2023 in a handful of books

Looking back on the few books I did manage to finish in 2023.

2023 in a handful of books
A photo of my puppy hanging out with my bookshelves and not trying to eat either the shelves or the books! I'm touchingly proud by this progress!

A few days ago I shared the best of my DNF ("did not finish") pile. Tonight, on this illustrious night, let's tackle the books I did finish.

I barely hit my reading goal of 14 books this year — my days of easily reading endless quantities of tomes a year feel rather far, right now. I set my reading goal last rather low (for me), because I could tell something was wrong, though I chalked it up to general exhaustion at the time. If you were here last year then you know that, by February, I went on medical leave for (in part) some rather spectacular cognitive burnout. And, despite constantly trying, I stopped being able to read books properly. Ugh!!! The horror!!! Reading did start improving massively after I broke my arm in July, because one of the hospital doctors put me on strict rest from athletic activity (after I tried going immediately back to the ballet studio, arm in cast and all). I needed something to do, anxiety be damned!

Here are the 9 books I want to highlight reading this year:

Nimona by ND Stevenson (2015)

Nimona is so much fun and so, so, so heart-rending, but in the best of ways. I wasn't expecting it to pack such a punch. I ended up watching the movie in a bit of a haze a day or two after breaking my arm, and loved it so much I ended up (1) putting the movie on loop in the background of my computer for a couple of days because sometimes I do that, and (2) tracking down the original webcomic and art extremely voraciously. Leif ended up getting me a physical copy of the graphic novel for my birthday this year, and I reread the whole thing then with a (much) clearer mind. Thank you Nimona, and ND Stevenson by proxy, for being unrepentantly yourselves. I loved the film a lot (obviously) but if you want to have A Lot of feelings, do check out that webcomic turned graphic novel. It's incredible and full of feels, with enough of an edge to avoid the usual sentimental pitfalls. I love villainous characters with complicated relationships to their own villainy and who deeply love each other, often more than they are often able to love themselves.

Supervillain Ballister asks Nimona: "In the mean time... how would you feel about robbing a bank?" Nimona perks up immediately: "Positively! I feel positively about robbing a bank!" "I thought you might," Ballister smiles.

The Doctor Who Fooled The World by Brian Deer (2020)

Like many a young person in the videogame-adjacent multiverse, I found out about this book through a rather famous YouTuber. It took me a few years to get to reading it, and when I finally did, I was enraged. The way some doctors will sacrifice their ethical and moral responsibilities for convenience, and sometimes profit, is already so incredibly poisonous in the ableist and iniquitous medical systems that characterize many countries. A doctor willing to assault young children for money and spawn an international social movement based on medical lies and mass hysteria, and which has had cataclysmic consequences on societies around the world, in exchange for money and notoriety, is beyond the pale. We all owe Brian Deer a debt of gratitude for being willing to drag, at sometimes great cost to himself, Andrew Wakefield's choices into the light of day.

Axiom's End (2020) and Truth of the Divine (2021) by Lindsay Ellis

Axiom's End was a reread that I wanted to get out of the way before I tackled the sequel, Truth of the Divine, which had been sitting on the shelf for a while. I actually enjoyed AE a good deal better the second time around, I think, which is always a good sign about a novel's crafting. Due to 2023 being what it was, I was in an incredibly anxious state when I broached Truth of the Divine — but even if I hadn't been drowning in stress, what a anxiety-inducing read! Though always engrossed, bits of the book definitely got to me. I will be sticking around for the third book in the series (I'm definitely invested in Cora and Ampersand now!) but I am hoping, maybe more than a little, that the third Noumena book will not lean so hard on doom and despair, as was done in Truth of the Divine.

When The Moon Turns To Blood by Leah Sottile (2022)

I knew basically nothing about the history of Utah, the LDS Church, and the horrific 2019 murders of two children that weaves through this nonfiction book. When the Moon turns to Blood is gripping, but its subject matter is really, really, really messed up. Instead of approaching the whole thing from a "True Crime" perspective, Sottile ends up using the 2019 murders of two young siblings to describe how specific aspects of LDS culture had a hand in creating the motivations for these religiously-motivated familicides. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I feel like I've done my due diligence reading about the Catholic Church's horrible history and its role in the colonization of Québec. The similarities I could see between the Roman Catholic Church and the LDS Church did not altogether shock me... but the divergences sometimes did, though they were also useful at pointing out my complete ignorance about this pocket of American Christian culture. Unfortunately, unless broad material and environmental conditions are improved for all people everywhere, I worry that religiously-motivated abuse and violence will only worsen, and that the broad and narrow lessons drawn from these specific murders will fall on societies full of unwilling ears.

Swan Dive by Georgina Pazcoguin (2021)

So, I have to admit that I have almost no memory of reading this book, as I read it in February 2023 and I don't really remember February 2023. Brains overstuffed with cortisol struggle to form memories! Past Gersande, however, seems to have been incredibly motivated to finish this book and even left a review of the book on Mille feuilles! Thanks, past Gersande!

Pazcoguin's memoir covers the two+ decades of her career (which started when she was a child) at the New York City Ballet. The gothic humour was welcome and familiar around the tougher memories of relentless emotional, sexist, and racist abuse. During the more triumphant parts of the book (and there are some really great ones), your heart soars at Pazcoguin's words. Righteous! (Read full review here.)

This book sounds good, and I'm definitely going to reread it now that my brain is not (quite as) flooded with stress molecules.

Le rêveur d'apocalypse: Edgar P. Jacobs by François Rivière and Philippe Wurm (2021)

The art style of Jacobs' biography is fantastic. Philippe Wurm is effective at emulating Edgar P. Jacobs' iconic ligne claire style — though, through this biography, I discovered Jacobs did not much like ligne claire (!!!) and was made to use it by Hergé, preferring a style using much broader pencils — and François Rivière lays narrative through history in a compelling manner that keeps the pages turning.

I loved the first half of the biography especially, but the whole BD is definitely worthwhile. If you, like me, grew up reading a ton of Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées, this is definitely worth a visit, not only for the great art, but also for a deep dive into a rather occluded part of BD history, as Jacobs was a much more reserved fellow compared to many of his contemporaries.

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright (2013)

I started Going Clear in November, because I was investigating something that was potentially going to have an impact on my NaNoWriMo project, and ended up finding Wright's novel completely engrossing. Lawrence Wright's writing style was really effective, and every now and then there would be a brutally efficient turn of phrase that dripped with delicious condescension. The subject matter, however, is not funny at all. I kept reading not because of the chilling subject, but because Wright's narrative style was so well-crafted. (I was also particularly intrigued by the contributions Paul Haggis made to the book, though I'm not sure I'm altogether satisfied with them.)

There it is, a year in books. I'm trying not to be disappointed in myself since I did actually manage to hit my reading goal for the year, which is not nothing. For 2024, it seems clear that I need to read a lot more fiction and a whole lot more French literature.

And, maybe, I should scale back on reading about religious trauma and violence. Though distracting (sort of, ?) from how horrible the world is (again, sort of ?), I feel like it doesn't help with the whole "recovering from major cognitive burnout and anxiety" thing.

How did your reading go this year? Any highlights? Any books that shocked your socks off?

For next year, I'm genuinely thinking of not setting a reading goal, just to see what happens! I do feel like I'm starting to get my reading mojo back, though with the odd sputtering and stalling, but maybe the key is to keep a very light foot on the gas (A driving metaphor!?! Me!?!?! What is happening!?!?), rather than trying to pressure myself into reading a book or three a week again.

Wishing everyone a very peaceful New Year full of books, and more books, and even more books!

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