Recommended books: winter 2023

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Looking for some recommended books in time for Christmas reading or gift-giving? Here’s my semi-annual roundup of books I’ve read this year.

I aim to read at least 52 books every 12 months, and my habit is to post a complete list of the titles for you in June and November. Here is a description of the remaining 26 books I’ve enjoyed this year. (In my summer list, I told you about the 26 books I finished in the first six months.)

Following a format I developed several years ago, I list my top five fiction reads followed by my top five non-fiction ones. After these highlighted titles, I name the other books I’ve read in each category, in order of preference.

Please note I don’t generally read sci-fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes don’t usually run in those directions.

If you’re looking for advice about how you can read more, check out my post on the topic, or my video. Or if you want to become a better reader, see here.


  1. Zevin, Gabrielle. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. This is not a book I would have typically picked up because it’s about gamers. But my son said, “It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year, and it’s not so much about gamers as it’s about relationships.” He was right. This story of three friends who create a gaming company is both fascinating and unputdownable.  
  2. Porter, Max. Grief is the Thing with Feathers. I loved this book, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste because of its quirky structure. But to determine if it might suit you, read this first.
  3. O’Farrell, Maggie. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. A kind of a mystery story involving family drama about a missing sister/aunt. Exquisitely written.
  4. Atkinson, Kate. Shrines of Gaiety. A Dickensian novel exploring the nightlife of London after the First World War, with plenty of gangsters, booze, drugs and murders. Ingeniously plotted and lots of fun.
  5. Zhang, C Pam. Land of Milk and Honey. I’m a foodie so any book with food as a central theme gets my attention. Although this book falls outside of my preferred genres (I’d call it dystopian), the writing is gorgeous and the plot — about seeking pleasure in a dying world — is captivating.

Do you have any fiction titles you can recommend? Please name them in the comments section, below.


  1.  Smith, Maggie. You Could Make This Place Beautiful. The memoir of a tragic divorce (written by a poet, not the actress of the same name), this is a wonderful, open-hearted book that’s also exquisitely well written.
  2. Beaton, Kate. Ducks. I don’t typically read many graphic novels, but this one had earned the distinction of being a Canada Reads winner (chosen by the country’s public broadcaster). It’s enormous, practically the size of an encyclopedia, but very well written and beautifully drawn. It tells the story of a young woman from Cape Breton who travels to work in the Canadian oil sands.
  3. Grant, Adam. Hidden Potential. The content of this book was terrific although I found the writing style a bit paint-by-numbers. Still, it’s a really good book to read if you want to learn more about how to achieve great things.
  4. Prince Harry. Spare. I vowed I wasn’t going to read this bestseller because I didn’t want to contribute to the endless saga of the battling royals, but what persuaded me was the ghost author: the wonderful J.R. Moehringer. The book is beautifully written.
  5. Viren, Sarah. To Name the Bigger Lie. This memoir, by a female professor at a US university, tells the story of how she and her wife are viciously targeted by a rival who wants to deny her a job. As well, Viren reaches back into her life and explores the impact of a charismatic but damaged, and damaging, high school teacher. A really interesting book.

 Do you have any non-fiction titles you can recommend? Please name them in the comments section, below.

OTHER FICTION (in order of preference)

  1. Sittenfeld, Curtis. Romantic Comedy. A side trip in the world of comedy TV (à la Saturday Night Live). Well written and lots of fun.
  2. O’Donoghue, Caroline. The Rachel Incident. A romp of a book, telling the story of a young Irish woman who’s finishing university and getting on with her life. The ending is even better than the beginning — something I seldom say about novels.
  3. Kim, Angie. Miracle Creek. A page-turner of a book about a group of people using a hyperbaric chamber to try to cure medical problems. But bigger issues arise following a dramatic explosion. This is an exceptionally well-written murder mystery.
  4. Ogawa, Yōko. The Housekeeper and the Professor. This is a beautifully written story in which almost nothing happens but which is still deeply fascinating. The author’s writing style reminded me a little of Anita Brookner.
  5. Kuang, R.F. Yellowface. The plot of the book is delicious. Two young authors — one a rising literary star, the other in the shadows — have a drink together. The literary star dies in a freak accident and the lesser-known author steals her manuscript and publishes it under her own name. What happens then? Yellowface takes on diversity, racism, cultural appropriation and the peccadillos of the publishing industry in one fell swoop.
  6. Kim, Angie. Happiness Falls. I’ve become a recent fan of this writer. I like her writing style and the way her plots (I’d call them upper-echelon mysteries) focus on families.
  7. Umrigar, Thrity. Honor. This book tells the story of four people in India. One is a Hindu woman, another is the Muslim man she married. The third is an Indian American journalist, there to cover a trial involving the Hindu woman, and the fourth is an Indian man the journalist meets. Their stories weave together in a rich tapestry.
  8. Patchett, Ann. Tom Lake. A pretty good story about a young woman who spent her youth acting but not nearly as good as some of Patchett’s previous books.
  9. Choi, Mary H.K. Yolk. This story of two Korean sisters who’ve been transplanted to New York is accessible and breezily written. I wasn’t crazy about the plot twist towards the end, though.
  10. Haruf, Kent. The Tie That Binds. A story set in rural America, this book displays very fine writing.
  11. Chafe, Perry. Closer by Sea. A coming-of-age story set in Newfoundland, the book explores the story of a young boy dealing with the death of his father.
  12. Thanh, Yasuko. To the Bridge. The story of a mother trying to save her family after her daughter’s suicide attempt. Some occasional glimmers of fine writing, but it seemed to be serving no purpose. The story was terribly weak.
  13. Blum, Hila. How to Love Your Daughter. Although this book has been described (in the New York Times) as a “stone-cold masterwork of psychological tension,” I found it profoundly irritating. The story of an estranged mother and daughter, it’s written in a terse way that suggests a big “reveal” at the end. But there is no such reveal.

OTHER NON-FICTION (in order of preference)

  1. Cooper, Christian. Better Living Through Birding. This is a memoir by the Black man in the famous 2020 Central Park birding incident (in which he politely asked a white woman to leash her dog and she called to police to report that he as threatening to attack her). Competently written, with the exception of the last chapter on the Central Park incident, which was superb.
  2. Conover, Sarah. Set Adrift. A famous US sailing family becomes lost at sea in the Bermuda Triangle in 1958. The youngest daughter, who is two, suddenly becomes an orphan, a legacy that will take her many years to untangle in this well-written memoir.
  3. Sisman, Adam. The Secret Life of John Le Carré. I’m afraid I can’t really recommend this book written by the author of Carré’s earlier and definitive biography. Apparently, le Carré was an outrageously unfaithful husband and this book outlines his many affairs. Did I need to know this? No.


My video podcast last week addressed how writers can deal with social media. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


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What are some of the best books you’ve read this year? If you have any recommended books, we can all learn from each other so, please share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/23 I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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