Best books of 2023, chosen by St. Louis librarians
With the end of 2023 approaching and cold weather keeping us indoors, what better time to dig into some of the best books of the year?
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we’ll talk top titles with the people who select books for libraries in St. Louis and St. Louis County: Jennifer Alexander, collection development librarian at St. Louis County Library, and Ted Reidy, materials selector at St. Louis Public Library.
Their favorite reads are listed below, including brief notes from each of them.
“Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett
"A woman tells her three adult daughters the story of a young romance as they work to complete the harvest on their family cherry farm in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic."
“Lone Women” by Victor LaValle
"Called a horror-western hybrid, this is the tale of Adelaide Henry, who at 31 years old, flees California for Montana where the government allows unmarried Black women to claim a homestead. She carries with her a family secret and a large steamer trunk."
“The Fraud” by Zadie Smith
"Questions of truth and fiction — and who gets to tell your story — are explored in this absorbing and sharply funny story of a famous English novelist in decline and a missing-heir identity trial in 1873 London."
“Be Mine” by Richard Ford
"This is the final novel in a series featuring the character of Frank Bascombe, a character introduced in the 1986 book 'The Sportswriter.' In this book, Bascombe and his terminally ill adult son take a road trip from the Mayo Clinic to Mount Rushmore."
“My Name is Barbra” by Barbra Streisand
"In a year of many big celebrity memoirs, this may be the physically biggest at close to 1,000 pages. A constant theme in this detailed account of Streisand’s career is her strong will."
“The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder” by David Grann
"David Grann turned extensive historical research into exciting tales in 'Killers of the Flower Moon' and 'The Lost City of Z.' He does the same here for the story of the fateful 1740 voyage of the Wager."
“Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World” by Naomi Klein
"Canadian author Naomi Klein found that she was often confused with fellow author Naomi Wolf. From this experience she writes a thought-provoking examination on identity in the modern age and our current political climate."
“Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears” by Michael Schulman
"One reviewer wrote: 'It’s the gossip readers will remember most.' Through examining the funny, controversial and odd events in the history of the Academy Awards, Schulman presents a history of Hollywood itself."
“Lost Treasures of St. Louis (2nd edition)” by Cameron Collins
"The first edition of 'Lost Treasures' was published in 2017. It gathered cherished places, events and artifacts associated with the area. This second edition has more than 130 new entries encouraging readers to indulge in some St. Louis nostalgia."
“Herbs Around the Mediterranean” by the St. Louis Herb Society
"The St. Louis Herb Society was founded in 1941 at the Missouri Botanical Garden when the war in Europe made importing herbs such as sage more difficult. The group continues its work of fostering the use and knowledge of herbs in this beautifully illustrated book."
“Chain Gang All Stars” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
"My favorite book of the year. This work of speculative fiction, set in a near future, follows prisoners who have been offered a chance at freedom through deadly combat — while the whole world watches, cheers them on and places bets on who will survive. This book confronts us with our own complicity in America’s prison industrial complex, but also allows hope and love to shine through its gruesome pages."
“Golden Kamuy” by Satoru Noda
"My other favorite title of the year — with an asterisk because the manga began serializing in 2014 and reached its conclusion this year. 'Golden Kamuy' has everything — comedy, romance, history, ecology, politics, bears, horror. The story follows a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war and a young Ainu girl, an Indigenous group from northern Japan, as they search for a vast sum of gold. I shed tears of all kinds and learned much about the history, ecology and culture of northern Japan."
“The Beast You Are” by Paul Tremblay
"A collection of short stories that spiral around psychological suspense, these experimental shorts aren’t all hits, but they are all worth reading. Tremblay writes in several unique ways, including an epic poem about household pets defending their home and letters to a magazine. He manages to make it all feel cohesive despite the difference in style by tying all the stories together with a chilling sense of dread."
“Bright Young Women” by Jessica Knoll
"Instead of focusing on the archetypical 'serial-killing genius,' Knoll writes from the perspective of two survivors of his crime — showing that oftentimes these murderers are just mal-adjusted former precocious children. Wonderful prose that is beautiful even when depicting horrific, realistic murder and the rage felt by the women when they’re dismissed by lazy or greedy authority figures."
“Artificial: A Love Story” by Amy Kurzweil
"This graphic novel autobiography follows the author and her father as they use old writings of the author’s grandfather to create an AI chatbot that can speak in his voice. Dealing with familial trauma, the nature of art and how to stay connected, Kurzweil creates a funny and human account of a funny and human artificial intelligence."
“Apparel Has No Gender” by Jeff Bender
"An account of raising a transgender child that deals with all the aspects you might guess it would but with a special emphasis on love and acceptance. It reads as both guide and memoir, giving the feeling of a friend helping you without condescension or judgment. When reviewing this title for purchase by our library, I had to hold the book at arm’s length to avoid getting our new copy wet with tears. It’s a title that makes me hopeful for the future."
“The Book of (More) Delights” by Ross Gay
"Short essays with wonderfully playful writing that made me feel understood while also providing a new way to see the world. These essays are simultaneously unique and relatable, from having a kind of weird friend to enjoying the way landscape affects infrastructure. Something to keep stashed away for when you need a quick pick-me-up."
“The Art of Ruth E. Carter: Costuming Black History and the Afrofuture” by Ruth E. Carter
"An account of her career in costume design from films 'Do The Right Thing' to 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,' Ruth dives into behind-the-scenes production details and creative musings on Black Hollywood. Visually incredible, this title is also an important history for anybody into fashion or film."
“Translation State” by Ann Leckie
"A blend of sci-fi adventure and mystery, this book is the best of science fiction. An inter-species translator goes missing, causing three very different characters from different worlds to crash into each other. It’s politically charged but also deals with very personal and philosophical ideas of belonging, purpose and communication."
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com.