January 5, 2024

Top Books of 2023

When I have free time, my preferred activity is sitting reading books. My primary genre is nonfiction, often business or tech, culture/sociology, psychology, spirituality, science, an occasional memoir and quite a few graphic novels – usually the ones recommended by my 9yo: “mama you HAVE to read this.”

I usually read 3-5 books at a time, and while I enjoy the idea of reading about a single topic, in reality I’m usually consuming wildly different subjects at the same time.

Of those wildly different 65+ books I’ve read over the past year, I’ve selected the top 5 that immediately come to mind as being the most impactful. These books made me think (then and now), highlights were made/notes were taken, and all are worth re-reading immediately. Click the title to jump down to a specific book.

Top books of 2023

Bonus Kid’s Books

Honorable Mention

Four Thousand Weeks

Oliver Burkeman, 2023

I read a lot of productivity books, and this is unlike any of them. It’s actually a mindfulness book disguised as a book about productivity; it will completely shift how you think about every time management tip you’ve ever read. If you’re an entrepreneur constantly running on the hamster wheel of someday work-life balance, you need to drop everything and read this.

“So long as you continue to respond to impossible demands on your time by trying to persuade yourself that you might one day find some way to do the impossible, you’re implicitly collaborating with those demands. Whereas once you deeply grasp that they are impossible, you’ll be newly empowered to resist them, and to focus instead on building the most meaningful life you can, in whatever situation you’re in.” p.34

On Our Best Behavior

Elise Loehnen, 2023

Just wow to this entire book. While it’s very much directed at women, it’s not only for women by any stretch. There’s so much unpacking of insidious deep truth in these pages, and I’ve recommended this book many, many times. The chapter on sloth, in particular, was mind-blowing (and an excellent complement to the above discourse on our obsession with work).

“And you should do more, we’re told, because through the grace of work, you’ll climb a mountain built from your talent and then be able to look back and survey the summation of your life, your worth. This ascent rests on several myths. One is the myth of meritocracy, of the power of the individual, of personal responsibility where application of effort is the most consequential metric. The other myth, of course, is that this climb is the most important part of the journey, the best use of our time. So many of us recognize that we toil in silly and fruitless ways—that in “making it” we make nothing at all. For in determining the value of our minutes, capitalism also determines our values.”

Difficult Conversations

Douglas Stone/Bruce Patton/Sheila Heen, 2010

This book covers best practices for communication during stressful moments. It was a very early read of 2023, so I can’t remember much more to outline here except that I’m still thinking about it. Difficult conversations are a necessity in business, but this book is applicable to anyone, anywhere (unless you’re a hermit who lives in a cave or something).

This currently has the record for my most highlighted book in Readwise, with 255 highlights (fortunately I read this one on Kindle). Every time a quote pops up during my Readwise review, it’s worth seeing again.

My most recommended book of all time is on the same topic: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It’s a very different book, but if you’d like to read more in this vein, I highly recommend picking up a copy. It’s hard to imagine anything more life-changing than learning how to communicate more effectively.

“You may learn that what you really seek is understanding and acknowledgment. What you want the other person to say isn’t “It was my fault,” but rather “I understand that I hurt you and I’m sorry.” The first statement is about judgment, the second about understanding.”

Preparing for War

Bradley Onishi, 2023

This book was written by the cohost of the Straight White American Jesus podcast, a PhD in a Religion/Philosophy and former youth pastor. It’s the most clear, to the point summary I have read to date: article, book or otherwise, that answers the question: “why are American Christians overwhelmingly White Christian nationalists who support an authoritarian and the attempted overthrow of our democracy?

Goldwater prefigures Reagan who prefigures Trump. He discusses the Civil Rights Movement and Christian schools as a guise for segregation. The intentional marriage of right-wing politics and marketing to the evangelical vote. He draws a clear throughline from White Christian nationalism to “family values” and Dobson/Focus on the Family to purity culture to Trump.

This is the best place to find deep insight without having to read a ton of other books. It’s accessible, and he includes personal stories to emphasize what these beliefs look like from the inside. As someone who spent a decent chunk of my life in these spaces, 110% of his experiences ring true.

”God, nation, freedom: the holy trinity in the Christian nationalist theological pantheon. What’s critical to notice in Goldwater’s approach is that the politics come first. The foundations of the belief system are not Christian love or neighborliness but individualism, capitalism, and Whiteness. The political shapes the theological to its needs, forming a Christianity in line with nationalist and racist priorities. Religion is the vehicle. Politics is the engine.”

Psychology of Money

Morgan Housel, 2020

This feels like taking Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow, Ray Dalio’s Principles and some Seth Godin, then mashing them into a single book about financial decision making. A great book to read a chapter or two out of often. It feels like a series of blog posts that became a book, but in the best possible way.

Chapters are short but packed with concise, well-written statements that distill important concepts into something you can immediately grasp. I don’t love reading about finance, but I do love psychology, and the marriage of these two angles is done incredibly well.

Don’t read this book for specific investment advice. Do read it to absorb core principles that will help you make better decisions about your finances (and an excellent postscript on US history and how we ended up here).

“Use money to gain control over your time, because not having control of your time is such a powerful and universal drag on happiness. The ability to do what you want, when you want, with who you want, for as long as you want to, pays the highest dividend that exists in finance.”

Bonus Kid’s Books

Lightfall 1: The Girl and the Galdurian
Lightfall 2: Shadow of the Bird

Tim Probert, 2020/2022

This series follows an anxious human girl (and her cat!) as she attempts to find her grandfather (a wizard pig with dementia), with the help of a happy-go-lucky warrior from an extinct race (a sword-wielding… axolotl-fish with legs?), while also trying to save the world from a gigantic light-hating evil bird (or is it?). There you go. It’s great.

Lightfall is probably my favorite graphic novel series of all time (depending on what happens in book 3, coming April 2024). I love the characters, the way that emotion is communicated visually, and the fact that the entire story arc is complex and things are not as they seem. These books live in our permanent collection and book 3 is on preorder.


Pari Thomson, 2023

A fantastical, unputdownable book that never stops, with all sorts of twists, great characters, and a wonderful botany-focused world of magic. The world is modern day, in a state of greed, fear, and climate change that mirrors our own, which makes it feel timely and somehow more believable. It ends on a hopeful note, but still realistic (the danger isn’t over). There’s a clear lead-in to the next book, which I immediately preordered, and the themes would make for excellent discussion questions/book club material.

Nature loving kids who enjoy suspense fantasy will love this one. There are a few illustrations, but it’s definitely a more advanced chapter book that’s probably best suited for 10 and up.

Honorable Mention

Good Inside

Dr. Becky Kennedy, 2022

This is an honorable mention mostly because I haven’t finished it yet. The problem with getting books from the library, buying them, and reading them all at the same time is that sometimes I can’t get through them all before the next library book arrives. I’ve had to put Good Inside on hold twice, because it was an incredibly busy season when I tried to read it. And truth be told, I don’t actually like reading parenting books, so I’ll often choose one of the other 5 books I’m working through instead.

All that aside, I made it halfway through and was so convinced of its excellence that I ended up buying it. Highly recommended if you also despise the idea of teaching children internalized shame through the mentality of original sin/humans being born bad/evil by default. She doesn’t discuss religion (I’m just hyper sensitive to seeing these parallels), but you don’t have to be religious to have absorbed this unconscious idea; I’m writing this in America, after all. See book #2 above. The idea of “badness” has often seeped into our parenting, and doing things differently requires a conscious uncoupling from these ideas and a shift in how (and what) we communicate to our children.

Go buy yourself a book!

That’s it. I’ve done it; managed to keep this list under 10 books. Pick the one the speaks to you most, set aside 15 minutes every night, and you too can read real books, on real paper, in 2024. Let’s do this.

Side note: I’m right back into the next 60+ books per year goal. Join me on hardcover.app if you’d like to follow along.


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