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The 10 Best Books I Read This Year

As the year draws to a close, one of the areas of my life I like to look back on is my reading life. Reflecting on my 2023 Year in Books, I went back to my goal-setting notes from the end of 2022. Here’s what I wrote last December:

  1. Read all Ryan Holiday’s books

  2. Read 12 novels

  3. Read at least one biography

  4. Read one swimming book

  5. Read one running book

  6. Read one triathlon book

So, how did I do?

  1. Sorry Ryan Holiday, I didn’t read any of your books this year. But I have faithfully kept up with the Daily Stoic, so technically that counts as one book, which I will finish on December 31. I have also obtained a copy of Stillness is the Key, which I will likely read by year’s end.

  2. I’ve read 14 novels so far. I have counted the ones I read aloud to my daughter, because I do read every word to her and they are legitimate books. (We’re currently going through the Lord of the Rings saga. Earlier this year, we tore through the Chronicles of Narnia) This accounts for 6 of the 14. This practice has been great because it allows me to re-read books that I read 20+ years ago, share the experience with my kid and not feel like I should be using my time to read something I’ve never read before.

  3. For the second year in a row I have not read a biography, but there’s still time to at least start one!

  4. Read one swimming book: ✅ (Why We Swim)

  5. Read one running book: ✅ (The Rise of the Ultrarunners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance, though I suppose Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself would also count)

  6. Read one triathlon book: ✅ (The Well-Built Triathlete)

Photo: Toa Heftiba via Unsplash

Another insight from this year: audiobooks have increased my reading capacity. I don’t think of myself as spending a ton of time driving, but I’ve listened to 16 audio books this year. This really bolstered my volume. Last year I read 50 books. So far this year I’ve read/listened to 55. It chiefly reflects a switch from podcasts to audiobooks. I took this tip from Ozan Varol in Awaken Your Genius. He pointed out that multiple people spend thousands of hours honing a book to its final state, whereas one might spend a week preparing a podcast. Books undergo more vigorous editing. A book can change your life but you’re lucky to get one nugget from a podcast. Perhaps more enlightening, 5 of my top 10 books of the year (and both honorable mentions) I consumed via audiobook. I usually reserve audiobook for titles that I wouldn’t normally get around to via my more preferred hardcopy format. So without audiobooks I would have missed out on half my favorite titles from the year!

Here are my top ten (in reverse order from 10 to 1) favorite reads from 2023:

10. How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi

Listening to this book, I was reminded of how much work is left to be done before all Americans are able to drink their full fill of the freedoms promised by our founding fathers and called for by Dr. King at the Lincoln Memorial.

James Nestor explores dozens of traditions in breathing as well as modern medical and surgical science. It's difficult, even as a medical doctor (or perhaps especially as a medical doctor), to get down with the idea that too much oxygen is bad, while carbon dioxide is a key to health and performance. But it's not necessarily in conflict with the physiology we're taught. (Carbon dioxide is what makes oxygen leave its carrying molecule, hemoglobin, and disperse into the target tissues.) Even before reading this book, I had converted to nasal breathing and nightly mouth-taping. This book confirmed and solidified my rationale. There's a lot in here, though it was easy to read and not terribly long.

This was a quick and easy read, set against the story of the 2016 CrossFit Games, where two of the athletes Bergeron was coaching won the overall crowns for males and females. His first step in building these elites? Character.

7. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King.

I still have never read one of Stephen King’s novels, but I enjoyed his succinct take on writing well. Sadly, he believes that you can’t go from being a good writer to a great writer by practicing the craft!

I really enjoyed reading about his journey of personal transformation. From elite swimmer to lawyer through alcoholism to elite endurance athlete, his story is inspiring.

The premise is that the ability to engage in focused concentration is valuable to the modern knowledge work economy. Yet the ability to engage in deep work is assailed by the various modern social norms that fragment our attention. He says that it's only really possible to engage in about four hours of deep work in a day. That might sound like not that much, until you start measuring it!

4. Yearbook, by Seth Rogen

I got this recommendation from Ozan Varol, who described it as the funniest book he's ever listened to. It's pretty hilarious. It's read by Rogen as well as 80 other actors who bring the dialogues to life. If you enjoy his work, you'll enjoy this book.

3. Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, by Peter Attia with Bill Gifford

Weighing in at over 400 pages, you will need some longevity to get through this tome. Nonetheless, I think they have done an excellent job at circumscribing some scope of comprehensiveness onto a very broad topic. He is writing for the general public, though at times it feels as if he's writing for a doctors (e.g. getting into the nitty gritty details of check-point inhibitor drugs). He loves frameworks, and I think he has a good framework approach to longevity, centered on goals, rationale, strategies and tactics. He acknowledges that most of his readers just want tactics. "Tell me what to do!" But I applaud him for making us wade through all the rationale and strategy, because as he notes, the tactics will change. Remember Limitless with Chris Hemsworth? That came out in November 2022 with a whole episode on fasting and longevity featuring Peter Attia coaching Hemsworth through a fast while spear hunting for fish. In the book (published March 2023), he says that he no longer fasts and doesn't see any clear longevity benefit from fasting!

2. Will, by Will Smith.

Will Smith's 2021 memoir is fantastic. I wasn't particularly interested in starting it. It wasn't even on my to-read list. Honestly the only reason I got into it at all was because I didn't have any Audible credits and so was browsing through the free audiobooks available through my library. Audiobook turned out to be the perfect format for this type of memoir, which is read, rapped, sung and acted by the author. For every piece of dialogue by another person in his life, Smith imitates the person's voice. Songs, including first cuts are played and raps are rapped. I used to watch The Fresh Prince of Bel Air regularly in the 1990s. Anyone of my generation who enjoyed any part of Smith's career will appreciate its retelling here. I was also impressed by the thoroughness of Smith's self-examination and appraisal of his own psychology over the years. He has clearly done a lot of work in this department and shares his soul in a most candid and vulnerable way. My wife's first question about this book was: was it published before or after The Slap? Well, that is for another story I guess. The book was published November 9, 2021. Smith's altercation with Chris Rock at the Academy Awards took place on March 27, 2022.

1. Circe, by Madeline Miller

This book was on my to-read list for a while but I didn't pick it up until I saw it on the shelf of an Airbnb home in Sicily where we were staying for a beach week last month. I had brought books with me to read but the spontaneity of picking one off the shelf of a house I was visiting seemed to be in the spirit of vacationing. I had planned to leave a book in exchange but this was not necessary. I finished it in four days. I especially appreciated the characters and story, as I was a Classics major in college. But lest you think that is necessary to enjoy the book, my wife also finished it in the same four days, as we passed it back and forth. Sharing one copy of the book also seemed to be in the spirit of vacation (and marriage). The prose is delicious. I enjoyed this one even more than her Song of Achilles.

Honorable mention:

Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui


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