It's that time of the year again. As in previous years I bought more books than I can read, which means that the piles of unread books are growing ever larger. I actually see it as a sign of my curiosity and my yearning for knowledge and novelty. I already added some titles from The New York Times and Financial Times year end lists to my list of books to read in 2023.

The Best of the Best

Philippe Descola: Les Formes du visible
Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith: Van Gogh. The Life
Hervé le Tellier: L’Anomalie
Patricia Lockwood: No One Is Talking About This

Best Fiction

Hervé le Tellier: L’Anomalie
Patricia Lockwood: No One Is Talking About This
Mircea Cartarescu: Solenoid
Fernando Pessoa: Kroniek van een leven dat voorbij gaat
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr: La plus secrète mémoire des hommes
Benjamin Labatut: When We Cease to Understand the World
Claire-Louise Bennett: Checkout 19

I greatly enjoyed Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier. With perfect logic he traces the consequences of an absurd assumption in a variety of literary styles. No One Is Talking About This is what I would call a totally contemporary novel in its linguistic style. It’s also quite moving. Kroniek van een leven dat voorbij gaat ("Chronicle of a life that passes by") is apparently the first selection of fragments from Pessoa’s archive to appear in translation. It’s as good as The Book of Disquiet. La plus secrète mémoire des hommes by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is reminiscent of The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, from which the title is borrowed, but it's an excellent novel in its own right and a deserving winner of the Prix Goncourt 2021. Finally, Solenoid by Mircea Cartarescu is a 900-page surreal hallucinatory stream of consciousness that you either love or hate. It’s one of those novels without a middle ground.

I haven’t finished Jahrestage by Uwe Johnson yet, so I’ll include it in next year’s list, provided that I manage to finish it. It's fabulous though and I've already added it to my list of the best books I've ever read.

Best Non-Fiction

Catherine Belton: Putin’s People. How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West
Lea Ypi: Free. Coming of Age at the End of History

I hesitated to read a book about Putin, but I’m glad I did, because now I have a better understanding of the past twenty or so years of contemporary history. I recommend reading it alongside Le mage du Kremlin by Giuliano da Empoli. Free by Lea Ypi is a wonderful and moving read. It’s interesting to read what it was like to live through events that I only knew from the news.

Best Biography

Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith: Van Gogh. The Life
Ananyo Bhattacharya: The Man from the Future. The Visionary Life of John von Neumann

Van Gogh. The Life is a marvellous biography of Vincent van Gogh. Why did I only read this now? Turns out there’s so much about Van Gogh that I didn’t know. And why is the best Van Gogh biography written by two American scholars? I’m always a bit skeptical of books that claim that this or that person was the brightest mind of the 18th, 19th or 20th century. Perhaps that person was just lucky to make it through childhood, had relatively well-to-do parents, got a good education and worked at a time when a single person could still make a big difference in multiple areas of inquiry. Having said that The Man from the Future is a great biography.

Best Philosophy and Anthropology

Philippe Descola: Les Formes du visible
Jacques Rancière: le fil perdu
Jacques Rancière: Le destin des images

Les Formes du visible by Philippe Descola is probably one of the most mind-opening if not mind-bending books I’ve read this year. It’s also one of the most difficult and not just because Descola uses an extensive vocabulary which had me reach for my French dictionary on every other page. It’s a challenge to REALLY understand the worldview of radically different cultures.

Best History

David Graeber and David Wengrow: The Dawn of Everything. A New History of Humanity

I am a bit skeptical of the historical veracity of the story of Lahontan and Kandiaronk and the importance Graeber and Wengrow lend to it, but apart from that I found The Dawn of Everything a real eye-opener. I now plan to read The Journey of Humanity by Oded Galor and The Creation of Inequality by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus for an alternative view.

Best Graphic Novel

Simon Stålenhag: The Electric State
Simon Stålenhag: Things from the Flood

By accident I discovered the amazing work of Simon Stålenhag. I love his drawings.

Best Art, Design & Photography

Ed Fella: A Life in Images
Laurence Bertrand Dorléac: Les choses. Une histoire de la nature morte

A Life in Images is a superb overview of the life and work of legendary graphic designer Ed Fella. It was actually funded via a Kickstarter campaign. If you can’t make it to the exhibition at the Louvre the catalogue of Les Choses is well worth buying, browsing and reading.

Most Disappointing

I had been looking forward to read Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard, whose research was part of the inspiration for Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees and Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham, a popular science book about glaciology, but both are light on science and heavy on human interest. I’m afraid that this is because publishers believe that this is what people want to read. They're still good books, but they could have been so much better.