Note: This is the first of three blog posts that reviewing some of the superlative books of the past reading year. This week is about the long books I read, next week is about non-fiction, and in three weeks, I tell you my favorites. The great thing about books is that they can be read at any time. I can’t wait to hear which of these books end up on your reading lists.
This year I read a total of 52 books. My goal was 100. I was so far short of my goal. And it’s taken some time to discern why, but I’ve figured it out: I read more non-fiction and more long books. And both of these just take me longer than a good, old-fashioned story.
I read quite a few long books. Most trade books are somewhere between 250-350 pages. So, I define long as anything over about 450 pages. Definitely, over 500 pages. Three of my favorite books were also some of the longer I read, so without further ado:
Three Long Books I Read (and Loved) in 2023:
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The Postcard by Anne Berest
The Postcard is the story of a woman, the author Anne Berest, trying to determine the origin of a postcard that her mother received with just four names written on it, four family members who were victims of the Holocaust. The book documents Anne’s obsession with discovering the truth of the fate of the four family members listed on it.
This book, translated from the French, is an absorbing, heavy read. The first section is dedicated to the discovered story of the four family members and the remainder is spent trying to figure out how the postcard came to be. While the content is difficult, the reading was easy. By the end, I was glad to have picked it up. It gave me a new and personal perspective on the generational pain the Holocaust is still serving.
Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
I was recommended this book to break a reading slump–and it totally delivered. But I had no idea what it was when I picked it up. This is a fantasy story that is meant for adults (as in not YA–it is open door/spicy), but it is also exactly the kind of book I love: a girl who is fighting against the odds to survive in a place that doesn’t want her to survive. She makes friends and enemies along the way–and there are dragons.
This book felt a lot like the YA dystopian/fantasy novels that I really loved years ago (Divergent, The Hunger Games, and Eragon) and was super fun to read. I devoured all 528 pages in about 24 hours. And it broke my reading slump. But before you pick up, I declare a content warning for sensitive/conservative readers.
Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
As soon as I knew that Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone) was publishing a new book, I knew I needed to read it. With his beautiful prose, knowledge of medicine, and deep connection to Indian culture and life, The Covenant of Water is one of the best books I read in 2023.
The Covenant of Water follows three generations of Big Ammachi’s family as they grow and spread through a small village in the Kerala state of India. By itself, that would be an intriguing read for me. But in Big Ammachi’s family, one person, per generation, has died in the water. This is a long, beautiful, painful, absorbing novel.
“The grandmother is certain of a few things: A tale that leaves its imprint on the listener tells the truth about how the world lives, and so, unavoidably, it is about families, their victories and wounds, and their departed, including the ghosts who linger; it must offer instructions for living in God’s realm, where joy never spares one from sorrow.” (pg. 15/16)
What were your longest reads in 2023? Anything I should put on my list for 2024? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments!