My Reading Life in 2023

A screenshot of the computer program Calibre

By the end of 2023 I had 3049 ebooks and magazines (a change of 256 – pretty even with last year). Of those, 2434 were unread. Some chunk of those – maybe as much as ¼ were giveaways like Raspberry Pi Magazine, HackSpace Magazine, and book club freebies. I stopped getting the monthly free Prime books since I no longer have a way to liberate them. I ended the year with 197 audiobooks (a change of 53). A lot of those were for Danielle – more on that later. 

The first significant trend for 2023 involved Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines. I subscribe to a number of these: Apex, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Uncanny. In April of 2023 we went to Walt Disney World in Florida. For most of the trip I was with my family, enjoying family time there. But late in the day while we were at Hollywood Studios we split up so that I could get a photo with Chewbacca. I was bored while waiting in line so I started reading Lightspeed issue 103, which I had on my phone. Found out they were doing a series of stories from the Burnt Empire universe over five issues, so I started focusing on reading those issues to keep the stories fresh in my head. After finishing the issues with Burnt Empire I Loaded a bunch of SFF magazine issues onto my Kobo ereader for plane trips. I also started reading them whenever I had a short burst of time for reading. It’s been interesting to see the differences in scope for each. Clarkesworld stories are longer and more apt to feature Chinese authors. Apex tends to have horror elements. Uncanny has a slightly higher percentage of marginalized voices. Lightspeed and Apex both have recurring sections for flash fiction. Of all of them, Lightspeed is most likely to have a cover image that goes together with one of the stories within while the other magazines just have a random art commission for their covers.

When 2023 started, I wanted to focus on reading books I already own (vs buying new books). I have a very large “to read” list on Goodreads and for the past few years I’d been alternating between a book I already own and then a new book. But as my unread, owned book inventory got larger and larger, it seemed as though I would need to change the way I was doing things if I didn’t want all my discretionary money going towards books. However, when I got to the next Dresden Files book on my list and couldn’t remember anyone or any of the prior plots, I decided to change tactics. Up until now if I wanted to continue reading a series, if I finished book N, I would add book N+1 to the end of my “Digital On Deck” list. While this wasn’t too dissimilar from the gap between books if I’d been reading them when they were published, I was robbing myself of the benefit of reading the books when a massive chunk of the series had already been published. At the time I resolved to alternate between Dresden books and other books to keep the Dresden plots fresh in my mind. I also intended to limit funding new kickstarter campaigns. This met with some limited success, especially when a few interesting Dark Academia anthologies came to my attention.

Early in the year Danielle and I continued our spousal “book club” with Nightmare Magazine. Then I read Down Among the Sticks and Bones, from the Wayward Children series. I knew immediately that I had to get Danielle to read this series. So I got the audiobooks for the first two books. We almost didn’t make it because the first book has so much world building that Danielle almost bounced off the book. But I was able to convince her to keep going and she absolutely loved the second entry. From there it was a race for me to stay ahead of her. She was listening to the audiobooks while I read the ebooks. I was trying to avoid accidentally getting spoilers as the kids asked her questions about the books. This ruined my whole strategy of alternating between new and already owned books, but luckily for my wallet I already had the first 4 Wayward Children for free from a giveaway.

This same thing happened with The Dresden Files. After years of talking about it and wondering if she’d like it since she’s into all those horror things and a big Buffy fan, she finally gave it a try. Again, she almost bounced off the series as the first two Dresden books are pretty rough compared to the rest of the series. (Apparently Butcher wrote the first two books on a dare with his professor that he couldn’t be successful as an author. He seems to do a lot of writing on dares – see his Roman-inspired fantasy series) After that it was a race against her to stay ahead of the story. Luckily, the Dresden Files books are a bit longer than Wayward Children so she wasn’t finishing one per day. 

Moving away from my “competition reading” towards other trends and events affecting this year’s reading – this year was the Year of the Sanderson. During COVID Brandon Sanderson wrote 4 “secret novels” and they were revealed/delivered quarterly in 2023. Three of them were Cosmere-related: Tress of the Emerald Sea, Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, and The Sunlit Man. The Cosmere is a literal universe that encompasses most (but not all) of Sanderson’s fiction. I found that all three of these, particularly the first two, would probably be enjoyable to folks who weren’t into the Cosmere, which was nice. The outlier was The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook to Surviving in Medieval England. The genesis of this idea came from the idea of time travelers and the Titanic, but morphed quite a bit by the time it made it to paper. I would say that in form and execution, the book ends up being Sanderson’s version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was fun getting a book each quarter and I enjoyed them all.

If you actually look at the list below or have seen the reviews on my Goodreads page or this blog, you’ll see lots of bread baking books. I did a lot of bread baking this year and have leveled up my skills. 

As I’ve been doing for the past few years, I continued my re-read of the Discworld novels. As I said last year, this continues to be an uneven road. Some of the books hold up well and others are a bit too much of a mishmash of genre parody. 

Long-term readers of my blog posts and/or reviews will know that I rarely quit a book I’ve started. I also tend to usually read at least a second book in a series to see how the series pans out. That did not happen with the John Cleaver series. My wife wanted to check it out so we listened to I Am Not A Serial Killer during a road trip. I thought it was OK. I chose not to continue the series. I guess this turned out to be a good thing because Danielle got bored with the series partway through the third book.

I’d intended to focus on my Kickstarter-funded books if I finished my To-Read queue, but I never got to that because of my focus on finishing series this year. I’ll be making this a goal in 2024 if I get to the end of that queue, but I am unsure if I’ll get there. 

And now we arrive at our Book of the Year contenders. Interestingly, and contrary to the way these things usually work, all the entries are from earlier in 2023. (Meaning no recency bias) I think this is because later on I focused on finishing the Wayward Children, Dresden Files, and Temeriere series and while I enjoy the series – no one book really stands out as incredible to me. My contenders for Book of the Year are Tress of the Emerald Sea, Nettle & Bone, and Legends and Lattes. For a little bit I was considering all of the Wayward Children series as one story, but rejected that because it’s not yet done and because I read many series this year and it would be better to compare like with like. 

Tress of the Emerald Sea read as The Princess Bride meets the Cosmere. Brandon has described it as The Princess Bride if Princess Buttercup had more agency. I enjoyed the narrative tone – it mimicked that of a fairy tale a la Princess Bride. I was able to predict some of the twists just a little bit before they happened, which is masterful storytelling. It was a great start to the Year of Sanderson. 

Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher, was also playing with fairy tale tropes. One character even admits to setting up 3 tasks because that’s how these things are supposed to go. The story winds up being a deconstruction/reconstruction of fairy tale tropes. It takes all the tropes you know (and maybe love) and interrogates them a bit, starting with the assumption that it’s a good thing to be a princess who gets to marry the prince. Kingfisher has written many fairy tales, including some retellings of the classics, but I think this one is all the more perfect for being original. Also, I don’t always love when novels start in media res (I find it more acceptable in short stories), but this one really set a great tone with by starting that way.

In some ways, nothing could be more different than the prior two while staying in the same genre as Legends and Lattes. In what could have easily been a very badly done parody (ugh…see my book Witches be Crazy) the plot of Legends and Lattes takes the adventurer’s party of many a fantasy book (see Lord of the Ring) or D&D campaign (although I wouldn’t have made the D&D connection at the time because the kids hadn’t roped me into D&D yet) and explores what might happen if one of the characters retires…to open up a coffee shop. There are a few stakes at play – prejudice against orcs and succubi or the old life not accepting your retirement – but mostly it’s just a cozy novel about what it might be like to open up a fantasy coffee shop. I’m slightly disappointed that so far the author has only done prequels. Perhaps this is the kind of story that doesn’t lend itself to a sequel – what can happen once the shop is established? But I feel there are some potential other stories to be told afterwards rather than stories where we know what will eventually happen to the main character.

This year it’s a tough choice between these three. They all brought me joy in their own ways. Nettle & Bone was perhaps the darkest of the three and, perhaps, the most realistic. But they were all great books. In the end I would give it to Nettle & Bone because not only did I like it, but when I shared it with Danielle, she also liked it. We often spoke about the plot and characterizations. It’s a tough contest, but I think I might give second place to Legends and Lattes for not requiring any outside knowledge to fully enjoy when compared to the Cosmere goodies that you miss out on if you are coming into Tress cold. 

GoodReads Stats

  • 25,419 pages read
  • Shortest Book: Compulsory – 8 pages
  • Longest Book: The Dragon Republic – 658 pages
  • Average book length: 295
  • Average rating: 3.9/5
  • Highest Rating: Skin Game from The Dresden Files – 5/5

Books Read in 2023

  1. Dead Man’s Hand
  2. Tress of the Emerald Sea
  3. The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories
  4. The Last Continent
  5. Nettle & Bone
  6. The City We Became
  7. Witches Be Crazy
  8. Continue?
  9. Gods & Monsters
  10. Spelunky
  11. Nightmare Magazine 125
  12. Super Power, Spoony Bards, and Silverware
  13. Cook’s Country 2020
  14. The Story Behind
  15. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain
  16. Legends and Lattes
  17. Lightspeed Magazine 103
  18. Nightmare Magazine 126
  19. Carpe Jugulum
  20. Uncanny Magazine 26
  21. The Dragon Republic
  22. Fantasy Magazine 89
  23. The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England
  24. Lightspeed Magazine 104
  25. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
  26. Lightspeed Magazine 105
  27. The Burning God
  28. Down Among the Sticks and Bones
  29. Beneath the Sugar Sky
  30. In an Absent Dream
  31. Lightspeed Magazine 106
  32. Juice Like Wounds
  33. Come Tumbling Down
  34. Lightspeed Magazine 107
  35. Vegetables Illustrated
  36. Lightspeed Magazine 108
  37. The Fifth Elephant
  38. The Everyday Athlete Cookbook
  39. The Frame-Up
  40. Artisan Breads Every Day
  41. Blood Rites
  42. Lightspeed Magazine 109
  43. Across the Green Grass Fields
  44. Apex Magazine 105
  45. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter
  46. Apex Magazine 138
  47. Clarkesworld Magazine 144
  48. Dead Beat
  49. Skeleton Song
  50. Where the Drowned Girls Go
  51. In Mercy, Rain
  52. Lost in the Moment and Found
  53. Uncanny Magazine 19
  54. Proven Guilty
  55. Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543
  56. Threats
  57. White Knight
  58. Small Favor
  59. Turn Coat
  60. Lightspeed Magazine 110
  61. Changes
  62. Side Jobs
  63. Ghost Story
  64. Whole Grain Breads
  65. Cold Days
  66. Skin Game
  67. Peace Talks
  68. Brief Cases
  69. Battleground
  70. Soonish
  71. Compulsory
  72. House of X/Powers of X
  73. The Sunlit Man
  74. The Internet Con
  75. American Pie
  76. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
  77. Empire of Ivory
  78. The Truth
  79. Victory of Eagles
  80. Lightspeed Magazine Apr 2018
  81. Tongues of Serpents
  82. Long Past Dues
  83. I Am Not A Serial Killer
  84. Crucible of Gold
  85. The Kaiju Preservation Society
  86. Lightspeed Magazine 111

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