Diving into the literary treasures I read in 2023, my journey can be summed up with pride. I covered significant ground in my free time reading, finishing 68 books, which spanned more than my typical favorite genres of sports, outdoor adventure, and memoirs.
While I usually stick with my favorite genres, I owe a massive shout-out to my book club, friends, and family for steering me toward some exceptional reads I might have overlooked. Let’s just say my booklist has never looked so vibrant!
This year, I’ve once again been pleasantly surprised by those hidden gems that stealthily climbed their way to the top of my favorites list. These unexpected gifts are the ones I can’t wait to rave about and share with my fellow book enthusiasts. So buckle up as I take you through the exhilarating ride of my top books and a few that didn’t quite make the cut in 2023.
Top Three Books of 2023
1. The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America by Monica Potts
Published in the Spring of 2023, this book appeared for me at my local bookstore, Pearl’s Books. From the moment I laid eyes on it, I knew this was more than just a book; it was a journey that beckoned me to my home in Arkansas.
Monica Potts is a wordsmith with the finesse of a seasoned journalist. Her story takes readers on a dual narrative that seamlessly intertwines her story with that of Darci, her best childhood friend, thrusting the raw authenticity of their experiences into the spotlight. As Potts dives into the investigation of poverty in America, her narrative becomes a visual testimony of life in rural Arkansas, where hardships carve deep valleys and reliance blooms in unexpected places.
What sets this memoir apart is its relatability. We all remember the unbreakable bonds shared with our best childhood friends. Potts captures the essence of growing up in the same town and school and sharing similar upbringings with Darci, only to witness life’s unexpected twists and turns, leading both to take different paths. Despite these divergent roads, the conflict she grapples with in standing by Darci’s side adds a poignant layer to the story.
But it doesn’t stop there. Potts masterfully weaves the investigation of poverty into the fabric of the storyline. Through her lens, we gain insight into an environment and culture often overlooked, providing context that broadens our understanding of the challenges faced by rural Southern communities.
Yet, the true magic lies in the depth of humanity Potts injects into every page. Despite the physical and emotional distance, her unwavering commitment to Darci and the enduring connection with family and hometown imbues the narrative with a profound sense of heart. These touching relationships serve as a bridge, letting readers forge a deeper connection with the story, transforming it into a shared experience. This book isn’t just a read; it’s a journey into the complexities of rural Southern life. If you crave a narrative that digs deep into the challenges faced by these communities, look no further. While Potts may not solve the problems she presents, her work is a poignant reflection on life in rural America—a testament to the resilience, struggles and unwavering spirit that defines these communities.
2. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
At 13, Yeonmi Park was starving in North Korea, and her family’s situation was hopeless. Living near the border of China, Park wondered if she could continue living if she escaped to China. But, without any accurate news or knowledge about moving across the border, little social awareness and survival skills, and no resources, Park’s sister escaped, followed by Park.
What follows next is Park’s discovery that life in China is dangerous, evil is out to prey on her, and the Chinese government is out to send her back. The story is indescribable and frightening. But Park’s bravery to tell her story at a detailed level she had never shared before, and few have, shines above all.
This is a very important book for everyone to read. This is an exceptional educational piece to learn the struggles Kim Jong-il’s rule imposed on the North Korean citizens, especially those not in a higher class as deemed by the government officials.
Park was 21 when she wrote this book, and with youth on her side, she captures her story with a rare honesty that comes with fresh wounds. The events are so unthinkable they will keep you reading to see how her circumstances will unfold.
3. Can’t Hurt Me; Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins
Buckle up, folks, because I’ve got a confession—I never expected to love a book like this! You know those David Goggins devotees who transform their lives after reading his books? Yeah, I’ve had my fair share of eye-rolling conversations with them, but I decided to take the plunge and see what all the hype was about, especially since it aligned with my 2024 goal of climbing Kilimanjaro.
Hold onto your hats because “Can’t Hurt Me” was a game-changer I didn’t see coming. It’s not just a book; it’s a kick in the pants, a burst of motivation that had me reevaluating my fitness goals and dreaming bigger than ever. Climbing a massive mountain? That’s not the end game; it’s the launchpad for a life of relentless motivation and pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve.
David Goggins, the man himself, takes us on a wild ride through his awe-inspiring journey. Picture this: a guy with a less-than-ideal upbringing, cruising through life like it’s a joyless existence, getting heavier and unhealthier every single day. And then, Bam! A transformation unfolds that’s nothing short of a miracle. Whether you’re at the peak of fitness or chilling on the couch with a bag of chips, Goggins’ stories are bound to ignite a fire within you.
Now, I’m not one to easily fall for self-help spiel, but Goggins’ firsthand experience and motivational prowess worked some serious magic on even this skeptical reader. “Can’t Hurt Me” isn’t just about physical transformation; it’s a rallying cry for anyone itching to break free from mediocrity, inspiring even the most self-help-resistant souls (yours truly included).
If you’re on the fence about diving into this read, let me be the one to nudge you over. Get ready to be slapped with a dose of motivation (sprinkled with Goggins’ flavorful lingo), challenge your limits, and discover a newfound zest for crushing your goals. David Goggins might turn you into the unstoppable force you never knew you could be.
Five-Star Books of 2023
(Starting with the most recently read)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Edison’s Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History’s Greatest Geniuses by Katie Spalding
- No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
- Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
- High Altitude Leadership: What the World’s Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success by Chris Warner
- The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds by Jeff Belanger
- The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr
- Spare by Prince Harry
The Not-So-Good of 2023
- The Women in Me by Britney Spears
- Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortensen, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakuer
- The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
There were several books I ranked 4-star that are exceptional, too. See my Goodreads profile here if you would like to see the other books I read this year with fantastic ratings.
There are also several first-time and independent authors I had the privilege to help develop, edit and proofread their manuscripts. I’m so proud to have a day job reading and helping others achieve their dreams of publishing their thoughts and words to the world. Thank you to each of you, and I look forward to working with more authors in 2024.