Favorite Reads of 2023

If you know me at all, you know I read. A lot. This year was an especially big year, with 88 books read. Travel is a big part of that–from long road trips to long plane rides, this just gives me more time to read! And though I’m not commuting to an office every day, when I do, the drive is usually longer than my former commute. So, it’s the perfect time for audio books!

Here’s the full Goodreads report!

A few highlights from my reading year include:

Fiction

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill. I was familiar with Barnhill’s young adult work, so was intrigued with premise for her first “grownup” novel. Then some friends started posting about it. And then I picked it up. Here’s what I said on Facbook:

At just 20 pages in, all I want to do is find several hours and devour it. If I owned this book, I would probably be underlining and tagging passages.

The premise? “Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours, except for its most seminal event: the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons.” Magical realism, feminism, and a discourse on history and memory. YES PLEASE.

Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird. I read this by my fire during one of our rare cold snaps. It’s one of those books that goes back and forth in time, centered in an area of the world I know nothing about. Strong female characters and beautiful writing. It may have made me tear up a bit, which is rare for me while reading. This was another book worthy of a Facebook post:

Happy hour tonight–finishing up this remarkable book about generations of families, WWII, a culture I knew nothing about, and so much more. My first 5 star book of the year.

It’s been a while since a book made me cry, but this did in the best possible way. Highly recommend.

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins. I first met Rachel Hawkins when she was on one of my panels for the North Texas Teen Book Festival. I enjoyed her YA books, but I’m really loving her forays into adult fiction. They are fluffy, but smart with plenty of literary references. I liked The Wife Upstairs a little bit more, but she’s definitely on my “must read all of her books” list.

Young Adult

The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Wonderful WWII historical fiction featuring siblings that evacuate from London and head to the countryside. But there’s so many layers, and it just grabs at all of your heartstrings. Bonus for me: my nephew read these over the summer, and his parents had to tell him to stop reading and go to bed. And then he had to call me to talk about it! He’s had a lot of challenges with reading, so this is a very big deal.

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy. Another author on my “must read all of her books” list. Murphy returns to Clover City, Texas. All of her books are a delight, but the trio of Dumplin’, Puddin’, and Pumpkin have stolen my heart. I love the path of Waylon turning to drag for the acceptance he’s been missing. And when Texas schools are making national headlines for being actively anti-LGBTQ+ these books are a reminder of what Texas could be. . .

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Part murder mystery, part coming of age tale, fully Native American in its perspective, this one was hard to put down even though it’s massive. I learned so much about Native cultures in Michigan, along with the challenges of meth rings. Apparently, the Obama’s production company is turning it into a mini-series, and I think this is a very, very wise move.

Non-fiction

Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss. Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller. Part memoir, part history, part murder mystery, this book wasn’t at all what I expected. Miller uses the life of David Star Jordan, a taxonomist obsessed with fish, to explore all sorts of things. This was an audio book for me, and it might have been nice to flip back and forth in the pages a bit. Also, I listened to this on a solo road trip, and there were several times I wanted to tell people some of the stories in this book.

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. This book accompanied me on my drive to Illinois this summer. I’ve been a fan of Jim Henson for a very, very long time, and this autobiography only strengthened that admiration. It is long, but worth the time, especially as a child of the 1980s.

The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City by Jim Schutze. This book makes the list as much for what it represents as for the words inside. Chosen as the Big D Reads book this fall, it was actively suppressed when first published in 1986. Once upon a time, It was hard to get, with PDF copies circulated underground. And suddenly, free copies were made available throughout Dallas. When has that ever happened to a history book? I knew some of the history Schutze discusses but holding the reprint and finally reading this mythical book was something special. And then having many, many opportunities to talk about the book, all across the city? Pretty remarkable.

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan. I read this just before my return to the Anne Frank House earlier this month. When the story broke, I wasn’t sure why it was so important to spend the resources to try to find answers. I get it now. The act of investigation is a part of the healing process for The Netherlands. Sullivan really makes it feel as if you’re working beside the investigative team, putting clues together. As a museum professional, I also appreciated learning more about the complicated legal structure around Anne’s legacy.

As a side note, the interpretation at the Anne Frank House hasn’t been updated to reflect any of this work. And the book wasn’t in the gift shop, which I found interesting.

And with that, I think it’s time to go back to reading. With 3 books at least at the halfway mark today, I’m getting a head start on my 2023 reads!

Published by Melissa Prycer

Professional history and museum nerd, among other things. Working to help build a better museum field and a better Dallas. Formerly Executive Director at Dallas Heritage Village.

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