I've always been a reader. As someone with a propensity to go down rabbit holes and ask a thousand questions about the most inconsequential things, a well-written book has always been my favorite way to commune with the stories of our world.
But, in 2023, I fell in love with the habit of reading again. Sitting down to read or listen to an audiobook has, for most of my life, been an ad-hoc activity. It's been something I do when I need to answer a question or I fall in love with a story. Rarely in my life has reading been a hobby - a set activity that I do routinely without any goal or outcome.
That is, until this year. Under the generic advice of every writer who takes the craft seriously, 2023 was the year I scheduled reading time on my calendar. I read for nearly 30 minutes every day during my lunch break. And this simple habit - combined with my lovely wife getting me a Kindle with a backlight so I could read into the night without disturbing her sleep - helped me read ~30 books this year.
So, I thought I'd write up a little post about the books I read in 2023. And although I will provide some of the absolute shortest book "reviews" in case you're looking for some inspiration for your 2024 TBR, this list is mostly for my own archival purposes.
In fact, I'd like to apologize to all the authors of these books in advance. I am sorry that, for some of you, these hastily written sentences and horribly rushed summaries might be some new readers first introduction to your work.
But, without further ado, let's start with the fiction books I read this year:
Oxford Medieval Mysteries Series by Ann Swinfen
These fun murder mysteries - set in the 14th century and published in the 70s - were an inspiration for the game Pentiment. The game and the books that inspired it were both great. Highly recommend.
Mistborn Era One by Brandon Sanderson
Everyone and their brother has been trying to get me to read Brandon Sanderson for years. But the absolute monstrosity that is the Stormlight Archive series consistently prevented my from getting into his work. I just have a lot of stuff to read and can't stomach reading one book when I could read three that are equally as good. But people told me the first three books in his Mistborn series might be a better, shorter introduction to Sanderson. And man, those books were freaking good. Highly recommend to anyone that likes epic fantasy.
Sorry to anyone that was hoping for more fiction recommendations on this list 😅. I just don't read that much fiction. I've told myself over the years that I should read more fiction, but I am one of these crazy people that often finds a good non-fiction story as riveting as a Brandon Sanderson novel.
That being said, if you're like me and love reading (sometimes incredibly niche) non-fiction books, here's some you might find interesting:
The Real World of Technology by Ursula Franklin
By far my favorite book of this year. Originally published in 1989, this book provides a historical and cultural perspective to today's conversation about AI better than anything I've read that discusses AI directly.
Highly recommend you add it to your TBR this year if you're interested in crafting a better relationship between technology and society.
The Know-It-Alls by Noam Cohen
An amazing history of the Silicon Valley ethic. Noam Cohen is a fantastic writer and in a relatively short book tells the story of how the tech industry became so obsessed with libertarian ideals, white supremacy and AI.
The Company Town by Hardy Green
An incredible book that highlights how intertwined the United States is with the idea of labor exploitation, cults, and control of the populous by corporations. Can be dense at times, but it's a good book that I really enjoyed. The foreword is particularly good and relevant to today.
The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy by Maxine Berg
If you want to understand what's happening with AI and how it might affect society, this book tells the future by telling you stories of the past. It's a history of the industrial revolution in England and how and why we developed our modern exploitative capitalist system. It's so good that I painstakingly turned it into an ebook because there wasn't a version available.
Show Your Work! and Keep Going by Austin Kleon
Steal Like an Artist is one of my favorite books about creativity, and I had no idea until this year it was part of a series. Austin Kleon is an author who's work I constantly look to for inspiration. In fact, this book list blogpost idea is something I've stolen from his blog 😅. Highly recommend for anyone who does anything.
Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal
One of my favorite productivity YouTuber's first book. I enjoyed it, and I think there is some great material in there for anyone looking live a more intentional, fulfilling and happy life.
So You Want to Start a Podcast by Kristen Meinzer
Popular and prolific podcast host Kristen Meinzer takes you along the whole journey of starting a professional podcast people will actually want to listen to. Her writing is super approachable and reverent to the medium without being heady. Good read.
Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel
This book is a graphic novel(?) that takes readers behind-the-scenes of production for popular podcasts like This American Life and Radiolab. It's less of a how-to guide and more of a documentary about how narratives are selected, crafted, and produced from the titans of the broadcast industry. It was really great overall storytelling advice and less of a "podcasting" or "radio" book. Super good and will reread again.
Sound Reporting by Jonathan Kern
This is like a manual of how reporting gets done at NPR. It's sometimes pretty terse and dense, but if you want the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the journalistic part of working at NPR, this is the book the read.
Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow
Hands down one of my most referenced books this year. This book is both a history of exploitation in the creative industries like music, TV, and new media, but also an activist's guide to how we claw back power to the people. Highly recommend.
Extremely Online by Taylor Lorenz
A great overall history of influencer culture and the recently dubbed "creator economy". Lorenz is one of my favorite new media reporters and her latest book was a great read with stories from the media and tech industry that I'd never heard before.
Going Infinite by Michael Lewis
A controversial book about a controversial figure. Lewis is one of my favorite narrative non-fiction authors. You might know him from books like The Big Short and Moneyball. His latest book isn't quite as riveting as his other works, but I thought it brought up some much needed conversations about startup founders, venture capital, and crypto.
Cultish by Amanda Montell
Montell shows us how tactics of language are used by cults and "cultish" organizations to impact the beliefs and behaviors of their victims. It read like a series of articles about different cults, but I enjoyed it. Amanda Montell also has a great podcast about cults if that's more your thing.
They Don't Represent Us by Lawrence Lessig
An incredible book about political division and the roles policy and media play in making our democracy dysfunctional. I was introduced to Lessig through his work and activism in copyright law. However, fixing our democracy has become his new passion and this book will fire you up to fight alongside him...even if the middle of the book is a bit boring. Power through!
The Idealist by Justin Peters
A short biography about the incredible life and tragic death of one of the internet's biggest activists, Aaron Schwartz. If you don't know his story, you should, and this short read tells it well.
Pete Seeger in His Own Words by Pete Seeger, Rob Rosenthal and Sam Rosenthal
A wonderful book telling the story of the popular American folk musician's life through letters and journal entries he wrote himself. This book made me think a lot about the unexpected people we meet in life and the magnificent amount of insight that can come from reading someone's diary.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and M.S. Handler
Another fantastic autobiography put together by an incredibly talented writer about an incredibly complex figure in history. This book really made me think about the black American struggle and black nationalism in a much deeper and nuanced way. It's long but a worthwhile read.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook
I can not remember why I read this book, but if you want to read a passionate and beautiful perspective on the power of live theatre, this is it.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
This is the only personal finance book you'll ever need to read. I've read dozens. I've been down the YouTube rabbit holes. Read this book, implement the things it says to do, and you will feel so much better about money.
📚 Here's To Reading In 2024
One of my goals for 2024 is to publish 100,000 words. I'm writing 1,000 words a day towards my first book along with a collection of essays that I will publish on this blog.
However, most of writing is reading. It's the process of finding inspiration, communion, and connection with works new and old and then retelling them in your own life. So, I'm hoping to read a lot of great books in 2024.
That being said, if you've got any recommendations for thing I might like to add to my TBR based on this list, send me a message on LinkedIn!
Until next time.