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The best books of 2023

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By Simon Demetriou

The title of this piece is obviously a lie. I don’t know what the best books of 2023 are. But I do have some books that, when I look back over the list of titles I’ve worked my way through this past year, make me sorry that I need to read a new book every week because it means I never have time to re-read anything. So, here’s my list of books I wish I could re-read in 2024.

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

The book that sparked my love affair with Jen Beagin, Big Swiss tells the story of Greta, a sex-therapy transcriptionist who becomes obsessed with the voice of one of the therapist’s clients and leaves all sense of professional ethics behind in pursuing this obsession. Probably the funniest book I read all year, by an author whose sensitive and incisive wit I can’t wait to read more of.

Chain Gang All Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Chain Gang All Stars is an entertainment franchise in which convicted criminals sign up to fight other convicts to the death to the rapturous delight of fans. Adjei-Brenyah’s novel makes the reader complicit in horror as it makes him/her a believer in the triumph of love. In writing what is masterful and often bitingly funny, Adjei-Brenyah reminds us that we are all capable of callous dehumanisation, but also of tenderness and understanding.

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead

When Ray Carney, retired fence and devoted family man, promises his teenage daughter tickets to see The Jackson 5 at Madison Square Garden, he unwittingly sets himself up for a return to the crooked life he thought he’d left behind. In the even-better sequel to Harlem Shuffle, Whitehead presents a different era of New York corruption tied together by Carney and veteran criminal Pepper, Whitehead’s most spectacular creation and one of my favourite characters ever.

Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry

‘People endured horrors, and then they couldn’t talk about them. The real stories of the world were bedded in silence’, thinks Tom Kettle, the retired policeman whose interior monologue makes up the substance of Old God’s Time. Through Kettle, Sebastian Barry movingly explores the silences arising from trauma, from love, and from the collision of the two.

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

‘Guilty pleasure’ is really a very stupid phrase. Surely we should all just enjoy enjoying things because enjoying things is great? Anyway, if you happen to be someone who might have described romantic comedies as a guilty pleasure, or even someone who avowedly despises romantic comedies (I’ll never believe you’re not lying to look cool), then Romantic Comedy’s self-aware love story between a comedy writer and an out-of-her-league pop star is probably for you.

 

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