Book Box | Why these books became my 2023 favourites - Hindustan Times
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Book Box | Why these books became my 2023 favourites

Dec 11, 2023 11:01 AM IST

A love-hate relationship with end-of-year book lists prompts me to dig deeper into why I read

Dear Reader,

Favourites this year
Favourites this year

Everywhere I look, I see the best of 2023 book lists. I can’t resist reading them, yet I have a love-hate relationship with such book lists.

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I love them because they direct me to many fabulous reads. I hate them because they mock me - what sort of reader are you, they ask, when of 100 best books, you’ve read only three?

This love-hate relationship gets me to dig deeper: Why do I read?

1. I read to comfort myself: When I am feeling anxious or sad, I dive into murder mysteries. Yes, there is a corpse, but then the detective arrives and makes things alright, hunts out the killer, and restores order to the world. My favourites this year have been The Running Grave which dives into the secret world of cults. I recently discovered the Irish writer Adrian McKinty, and am reading everything by him, from his Sean Duffy police procedurals set in troubled Northern Island to Fifty Grand, a fabulous standalone detective story starring a young Cuban detective. Another riveting 2023 read was The Mill House Murders, a locked room mystery set in rural Japan.

Comfort Reads
Comfort Reads

2. I read to increase my step count: Walking down the hillside to the market in Manali, strolling evenings on Juhu beach, and even pacing up and down my living room, audiobooks have pushed me to walk those extra 10,000 plus steps. My top audiobook this year is Tom Lake written by Ann Patchett and voiced by Meryl Streep; the story of a mother, telling her three daughters about a summer in her youth. I loved Siobhan Mcsweeney’s Irish brogue in Doireann Ní Ghríofa's A Ghost in the Throat, the story of a young Irish housewife who becomes obsessed with an Irish poet born 200 years before her.

And I’m currently hooked on My Name is Barbra written and narrated by Barbra Streisand. I hesitated at the start because the book is 48 hours long, but once I began, I couldn’t keep away. As I walk, I drink in the delicious details Barbra goes into, on artistic inspiration, on creative collaborations, on the intricacies of her music and performance and even on the design of her gowns. She sings too and the effect is just fantastic.

 

3. I read to go beyond the news: Books set around the news help me see both sides of the story. My top read here this year is I Saw Ramallah, a memoir by a Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti. (More books on the Israel-Palestine conflict here.) Another book that gave me rich insights into the Russian State is The Wizard of the Kremlin by Giuliano da Empoli, a novel translated from French. Closer home, the novel Quarterlife by Devika Rege investigates conflicting ideologies through a set of young characters. Reading this helped me understand what drives the liberal versus the fundamentalist, and the majoritarian versus the minority.

Books to Understand the News
Books to Understand the News

4. I read to grasp the burning issues of the day: Fire Weather by John Vaillant is a literal example of this, as it zooms in on a Canadian forest fire in the larger context of climate change. Chip War by Chris Miller is an amazing investigation of semiconductor supplies influencing geopolitics. And The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian is an everybody-must-read book on how AI can perpetuate and reinforce existing biases – look out before it’s too late.

Books on Burning Issues
Books on Burning Issues

5. I read to be better at my job: As a visiting faculty at business schools, I read books around the courses I teach, on storytelling and persuasion. My most read books this year have been The Storytellers Secret, Let The Story Do the Work and Influence. More books on influence here. As a writer, I also re-read lots of books on the craft of writing, like The Secret Miracle.

Reading for Work
Reading for Work

6. I read to connect with fellow readers: I read my book club books, arguing intensely over the novel Lessons in Chemistry, swooning over The Spy and the Traitor, the story of a Russian double agent for MI5 and debating Blood and Oil, the story of the prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. I find myself compelled to read many literary prize-winning books, just to discover what the hype is about. The ones I enjoyed this year were A Shining by Nobel prize-winning Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse and the achingly poignant Happening by Annie Ernaux, winner of last year's Nobel Prize.

Connecting with Other Readers Through Books
Connecting with Other Readers Through Books

7. I read to inhabit other worlds: Family sagas in countries around the world take me through both geography and history. The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese set in the lush landscapes of Kerala, and The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See, set off an island in Korea, were both stories that stayed in my head for weeks. Two other unforgettable books that told heart-breaking stories of injustice, were Babel by RF Kuang, set around the opium wars and Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, set in the 1920s during a series of murders by White Americans that killed dozens of Osage Indians one hundred years ago.

Books in Other Worlds
Books in Other Worlds

8. I read for a window into different professions: The novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and the young adult novel Slay by Brittney Morris gave me a fascinating glimpse into the world of video game design. In the novel Second Place by Rachel Cusk, a wealthy patron tries to engage with a talented artist, with disastrous results. The world of a food critic comes gloriously alive in Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl.

9. I read to get a sense of the space around me: After a day spent climbing up the steep slopes of a pine forest in Manali, it feels wonderful to read Among Flowers by the Carribean American Jamaica Kincaid. Her climb is higher, and more intense, taking her through Nepal, but we are both on the same mountain range. In Brooklyn I read a fantastically surreal detective novel, The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Aster and a pacy chicklit called Pineapple Street.

 

Books Set in The Spaces You Travel To
Books Set in The Spaces You Travel To

10. And finally, I read to be inspired: Books like Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, tell stirring stories - in this Hunger-Games-meets-Game-of-Thrones-meets-The-Three-Body-Problem, a young girl fights against a planetary patriarchy. In Women in the Wild by Anita Mani, India’s best women biologists fight to work, and in The Brass Notebook by Devaki Jain, a talented feminist economist tells her story.

What about you, dear Reader? Why do you read? And what have been your best books of 2023? Do write in with recommendations.

And until next week, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

Books recommended in this edition of Book Box

The Running Grave by Robert Galbraith

Fifty Grand by Adrian Mckinty

The Mill House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

My Name is Barbra by Barbara Streisand

I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti

The Wizard of the Kremlin by Giuliano de Empoli

Quarterlife by Devika Rege

The Storytellers Secret by Carmine Gallo

Let The Story Do the Work by Esther Choy

Influence by Robert Cialdini

The Secret Miracle by Daniel Alarcon

Fire Weather by John Vaillant

Chip War by Chris Miller

The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Mckintyre

Blood and Oil by Bradley Hope

A Shining by Jon Foss

Happening by Annie Ernaux

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Babel by R F Kuang

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Slay by Brittney Morris

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Comfort me with Apples by Ruth Reichl

Among Flowers by Jamaica Kincaid

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

Pineapple Street by Jenny Lawson

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Women in the Wild edited by Anita Mani

The Brass Notebook by Devaki Jain

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