The Books and Podcasts We Discovered in 2023
Counterpoint Press, Simon & Schuster, Algonquin Books, Penguin Random House, Beacon Press
A great piece of literary work can stand the test of time. That's why the pen is mightier than the sword–nothing cuts as deep as remarkable prose. And is there not a more gaping wound than the thought that our stories are not being preserved? Dive into our list of the books and podcasts we discovered this year. You're sure to find a few things you'll carry with you for years to come.
Last Call At Coogan's - Jon Michaud (2023)
I love meticulous histories of hyper-specific subjects, and I love bars, so I was in from page one on this patient, character-driven chronicle of a tavern and neighborhood hub in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. The story of Coogan’s is the story of the neighborhood, once an Irish enclave, then the “Little Dominican Republic” of In the Heights fame (Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a central role in the bar’s arc). Shines light on the ties that bind a community and made me want to belong to someplace as intimately as Coogan’s regulars did.
- Brian Kevin, Deputy Editor
Big Swiss - Jennifer Beagin (2023)
This comic banger features three great characters. Greta, the narrator, lives a neurotic existence in a disintegrating Hudson Valley farmhouse. She falls in love with a woman she calls Big Swiss–the circumstances, highly unethical–and their affair becomes a whole thing, vividly described. (It’s an adults-only book, y’all!) The real star, though, is the town of Hudson, rendered as the weirdest hamlet in America. Odds are you’ll browse real estate after reading.
Acid Detroit - Joe Molloy (2023)
A young writer’s inspired debut practically invents a genre. What is it? The musical psycho-history of Detroit? Weaving together Motown, the MC5, the Stooges, the Gories, J Dilla and Detroit house music, this head-trip celebrates its namesake city and makes a case for music as a revitalizing cultural force.
Red Paint - Sasha LaPointe (2023)
With the subtitle The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk, this memoir connects family, Indigenous culture and underground music into a wrenching, bracing ballad. About as Pacific Northwest as it gets.
- Zachary Dundas, Editorial Director
The Prince Mixtape - Nichole Perkins – (2023)
Prince Rogers Nelson was an icon. The man, the symbol and undercover basketball player was one the most gifted and unique artists in the history of the American experiment, and a chief architect of the funk filled Minneapolis sound. With "The Prince Mixtape," author Nichole Perkins pays homage to the musician with a personal touch predicated on her decades long fandom and brings along his collaborators and friends for keen reportage. Seek revelry in these tales and testimonies about the pop life.
God’s Country - Percival Everett - (1994)
This holiday season, the celebrated television writer and erstwhile blogger, Cord Jefferson will release his feature length directorial debut with American Fiction. It's adapted from Percival Everett's scathing novel, Erasure. A lot of Everett's works can be best described as "scathing" in nature, as does 1994's God's Country, a western farce that makes Blazing Saddles look like Toy Story. I'm willing to bet Hollywood starts thumbing through Everett's expansive bibliography after American Fiction hits theaters, and God's Country, equal parts silly and well, scathing in its approach to the Old West is some of his best work.
- Drew Blackburn, Digital Editor
The Book of (More) Delights - Ross Gay (2023)
Poet Ross Gay published a collection of essays, Book of Delights, in 2019, which means many of us latecomers (that would be me) discovered it right on time–at the start of a scary pandemic. I savored that first collection like a daily devotion. One short, brilliant essay per day to remind me of the everyday delights around us despite a fraught time. So when I learned he had a new collection out this year, I couldn’t snap it up fast enough. I’ve loved every garden visit with Gay, every bike ride and every neighborhood interaction as a lesson to zoom in, take note and be astonished.
Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life - Dacher Keltner (2023)
Trying to put words around awe is no easy feat–especially since it can leave us stammering a series of “oohs” and “whoas.” Dacher Kelter is here to help. He’s a Berkley professor and researcher with books on topics like compassion and power. But he also had a counterculture upbringing in late 60s Laurel Canyon, and he delivers findings on awe in a personal, accessible way that feels a bit like hanging out with a spiritual guru. And wouldn’t you know it? The science of awe comes with surprises. It’s more than grand natural wonders. People helping people can conjure it too.
- Jennifer Justus, Editor
Saving Time - Jenny Odell (2023)
How to Do Nothing came out a prescient year before the world was stilled, awash in the living nightmare of the pandemic. In this book, readers find two big questions: What is your flavor of malaise? And–can it be addressed by interacting with the internet less? Saving Time–Odell’s newest book –applies the same critical eye in a radical (and astonishingly researched) manifesto on the history of timekeeping and our own experience of time, ranging from work culture to the climate crisis to innate animal rhythms. Lovers of the road trip–and its release from everyday temporality–will appreciate this invitation to resist the clock.
Directions to Myself - Heidi Julavits (2023)
A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast was originally published in 1938 as something of a bible for sailors of the region. Years later, Julavits unearths a copy at a yard sale in her home state of Maine, and In Directions to Myself, the wisdom of celestial navigation runs parallel to her wayfinding through the dwindling days of her son’s childhood. This is an intimate and electric entry to the mind-chaos of mothering, a grappling with course control (or lack thereof), and as always with Julavits–a love letter to the Maine Coast.