For a writer and creative individual, reading is just as important as the act of writing.
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King says, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
I first read King’s words back in early 2018 when I set a goal to read 30 books in a year, which would have been more books than I read in the combined 10 years prior. From that point, I knew I was on the right path to becoming a better writer and overall person.
Since then, I’ve read over 150 books in a variety of genres - science fiction, fantasy, self-help, finance, creative writing, business, psychology, horror, health, and more.
In this post, I reflect on the books I’ve experienced in 2023 to share insights and takeaways that you might want to add to your TBR (To Be Read) list.
My Biggest Reading “Win” in 2023
Although I was victorious in achieving my goal of reading 30 books this year already, the biggest “win” in 2023 was Mrs. InkJournal getting back into reading again. She got me beat three times over with the number of books read. And, she convinced me to get a Kindle later in the year.
True, reading is highly rewarding in itself. It’s like having an intimate conversation with the author inside your head. Reading becomes even more fun when you have a buddy or a community that appreciates it as well.
Although my wife is more into the horror/thriller genre, we read several of the same books this year. “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch, “The Last House on Needless Street,” by Catroina Ward, “How to Sell a Haunted House” by Grady Hendrix, and “Pet Semetary” by Stephen King. It’s fun to compare notes, discuss how we imagined certain characters and situations, and share our opinions about how the story developed.
Even if you don’t have a partner or friend who’s into reading, the recent explosion of #booktok on Tiktok makes it easier than ever to connect with a community of readers who can make recommendations and get you excited to fill your reading list.
There are content creators who read all different types of genres. I recommend finding someone who you “vibe” with and shares similar literary likes & dislikes. Follow them and check out their recommendations for new books to discover.
How did I read my books?
As I mentioned above, my wife convinced me to buy a Kindle as an early birthday gift when it was on sale. I’ve read only one book on it so far (“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin), but I can say that this is an excellent way to read, especially late at night when I don’t want to have a light on or read on my phone.
Still, a majority of my books are “read” on audio, mostly by borrowing audiobooks using the library’s “Libby” app. It’s incredibly easy for me to listen to a book while washing dishes, driving to work, doing yard work, taking a walk, etc. I prefer to listen to fiction on audio. Books like “Building a Second Brain” by Tiago Forte, or “Atomic Habits” by James Clear are digested easier as physical books so I can stop and take notes using my phone or write them down in my commonplace notebook.
Here’s the tally of books read by format:
- 23 audiobooks
- 11 physical books
- 1 Kindle eBook
Books I Did Not Finish (DNF)
Over the years, I’ve explored many books in the “creativity” genre. I shared my favorites in the 5 Books to Improve Your Writing post. “The Creative Act” by Rick Rubin is not one of them. Rick Rubin is one of the most famous music producers of the modern era. I was expecting this book to have plenty of anecdotes of his long career, sharing stories about temperamental, drugged-out musicians trying to have their breakthrough creative moment. Instead, this book has disjointed chapters that talk about creativity in the abstract.
One would think that the book would be an easy read with short chapters that sometimes lasted about 1-2 pages. However, the short chapters disrupted any flow. I suspect a better way to read this book is to consume a chapter a day, similar to another book I read called “The Daily Laws” by Robert Greene, which I finished a year after starting it.
I borrowed “The Creative Act” from the library and had to give it back after 2 weeks because someone else had it on hold. I did not feel the need to finish it and it remained a DNF.
Several years ago, I did not finish the Hugo-winner “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie, mostly because the narration on the audiobook was so dry and robot-like (If you know what the book is about, one might think that it was probably intentional). This year, I gave it a try again and was able to finish it. It didn’t get any better in the years since I last tried to read it. I guess I had more patience for it this time around.
The Author I Read Most in 2023
2023 was the year I tumbled down the Brandon Sanderson rabbit hole. I read the original Mistborn Trilogy as well as the first three books of the Stormlight Archive (plus book 2.5 “Edgedancer”). These books, especially the Stormlight books, are mighty thick tomes. I’ve listened to all of them on borrowed audiobooks, racking up hundreds of hours (each Stormlight book is at least 40 hours).
While I had some grievances about the way Mistborn was written, I was willing to forgive because the magic system was inventive, the action sequences were exciting and dramatic, and the story was compelling to see through to the end.
Stormlight is, by far, the better read. However, it’s very, very long, and not finished (he’s working on book #5 at the moment). So, if you want to get started in the Cosmere, I’d have to agree with many fans in recommending Mistborn. Although, I haven’t read the stand-alone story “Tress and the Emerald Sea” yet, which I hear is quite good. I might change my mind when I read that one.
Book that was Most Fun to Read
Can a book about a possessed hand puppet be scary and funny at the same time? Grady Hendrix puts you through an intense emotional gauntlet with “How to Sell a Haunted House.” It’s sad because two bitterly estranged siblings fight over the possession of their newly deceased parents’ home - the one they grew up in. The kids confront their long-standing grudges against each other and face generational trauma that takes the form of their mother’s diabolical puppets. The creepy puppets and character dialog is literally laugh-out-loud funny at times.
Book that just dragged on
Although “Opening Up By Writing It Down” by James W. Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth was not a DNF, it took nearly 3 months to read this 200-page book. Reading that book was like eating a pound of raw spinach. I convinced myself that it was going to be “good” for me to finish it.
The subject matter cuts to the core of what I’ve always felt about writing - it’s a tool that can help your mind and body. The book's authors discuss the findings and conclusions of their years of studies of expressive writing. As you can imagine, it reads more like a science paper, which is to say it was rather dry.
Books I re-read again this year
Sometimes, I find myself reaching for a book I’ve already finished. A title that’s so good or that might offer me more perspective since I’ve last read it. This year, I re-read “Atomic Habits,” and “Fahrenheit 451.”
“Atomic Habits” has been foundational in establishing my systems for task management and advancing my goals. It has so many good, practical teachings that you can implement immediately.
With the culture wars and book bannings going on in 2023, I wanted to revisit the dystopian view of the future where firemen torch any book they can find. It didn’t go well for them and I don’t think it will for us if we go down that path.
Which Book(s) Would I Read Again?
I read a lot of impactful books that are strong contenders for a re-read in the future. “The Courage to Be Disliked” struck such a deep chord within me that I immediately started re-reading it again. All problems are interpersonal relationship problems is my present mantra.
“The Alchemist” has such a timeless, storybook-type quality about it. I could see myself reading it again just to absorb some of the magic that seems to exist between the lines.
Although I liked “48 Laws of Power” more, I think Robert Greene’s “Mastery” is an inspiring book that pushes you to double down on achieving your life’s calling.
Dr. Peter Attia’s “Outlive” is chock-full of health information that’s worth taking detailed notes for further exploration. If only more doctors saw the need to approach medicine in a preventative perspective.
I could even see myself, perhaps a decade from now, wanting to spend another several hundred hours re-reading the entire Stormlight Archive once the last book is slated for release.
What’s on the TBR (To Be Read) for 2024?
- “Song of Significance” by Seth Godin
- “Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be” by Dr. Becky Kennedy
- “Discipline is Destiny” by Ryan Holiday
- “Hidden Potential” by Adam Grant
- “Babel” by R.F. Kuang
- “Rhythm of War” by Brandon Sanderson
- “This is How You Lose the Time War” Amal El Mohtar
- “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries & Jack Trout
- “Die Broke” by Pollan / Levine
Best Audiobooks I read in 2023
- “Pet Semetary” read by Michael C. Hall. Dexter did an amazing job with narrating this Stephen King classic.
- “The Alchemist” read by Jeremy Irons. His voice is hypnotic, soothing, and mystical.
- “Words of Radiance” read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. They do an excellent job of conveying the multitudes of characters. So far, “Words” is my favorite of the Stormlight books.
- “How to Sell a Haunted House” is read by Jay Aaseng and Mikhaila Aaseng. This book was so fun to listen to and the narrators made it more memorable by giving the puppets unforgettable personality.