Josh’s Books of the Year 2023

Twelve books: some new, some just new to me. These were the books that stood out for me in some way this year, offering something unique and memorable in voice, approach or content.

There’s a strong historical thread, both in the non-fiction, with the concluding part of Tom Holland’s history of Rome and Christina Thompson’s meta-history of the Polynesian peoples, but also in the fiction, with Zadie Smith and Hernan Diaz using historical settings to examine contemporary concerns. Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young does almost the reverse, taking Shakespeare’s King Lear and casting it among the super-rich tycoons of modern India.

Of course, if that’s all too real for you, there’s a place for sheer invention as well: Ten Planets is an seemingly numberless succession of micro stories exploring time, space and technology with creative abandon, while Lara Williams’ The Odyssey conjures up a cultish cruise ship and its disintegration. Standing Heavy gives voice to generations of immigrant security guards in Paris and is one of the funniest, strangest and most innovative books I’ve read this year.

If after all that, you need something calmer, then the memoirs A Flat Place, Travels with Charley and My Name is Why, along with the novel Flight Behaviour, all offer beautiful reflections on people, places and the relationship between them, as well as some striking spurs to action on social and environmental injustice.