The Bookworm's Best of 2023

"The Celebrants" by Steven Rowley.

Sometimes, reading is like a roulette wheel. You put your money down on a book that looks good, and you take your chances. If you're lucky, you get a good story. If you grab one of these books, you'll have a great story...


Almost everybody who had a college friends group harbors a soft spot in your heart for the people in it, and "The Celebrants" by Steve Rowley (Putnam, $28), it's been years since they've all been together. Once, back when they were practically just kids, they planned their maybe-someday funerals. And now one of them needs to do it, for real. This is a great stay-at-home-and-read book, bookmarks optional.

Imagine starting your life over and over every morning when you wake up. That's what Tommy does in "How to Be Remembered" by Michael Thompson (Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99) and it took him awhile to understand that that's the way things were going to be. So how can he keep the woman he loves, without scaring her every morning for the rest of their lives? Beware that this clever, clever book starts out rough – but stick around a few pages, and you'll be irretrievably hooked.

Although "Again and Again" by Jonathan Evison (Dutton, $28) might sound the same, it's not. This is the story of Eugene Miles, a curmudgeonly old man who lives in a home for seniors. Eugene is 105 years old – or is he? The man who cleans Eugene's room thinks he is, after he falls for Eugene's tale of love through 1,100 years. This book is a stunner, a great choice for your next book club round.

Fans of author James Lee Burke know that sometimes, he veers off from his usual Dave Robicheaux novels. "Flags on the Bayou" (Atlantic Monthly Press, $28) is one of those stories. Set during the Civil War, it's a book about a duel gone awry, a slave woman whose son was missing, a little bit of magic, and a violent man who held several lives in his evil, syphilitic, vengeful hands. Happy Fact: Burke has a new book due out in January, too.

Last in the Fiction list is "The Reformatory" by Tananarive Due (Gallery/Saga Press $28.99), a scary story of a Black boy who retaliates when a white boy tries to kiss his sister. This act sends the Black boy, Robert, to a reformatory, a place with a fearful reputation. But Robert isn't alone: not only does he make friends quickly, but a few ghosts accompany him. He spots a few more along the way – ghosts who aren't exactly friendly ones. This is one of those novels you want on a dark night when you're snowed in. Sure, read it by candlelight.


Winter is an excellent time to read "Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks – a Cool History of a Hot Commodity" by Amy Brady (Putnam, $29). Not only does this book share icy weather facts and information about the stuff you slip on, but it'll also send you poolside with ice in your summer drink. Science-minded readers will love it. Curious readers will, too.

So, what do you know about Black history? Don't answer. Read "Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America” by Michael Harriot (Dey Street, $32.50) first. This is an eye-opening book, one that'll make you wonder why you were never told this stuff, one that'll make you want to read more. Fortunately, that's not hard: this book is written in a fun way that'll have you laughing, too.

Here's a book that may take a while to read, and you really won't mind: "Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House" by Alex Prud'Homme (Knopf, $35). Beginning with George Washington, this book takes a peek at what (almost) every President liked to have on the dinner table, what he served at State Dinners, and the cooks and servers who made sure the meals were well-appointed and nutritious. There's drama in this tale, insider's gossip, personality peeks, and more. History lovers, of course, will want this book – but so will foodies and recipe collectors.

"Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It" by Emily Kenway (Seal Press, $30) isn't exactly a sit-down-and-enjoy book for your winter reading, but if you're one of the approximately 53 million adults who are caretakers, it may be the most important one. This book is about you, if you're a caretaker of a spouse, parent, or child who needs extra day-to-day assistance in their life. Kenway offers honest, useful help and advice, pointers, and words you need now, in a way that's warm and not at all clinical. Even if you're not a caretaker this week, it's a book to find and have around, just in case.

And last but not least in this Best of 2023 list is "What the Dead Know: Learning about Life as a New York City Death Investigator" by Barbara Butcher (Simon & Schuster, $28.99), a book about crime scenes and forensics. Butcher was an MLI (medicolegal investigator) at New York City's OCME (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner) and her stories start out with a heart-clutching near-disaster. This is a memoir of finding yourself, finding your place in life, and true-crime fans shouldn't wait to start it.

There you are. Ten books to start your new year off right.

Season's Readings!


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