Following my annual tradition, this is a round up of some of the best books I read in 2023. For previous roundups, see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022). For a full list of books I read in 2024, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Grid of nine book covers. From top left, The World We Make, by N.K. Jemisin, written in white capital letters on a grey photo background of an apartment building with the stairs going diagonally up the book cover; The Braid, by Laetitia Colombani, written in white letters on a light blue background with orange leaves decorating each corner and an orange flower in the middle along the lower edge; Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki written in a light white font on a dark blue background of space with a red spaceship or rocket launching above the title font, leaving a light blue trail in its wake; City of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak, a dark purple cover with islamic art inspired design, a young girl wearing a headscarf holding her arm up in the air as the main design and islamic-inspired mosques and buildings to the left and right of her; Jawbone by Monica Ojeda, written in spiky chalk-like writing with two mismatching half faces of girls; The Bruising of Qilwa, by Naseem Jamnia, written in cream coloured font with red curls on the top right corner and a hand above the title; Mother Brain, by Chelsea Conaboy, on a dark blue background with a silhouette of a human head from the side; Abolish the Family by Sophie Lewis, on a dark red cover; We, The Heartbroken, by Gargi Bhattacharyya, on a dark blue cover with a minimalist five yellow curved ferns or plants.

This was the year I finally got into audiobooks. This was in large part due to spending the majority of my year with a breastfeeding baby (estimated at 1800 hours of feeding per year – just 160 hours less than working a full time 40 hour week for the year!) – combined with renewed use of the Berlin library system. 10 euros a year, and so many audiobooks and ebooks to borrow, in English and German alike. Here’s a great walkthrough/intro for English speakers.

Even with the audiobooks though, I read fewer books than in previous years, but this is also probably because I wrote a book myself, Machine Readable Me: The Hidden Ways Tech Shapes Our Identities. (Which I feel somewhat obliged to say is available for purchase now – in all good bookshops in the UK, or at your local English language bookshop if you’re in the EU, or as a DRM-free ebook here). Writing it was such a joy, and meant that I revisited many books that I’ve read in previous years during the writing process. I was able to draw on books and passages from many past years too, thanks to a little custom-built citation app I “received” for my birthday a few years ago which let me take photos of relevant passages and tag them according to theme. (#nerdgifts, haha)

This led to a definite downside of listening to audiobooks, though – it makes noting down citations far harder. So often when I’m reading a paper book, a certain paragraph or sentence will stay with me for months or even years later – I can see in my mind’s eye exactly where a particular paragraph was on a page and how it made me feel. I missed that with audiobooks – it all whooshed by at the same pace, revisiting sections didn’t happen, and my visual senses were missing out. The upside though, was being able to hear an author’s own take on how a book should sound, and I really enjoyed those books read by authors themselves.

This year I read 27 books, and started but didn’t finish 2 books. The first of these unfinished books was Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, by Francis Fukuyama, and it was the sentence “Frontex is understaffed [and] underfunded” which made me realise: perhaps this isn’t the best use of my time. The second, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, was Zadie Smith’s latest book, The Fraud. I love Zadie Smith’s writing, so I’m pretty sure this is a ‘me not the book’ kind of situation, but I will say, it was very different to her past books and I felt far less invested in her characters than I usually do. I gave it a good go (read 400 pages) but ultimately just… couldn’t. Maybe another time, Zadie.

Other than those two, a lot of books this year took me by surprise by how much I loved them unexpectedly! (What a great situation to be in.) I didn’t have much time to ‘find’ books so just picked up what I had around the house thanks to subscriptions, books lent to me by friends, or whatever was immediately available at the library. I did events with a few authors this year which also influenced my reading – Laurie Halse Anderson, Bora Chung, Monica Ojeda, and Rebecca Giblin. I love getting to read a book then talk to the author!

One very intentional book I picked up, though, was Minor Detail, by Adania Shibli (translated by Elisabeth Jaquette.) I’ve been meaning to read it for a couple of years and the end of 2023 felt like a particularly important time to pick up a book by a Palestinian author. It was both un-putdownable and gut-wrenching. If you’re wondering where to start in educating yourself about the horrors and injustice that Palestinians have faced for decades, this might be a good place to start.


Of the 27 books I read, 24 were by women or non-binary authors. At my best guess, 16 were by authors of colour (errors my own), and 4 were in translation. Entirely by accident, I read almost exactly the same number of non-fiction and fiction, Storygraph tells me – this was most likely due to reading books related to my own book topic during the writing process.


Best joyful fictionLight from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki. This queer science fiction novel about a violin teacher’s deal with the devil, and resulting search for violin prodigies to satisfy said deal, was a one-of-a-kind story combining family love, starships, refugee solidarity and magic – what a combination. This one really took me by surprise but I loved it. I would really recommend this for people who might not otherwise pick up science fiction – it’s light on the world-building but heavy on all the themes that matter – love, identity, solidarity, and most of all, hope. (Runner up for hopeful fiction: The Braid, by Laetitia Colombani, translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, which was also just a really wonderful cross-cultural novel about a braid and how it joined three women living in very different circumstanecs, together.)

Best young adult fictionCity of Stolen Magic, by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak. This book, lent to me by a dear friend, had all the ingredients for me to love: a strong but flawed young heroine, resistance against British colonial powers in India, plus a healthy dose of magic, and I’m happy to say it delivered. Really recommend if you’re in a reading rut or just want to let a great magical tale wash over you – there’s nothing too heavy here, but the underlying message of solidarity against colonisers hits the spot. I’ve already gifted it twice.

Best dark fictionJawbone, by Mónica Ojeda, translated by Sarah Booker. I had to read this as I interviewed the author at the International Literature Festival in Berlin in September, and I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise, but I’m glad I did! It was dark and weird and explored the murky ground between fear and desire in such a unique and bizarre way. It’s not an easy read, but it was very captivating.

Special mentions:

  • The Bruising of Qilwa, by Naseem Jamnia. A queer fantasy novel in a Persian-inspired world. If you like Nnedi Okorafor’s writing, or the Daevabad trilogy, you’ll enjoy this.
  • The World We Make, Great Cities #2, by N.K. Jemisin. The second in Jemisin’s Great Cities duology – I actually enjoyed this second one far more than the first, for some reason. I don’t think you have to read the first to enjoy this second one, in which the human avatars representing the soul/identity of different boroughs of New York have to battle it out against their Enemy.
  • Daughters of Nri, The Return of the Earth Mother #1, by Reni K. Amayo. Somewhat abrupt at times in terms of plot twists and turns, but still a good, solid young adult fantasy read.

Best non-fiction that changed the way I thinkAbolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, by Sophie Lewis. Wow. I keep thinking again and again about things I read here, and I actually want to buy it for lots of people. It’s a short read, dense in the sense that I read certain passages over and over – but mostly to make sure the idea was firmly lodged in my brain, rather than in order to understand it. The author does a fantastic job of rebutting what she’s clearly heard over and over as the common arguments or protests against the idea of ‘abolishing the family’, but her core message is clear and makes a lot of sense to me.

Best non-fiction that totally astounded meMother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood, by Chelsea Conaboy. Did you know that new parents (birthing parents, but also anyone very involved in childcare) undergo structural and functional brain changes, similar in scale to the shift that happens to our brains during adolescence? I did not, but I feel extremely validated in finding this out. Similar to how research into breastfeeding is historically underfunded, research into how pregnancy and infant care changes our brains and bodies is only just yielding significant findings, many of which Conaboy describes in detail here. If you’ve had children, it might explain a lot about how you felt – if you haven’t, this book will help you better understand your peers, and besides all that, it’s just a fascinating read.

Best non-fiction that introduced me to a new idea: We, the Heartbroken, by Gargi Bhattacharyya. This landed on my doorstep thanks to my ongoing subscription to the fantastic Hajar Press – an independent publishing house based in the UK, run by people of colour, producing wonderfully moving, thoughtful non-fiction and fiction. The core idea behind We, The Heartbroken, is that ‘heartbreak is the class consciousness of our time’ – and that solidarity driven by heartbreak could be the thing that brings us all together. I noted down many quotes from this, and will be thinking about it for a while. Ending 2023 with this book felt incredibly apt and – though the book was about grief – somewhat hopeful, too.

Full list

Here’s the full list of books I read. Asterisks mark the books I’d particularly recommend.

  1. Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, by Aviva Chomsky*
  2. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas* (Fellow people working in non-profits or philanthropy-funded work, this feels like a must-read just to go into the work we do with eyes wide open about what it is we’re really doing.)
  3. How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do–And What It Says about You, by Katherine D. Kinzler
  4. Perhaps the Stars, Terra Ignota #4, by Ada Palmer (The fourth in Ada Palmers Terra Ignota series – I thoroughly enjoyed the first couple but found this one really hard to get into.)
  5. Daughters of Nri The Return of the Earth Mother #1, by Reni K. Amayo*
  6. The Story Hour, by Thrity Umrigar*
  7. Foxhunt, by Rem Wigmore
  8. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, by Amitav Ghosh
  9. The Braid, by Laetitia Colombani*
  10. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Maté*
  11. Whatever Next?: On Adult Adoptee Identities, by Josephine Jay, Hannah Feben-Smith, Adaline Bara
  12. Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki*
  13. Jawbone, by Mónica Ojeda*
  14. Cursed Bunny, by Bora Chung*
  15. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson*
  16. Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson
  17. Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood, by Chelsea Conaboy*
  18. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell* (Extremely late to this bandwagon, but wow this was good!)
  19. Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back, by Cory Doctorow, Rebecca Giblin
  20. City of Stolen Magic, by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak*
  21. The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, by Philippa Perry* (One of the better parenting books I’ve read.)
  22. Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, by Sophie Lewis*
  23. The Bruising of Qilwa, by Naseem Jamnia*
  24. How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu
  25. Minor Detail, by Adania Shibli*
  26. The World We Make, by N.K. Jemisin*
  27. We, the Heartbroken, by Gargi Bhattacharyya*

PS. I didn’t include it but I guess you could say I read my own book – anyway, if you’re also someone who has read it and enjoyed it, I’d really appreciate an online review somewhere! Goodreads, Storygraph, or just a social media shout out. Thank you!