Image: Literary Hub
These are my favorite fiction reads I discovered in 2023 ordered by original publication date. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy here, and please share your favorite fiction reads. (I’ll cover other book categories later.)
Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) Willa Cather
I had read Cather’s My Ántonia many years ago, but since Death Comes for the Archbishop began appearing practically everywhere I looked, I felt I could no longer ignore it. Rich in its Southwestern landscape, this mythic journey of a priest serving in the New Mexico territory in 1851 is fascinating in its theology and its humanity. Truly A a beautiful book on many levels, I look forward to revisiting this one in the coming years.
Flags in the Dust (1929) William Faulkner
Faulkner’s third novel Sartoris (his first Yoknapatawpha County novel) was published in 1929, yet heavily edited, which Faulkner always regretted. He never lived to see the 1973 publication of the novel as he intended, renamed Flags in the Dust. Contrary to what you may think about Faulkner, Flags in the Dust is both approachable and overwritten, that latter quality often regarded by some critics as a strength, others as a weakness. Yet there’s something extremely compelling about being present at the creation of the larger Yoknapatawpha epic. I anticipate rereading the next novel in the cycle, The Sound and the Fury.
The Long Ships (1954) Frans G. Bengtsson, translated by Michael Meyer
If you like Viking stories, you must read this. If you don’t like Viking stories, this book will change your mind. From the moment the story’s hero, Red Orm, is snatched by Vikings from his home in Denmark, I was hooked. Adventure, battles, love, death, it’s all here, and it’s epic.
Housekeeping (1980) Marilynne Robinson
As much as I like the 1987 Bill Forsyth film based on this book, Robinson's novel explores the richness of the characters in ways that the movie simply can't (although the film is quite good in its own way). The first 30 or so pages seem to move at a glacial pace, but the events relayed there are crucial to the understanding of the story and its characters. I'll be eager to explore this novel again in two or three years. As much as I admire Robinson's Gilead, I enjoyed Housekeeping much more.
The Remains of the Day (1989) Kazuo Ishiguro
The best novel I read this year.
Caleb’s Crossing (2011) Geraldine Brooks
Thanks to my friend Terry N. for recommending this wonderful book and introducing me to Brooks. I rarely read historical novels, but this one pulled me in. More Brooks in 2024.
North & Central (2017) Bob Hartley
I read several good crime novels this year, but Bob Hartley’s story of a Chicago bartender who decides to pursue a life of crime is tremendous and should be better known.
When We Cease to Understand the World (2019) Benjamín Labatut, translated by Adrian Nathan West
A stunning book (yet one I do not recommend reading shortly after surgery). Gaining knowledge does not necessarily lead to gaining wisdom and discernment, and often those who have experienced mathematic and scientific breakthroughs are at the mercy of those who can reap the benefits of those breakthroughs, turning them into catalysts of horror on a global scale. When We Cease to Understand the World is a more fitting title that the literal translation of the German title, A Terrible Green in that there are larger concepts than the mathematic/scientific discoveries themselves. There's a price to be paid, sometimes on a grand scale, and the weight of that price can be as damaging (in a different way) as the consequences of how those discoveries are used. I was absolutely floored by this book. (The book apparently contains elements of both fiction and nonfiction. I am labeling it as fiction.)
Demon Copperhead (2022) Barbara Kingsolver
When librarians have only got one sentence in their readers’ advisory arsenal, it’s so easy to simply refer to this novel as David Copperfield in Appalachia, and while that’s a good hook, Kingsolver’s novel is so much more. It’s approachable, hilarious, sad, and a commentary on not just one part of the country, but ultimately all of it.
The Strange (2023) Nathan Ballingrud
I don’t read much science fiction these days, but man, I loved The Strange, a beautiful and brutal combination of Charles Portis’s True Grit and Ray Bradbury.
I also enjoyed:
Green for Danger (1944) Christianna Brand
The Drowning Pool (1950) Ross Macdonald
The Burglar (1953) David Goodis
The True Deceiver (1982) Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Lee (2013) Andrew Nette, Cameron Ashley, David Honeybone, eds.
Big Dark Hole and Other Stories (2021) Jeffrey Ford