Favourite books of 2023

Chris Littleboy


As part of the website revival, I thought I’d summarise my favourite books of 2023. More accurate would be the complete list of books I remember reading - it’s not been the best year for fiction, but here we are. I’ve clearly entered a new phase of life - the documentation phase. I’ve started a daily diary for reflections, and this is an attempt to document my reading. I’ve spoiled themes (or my interpretation of them) but hopefully not the plots.

A collection of pithy mantras to live by in a world where not everyone wants the best for you. Pragmatism which reads like a cynical self-help book. Currently sitting by my bedside in the hope I can absorb a few of them to quote at will.

An account of an exiled film director who smuggles himself back into Chile to document the Pinochet regime. More of an account of exile and the loss of personal connections than a critique of the regime. A good insight into the different resistances, at home and abroad.

This was the first Murakami novel for me, and I couldn’t put it down. Couldn’t help but like the main character despite him being a bit aloof, a fast plot and themes of young love in different guises.

Read this swiftly after the first. More supernatural themes, with lots of cats. Oshima was the best character.

I read this on honeymoon in November in a secluded loch-side cabin. An enigmatic trickster trying to change the main character - a self-absorbed womaniser - for the better. Compelling and optimistic with some beautiful sections.

The life of an English professor from a humble agricultural family. The blurb described it as showing how extraordinary an ordinary life is which I think misses the mark. He’s pretty extraordinary, in that his love of literature took him away from studies in agronomy, away from his commitment to the family farm. Ultimately, his integrity cost him his career, and does not save him from the breakdown of his family relationships. A good section on university life as a refuge from the real world.

Read this after loving Stoner, and loved it as well despite it being completely different. The only link is the clear and direct prose style. A western, where the main character, a university dropout, seeks a connection to the land by joining a hunting expedition from Butcher’s Crossing. Looks into the futile efforts of man to conquer nature. Also taps into the thin line between personal development and emotional breakdown when experiencing hardship.

A thoroughly depressing novella about purpose and death. Through his life the main character achieves a lot – status, marriage, possessions, aesthetic appreciations – without feeling a sense of fulfillment, which is accentuated by his premature demise. Meanwhile his family and colleagues struggle to care about him more than about the implications of his death for their own lives. I’ve read it twice this year, maybe this is why I’m in my documenting phase!

I finished this in 2024, but began during the Christmas holidays so I’m counting it. Was lent the book 7 years ago and I’m just getting around to it - hope for the rest of the forgotten books on the shelves. This is the one on the list which I will reread - it’s too packed with ideas to digest the first time around. Through the loves and lives of four characters Kundera looks at trade-offs between commitment and freedom in personal relationships, with parallels in the context of resisting the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Came to Mishima after reading the short story Star. The theme was one I’d never come across before from my Eurocentric perspectives - the corruption of the values from imperial Japan by western perspectives after World War II. Beautifully written, but brutal content. Features the consequences of teenagers badly interpreting nihilism and this is not one for cat-lovers. Will definitely read his Sea of Fertility series.