then pivots to hilariously introduce the characters (in every sense, characters), and the ingenious plotline. Surely few have not yet read Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, but I only got to it recently, and it was truly the best book I read this year. I could talk about this book forever – the Dickens inspiration, the critique on contemporary society, and on and on…
Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children's and Young Adult Librarian
2023 was a bumper year of great reads for me. Two of my favorites from the YA realm were Sacha Lamb’s When the Angels Left the Old Country and Angeline Boulley’s Warrior Girl Unearthed. Lamb took home three prizes at the 2023 Youth Media Awards, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Boulley wins some herself at the upcoming 2024 event in late January, especially since her companion novel, The Firekeeper’s Daughter, took home both the Printz and Morris in 2022. I also greatly enjoyed a throwback read of The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka that features his wonderful illustrations alongside equally enchanting tales from a single NYC apartment building. A dual-authored mystery for kids that I devoured in one sitting was The Lost Library by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass. And last but certainly not least, there was Jason Reynolds’s stellar picture book debut, There Was a Party for Langston all about a star-studded evening celebrating the famous Harlem poet Langston Hughes.
Michelle Andreani, Children's and Young Adult Library Assistant
The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson’s much-lauded non-fiction book about Chicago, the 1893 World’s Fair, and serial murderer H.H. Holmes, was my surprise favorite. As a fiction devotee, I’d found it intimidating and put off reading it for years. But 2023 has been a weird one, so it seemed as good a time as any to finally try it—I’m so glad I did. With that success, I stepped a little further out of my comfort zone with more non-fiction:The House of Dudley by Joanne Paul. Like many, I’ve always been intrigued by Tudor history, but I never knew how much the Dudleys’ own family history—not to mention their manipulation behind the scenes—influenced the monarchy’s trajectory. Fiction didn’t let me down this year, though. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, inspired by the Pre-Columbian Americas, was unlike any fantasy I’ve read before.
And there’s always a new favorite waiting to be found in the Children’s Library. This year I discovered and loved: everything by Oliver Jeffers, but especially There’s a Ghost in this House, as well as The Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson, Jenny Mei is Sad by Tracy Subisak, and Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen.
MariaLuisa Monda, Events Assistant
As always, there are so many books that I loved this year. To name a handful:
- The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter And Other Essential Ghosts: A Novel (Soraya Palmer)
- Family Lore: A Novel (Elizabeth Acevedo - ebook included)
- In Search of a Beautiful Freedom: New and Selected Essays (Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin)
- The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: A Novel (James McBride - audiobook here)
- Warrior Girl Unearthed (Angeline Boulley - audiobook included)
- Remember: Poem (U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo; illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade)
- Culture: The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop (Martin Puchner)
Currently, my anticipated reads are My Dear Henry (Kalynn Bayron - ebook & audiobook included), The Prince & The Coyote (David Bowles - a reread / - ebook & audiobook included), & Rosewood: A Midsummer Meet Cute (Sayantani DasGupta - ebook & audiobook included).
Kirsten Carleton, Assistant Circulation Supervisor/ILL Coordinator
I read a lot of good books this year but the ones I had the best time reading were Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series, the latest of which is The Last Devil to Die (ebook and audiobook also available). Osman is one of those comedians who pops up on British quiz shows, both as contestant and host, and if you know those shows, you have an idea of his humor. The series follows a set of septuagenarian retirees whose cheeky practicality and social invisibility make them the unlikely solvers of their local murders. Just like the characters, the cases themselves are a little grittier than the usual Miss Marple fare: high-stakes money laundering, gang violence, international drug trafficking. The mysteries are a bit beside the point though; the real fun is watching our gang navigate the scene armed with cardigans and a certain flexible morality, slowing only for reflections on aging that lean poignant without ever turning maudlin. Time marches on for all of us, but the Thursday Murder Club always gets their man before it’s too late.
Randi Levy, Head of the Children's Library
I am always catching up on children’s books—a joyous obligation of my profession. This year I dove into children’s books of yore. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings stood out among the classic books I had missed as a child. This coming-of-age story of a boy, his beloved pet deer, andhisloving family’s hardscrabble yet satisfying existence in 1870s inland Florida is shelved in the Children’s Library, but it makes a wonderful read for fans of historical fiction and nature stories of all ages. From our recent children’s acquisitions, I was delighted by The Many Assassinations of Samir the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri,a winding, exciting, and funny tale of a very young monk and his “guardian” on their sometimes-perilous journey along the Silk Road.
Two non-fiction books written for adults pierced my heart this year. Solito is an extraordinary memoir by poet Javier Zamora recounting his grueling migration from El Salvador to the United States at age 9. With his parents awaiting his arrival in the United States, young Javier travels with a group of migrants under unrelenting difficult conditions and constant threat of discovery. You will hold your breath until he is reunited with his parents. I don’t think I’ve read a more moving and (darkly) funny account of a beautiful life, a terrible death, and extraordinary grief than A Heart that Works, Rob Delaney’s generous story of his son Henry’s short life and unbearable death.
Sara Holliday, Head of Events
I spent quite a lot of 2023 in the 19th century, culturally speaking. Among the books - and years - that most stood out was Harvey Sachs's The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824. Using Beethoven's 9th Symphony as the root of its philosophy and timeline, the book expands from there to look in on the whole post-Napoleonic Western world - and the continuing power of its varying Enlightenment and Romantic ideals. "Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!" - "Be embraced, Millions! This kiss to all the world!"
I also had the pleasure of sitting in on the Library's seminar with Nicholas Birns on Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), in the gripping, hilarious, perfect new translation by Michael F. Moore. If like me you enjoy a 19th-century doorstopper but had missed this one due to inaccessible language, wait no longer.
James Addona, Head of Development
This year I was glad to finally catch up on the Ben Okri classic The Famished Road, and to complete an 18-month journey of reading David Copperfield on its original serialization schedule (I never, ever fell behind or read ahead, I swear). Another favorite, especially recommended for skiers and mystery lovers of all levels: Crossed Skis: An Alpine Mystery by Carol Carnac, which follows a group of acquaintances on holiday from London to Lech. One of them left a body behind – but who? (Spoiler: you’ll guess correctly almost right away, but the novel’s still full of charm and worth a read).