Top reads of 2023: My favorite reads of the year

Photo by Hanalei Potempa

I read a lot of books this year, as per usual, but there are a few that stuck out to me more than the rest. I narrowed my favorite reads of the year down to my top four: a classic, a biography, one nonfiction and one literary fiction. Here are the best titles of my 2023 reading experience, in no particular order.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

Although this list is not in a particular order, I might have to crown this classic my number one read of the year. In an effort to start reading more classic novels again, I picked up “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” an esteemed yet short and easy-to-read classic. 

Basil, a painter infatuated with the main character Dorian and his beauty, paints a portrait that keepsakes Dorian’s vanity and encapsulates the desperate love Basil feels towards him. Wilde begins the novel exploring the relationship between an artist, the muse and the art itself – Basil, exclaiming he cannot exhibit the art simply because he has put too much of himself into it, stating “The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secrecy of my own soul.”

The few main characters often engage in deep discussion on their theories of life, and through this dialogue Wilde glorifies emotions, expression and feeling, enforcing the connection of the body and soul in living life fully.

“No theory of life seemed to him to be of any importance compared to life itself.”

Wilde analyzes the relationship between vanity and love. The entire story is a marvel at the exquisite and mysterious aspects of living life in raw feeling, amplifying the importance of remaining sentimental in a world where value is so easily transferable. 

All in all, the book is a celebration of all the little and big joys of life, and the balance of powers between goodness and beauty.

“All I want now is to look at life. You may come and look at it with me, if you care to.”

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi

If you don’t like books that will make you cry, like ‘tear splotches on the pages cry’, go ahead and skip this recommendation. But if you can get past the possible emotional upset, there is a reason why this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

In this biography, the author Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the age of 36, at the peak of his career potential as a neurosurgeon resident. Kalanithi takes the reader through a summation of his life prior to receiving his diagnosis and the journey he takes from that day to his very last breath.

Kalanithi explores the origins of life’s biggest questions through the scope of medicine, explaining how his diagnosis was not his initial first hand experience with death. He shares how as a doctor he often engaged with death, in contrast to most people who live in passivity towards death, stating “In these moments, I acted not, as I most often did, as death’s enemy, but as its ambassador.”

Kalanithi discusses questions you have when you are forced to confront mortality face to face, and analyzes the intersection of life and identity. He also dives into his correlations between science and faith.

“Between these core passions and scientific theory, there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of the human experience.”

Kalanithi does not shy away from discussing his own fragility, and the tendency of humans’ consistent avoidance of suffering. He shares with the reader what about the way he lived his life changed in his final years, and all the ways he remained perpetually the same in the face of such fear.

“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything.”

“Acts of Desperation” by Megan Nolan

In this recently published literary fiction, Nolan presents an unnamed and unreliable narrator stuck in an enthralling, yet toxic relationship. Nolan’s writing is painfully raw, exposing the narrator’s dark and self destructive inner dialogue.

“How impoverished my internal life had become, the scrabbling for a token of love from somebody who didn’t want to offer it.”

Nolan exposes the potential horrors of female rage and desire when these feelings manifest in self-destructive behaviors, as the narrator believes love can solve all of her problems. 

“Living alone, I began to split apart from myself in a deeper and more grotesque way than ever before.”

The book lacks a typical plotline and the story is strictly told through the voice of the mentally unstable narrator. Nolan does not shy away from exploring all of the dark fantasies, obsessive behaviors and bad habits of the narrator, and the novel acts as a cautionary of the self-destruction that comes with remaining in an unhealthy relationship, and engaging with love that is unrequited.

“Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Author of number one New York Times bestseller “Eat Pray Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert, offers insight on how to live a creative life in her nonfiction book “Big Magic”. 

Gilbert discusses creativity in many forms, yet often references her own experiences as a writer. She illustrates our creative ideas as something we must latch onto before they move on from us, and offers tokens of advice for becoming courageous enough to truly live in our creative capacities.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

Gilbert emphasizes that a creative life is a better life, often referencing writers and artists from throughout history and including anecdotes of her own creative successes and failures. If you have a creative-centric profession or hobby, or just want to bring more magic to your daily life, this book is a great read that is sure to leave you inspired.

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”

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