A Year of Shared Experiences: 2023 in Books

Kristen Craft
6 min readJan 21, 2024

Note: For years now, I’ve enjoyed tracking the books I read and themes that I notice. Last year’s list (with links to other years) is located here.

My reading list this year varied by category, time-period, and focus area: some rollicking, plot-driven works of fiction like “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver, some observations on society like “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis, and a continued interest in themes around decision making and habit building like “Decisive” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath. My 2023 favorite was “Horse” by a Geraldine Brooks. I found myself recommending it to many others because of the captivating characters, unusual setting, and magnetic plot. Three trends that influenced my booklist this year included recommendations from friends, shared reads with my children, and a focus on the Modern Library of 100 Best Books.

Expanding My Focus via Tips from Friends

I always enjoy getting recs from family and friends, but I sought out suggestions more intentionally in 2023. I made a point of asking close friends, as well as looser acquaintances, what they’d enjoyed recently. My mother pointed me towards “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford, (which was incredible), prompting me to also read Ford’s book “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy”. Both explore the ideas of nationality, belonging, and home. A work friend/colleague suggested “Essentialism”, a non-fiction work that changed my approach to prioritization — at work and at home. One of my best friends suggested “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, which led me to also read “The Covenant of Water”.

Some other delightful works that came to me via friends include: “Four Thousand Weeks” (h/t Jeanette), “Girl Waits with Gun” (h/t Sarah), “This Tender Land” (h/t Courtney), “Flash Boys” (h/t Mike), “The Midcoast’ (h/t Hannah), “Run me to Earth” (h/t to my husband, Jared, and his Exeter classmate, Paul Yoon, who authored it), and “Secrets of the Sprakkar” (h/t Margot). This final work, by Iceland’s first lady, Eliza Reid, was particularly special, since I read it while hiking along Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail. I fell in love with the landscape, people, and culture of Iceland and enjoyed learning more about them, thanks to this book.

This process — of seeking book recommendations and immediately adding them to my library request list — led me to pick up some great books I might not have otherwise discovered. Moreover, it created the chance to bond with people I love over their recs and their viewpoints. I enjoyed the extra motivation to ping a friend, letting them know I’d finished the book they’d suggested and trading opinions about our shared experience.

The Joy of Reading Together

Given their parents’ reading habits, it’s no surprise that my kids devour books at a voracious speed. They are finally at the age where we can read more interesting books together. My daughter had already read the “Keeper of the Lost Cities” series, but she’s been re-reading them with me, and I’ve loved the opportunity to discuss the plot and style with her. Meanwhile, my son and I enjoyed “The Lions of Little Rock”, which created opportunities to discuss topics like race and discrimination together in context.

A particular highlight of the year was reading “Under the Egg” with them and with a beloved friend, visiting from DC. My husband was traveling that week, so we all read the book together over the course of my friend’s visit — during bedtime, over breakfast, even while driving in the car. Again, a lovely opportunity for a shared experience, as we found ourselves discussing the plot and anticipating outcomes. If you have recs for me, I’d love to hear them!

My Decades-Long Challenge

For years now, I’ve been trying to complete the Modern Library’s list of “The 100 Best Novels”. I was inspired by the recommendation of a high school English teacher, who died unexpectedly just a few months later; this goal is, in part, an homage to him. I’ve completed roughly 90% of the list but have been stalled out on the remainder for a few reasons:

  • Difficult authors: Some of the remaining books are by authors I’ve read before and don’t prefer like James Joyce and Joseph Conrad. I’m proud to have finished “Ulysses” at long last, as well as “The Secret Agent” and “Lord Jim” by these authors, respectively. I found the books more accessible by simultaneously using a reader’s guide to help me understand the references and themes. This pairing almost mimicked being in a college course, in that I felt like I had an expert in my corner to help me interpret and enjoy the material.
  • Arduous narratives: I finished “A House for Mr Biswas” this year, which — like “Under the Volcano” from last year — has a slow, meandering plot. Being accustomed to the more snappy style of fiction writing that’s popular now, I find overly descriptive books like “Biswas” more cumbersome. My strategy of late has been to listen to these books in audio format, often while cross-country skiing. The experience becomes almost meditative, and I find it easier to settle into the slower pace.
  • Multi-part tomes: some of the remaining “books” on the list aren’t merely books, but series. Which is pretty unfair, in my opinion! For example, I’m one book into “The Alexandria Quartet” but have felt daunted by the remaining three books. “A Dance to the Music of Time”, meanwhile, is a 12-book series that I haven’t even begun to attempt for obvious reasons.

To More Shared Experiences

I’ve loved leaning in on the book suggestions of people I love and trust, and I’m excited to do more of this in 2024. Even my Modern Library List goal represents a sort of shared experience: its completion will strengthen the connection between my life and the life of my teacher that ended far too early. I’m excited to continue connecting with those I care about via book suggestions, time reading together in front of the fireplace, and shared goals. If you have tips for me or any reading goals of your own, I’d love to learn about them!

My 2023 Reading List

  1. The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
  2. A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
  3. Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker
  4. The Midcoast by Adam White
  5. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
  6. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  7. Decisive by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  8. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  9. Calypso by David Sedaris
  10. Matrix by Lauren Groff
  11. Spare by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex
  12. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  13. Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
  14. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
  15. Horse by Geraldine Brooks
  16. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
  17. The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman
  18. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  19. Ulysses by James Joyce
  20. Bewilderment by Richard Powers
  21. A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
  22. Justine by Lawrence Durrell
  23. Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon
  24. The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen
  25. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
  26. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
  27. The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
  28. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
  29. Book Lovers by Emily Henry
  30. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  31. Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
  32. Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes
  33. The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
  34. The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
  35. Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid
  36. I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
  37. The Maid by Nita Prose
  38. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  39. Happier Hour by Cassie Holmes
  40. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
  41. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
  42. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
  43. Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
  44. The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman
  45. Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg
  46. Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
  47. Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  48. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
  49. Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
  50. The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  51. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  52. The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
  53. Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson
  54. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
  55. The Fraud by Zadie Smith

Books I Read with the Kids

  1. Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
  2. Exile by Shannon Messenger
  3. Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
  4. The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
  5. Everblaze by Shannon Messenger
  6. Neverseen by Shannon Messenger
  7. The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
  8. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge
  9. Starfish by Lisa Fipps
  10. The 500 Million Dollar Heist by Tom Sullivan
  11. Stella by McCall Hoyle
  12. Lodestar by Shannon Messenger



Kristen Craft

Early-stage startup advisor at Silicon Valley Bank, parent, reader, Bostonian