A Literary Journey Through 2023: Seven Gems That Defined My Reading Year

By Răzvan Ion

As the year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the literary tapestry that unfolded before me in 2023. Instead of compiling a conventional list of the ‘best’ books, I’ve chosen to delve into the personal, sharing seven exceptional reads, no matter the year when they were published, that left an indelible mark on my year. In a world brimming with literary choices, these seven titles stood out among the 31 books I immersed myself in 2023, each leaving its unique imprint on my ever-slowing reading pace.

Acknowledging the inevitable march of time, I’ve come to accept the gradual deceleration of my reading speed. It’s a reality that accompanies the passing years, a gentle reminder of the wisdom gained through the pages turned. And so, in a nod to serendipity and personal preference, I’ve settled on the number 9—a figure that resonates with me on a deeper level.

My literary journey through 2023 commenced with a deliberate selection process, sifting through the vast literary landscape to unearth the gems that captivated my imagination. The following seven books, I intentionally avoided my non-fiction readings, enriched my year in ways both unexpected and profound.

As the year draws to a close, I look forward to the adventures that lie ahead in the world of literature. In the meantime, let these seven companions serve as a testament to the enduring magic of books—their ability to captivate, inspire, and accompany us on the ever-evolving journey of life.

If you are not preoccupied with the Christmas tree, presents, cards, cooking, shopping, maybe will be a nice time to spend with a book.

Justin Torres, Blackouts, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2023

What word to use? Magnificent, brilliant, fabulous? Nothing can define properly this book. I will quote Jeremy Atherton Lin, the author of Gay Bar: “Blackouts is a testament to the significance of intergenerational transfer between gay men, but the connection here is coy, disorienting, fractured. I somewhat recently moved into a flat with high ceilings, and if I wasn’t previously able to quite articulate the phenomenological appeal, I’ve decided it is the capaciousness in which to contemplate a book like this – giving space to shadow and illumination, tall tales and big truths. I can’t wait to read it again.” Blackouts is the winner of the National Book Award for Fiction 2023.

Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain, Picador, London, 2020

I could not let the book down for a minute. I’ve read Shuggie Bain in 24 hours. Reading Shuggie Bain cannot but be a grim experience. Shuggie Bain comes from a deep understanding of the relationship between a child and a substance-abusing parent, showing a world rarely portrayed in literary fiction. Stuart’s project as a writer is in part about clearing space for tenderness among men, space for love. Shuggie Bain is a beautiful bittersweet novel. His second novel, which he has recently completed, is a romance between two boys on opposite sides of sectarian violence in 1990s Scotland. Shuggie Bain is the winner of the Booker Prize 2020.

Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Le Fils de l’Homme, Gallimard, Paris, 2021 (The Son of Man, Fitzcaraldo Editions, London, 2023)

Del Amo is one of my obsessions. I’ve read every book of him and short stories. His writing obsessed me almost as much as Michel Tournier did. Le Fils de l’Homme is as good as expected. ”Mythological, archetypal, anthropological violence flows from age to age, cascading from generation to generation. You can’t escape it: you experience it, then reproduce it, in a form of mental contamination that is both insidious and brutal. This is the secret soil of the previous novels by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, a key contemporary writer, a mysterious insurgent, a stylist of sensual and sacred writing. The fury of filiation is no longer a backdrop in Le Fils de l’Homme. It is the keystone of a text that bends and makes bend under the weight of genealogical defilements, with inspired, even testamentary and even biblical accents. (…) This is great art, full of tension. An exceptional novel on the transmission of violence from one generation to the next.” (La Croix). Le Fils de l’Homme is the winner of Prix Fnac and shortlisted for the Prix Femina. Jean-Baptiste Del Amo is the winner of the Prix Gouncourt du Premier Roman.

Jericho Brown, The Tradition, Copper Canyon Press, 2019

Brown is not brilliant. He is beyond that. I never encountered such a powerful way of writing, and trust me I’ve read my fair share of poetry in my life – I have a PhD in poetry.  His poems delight in their own swerves, some discreetly steered toward like a bend in a road and others making a sudden about-face. “Romance is an act,” he declares, before promptly drawing a tragic parallel to the infamous death of Patroclus, who “died because / He could not see / What he really was inside / His lover’s armor.” In Brown’s poems, the body at risk — the infected body, the abused body, the black body, the body in eros — is most vulnerable to the cruelty of the world. Overall, Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is a sublime and meticulous innovation. Jericho Brown is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 2020.

Annie Ernaux, Regarde les lumières mon amour,  Éditions du Seuil, 2014 (Look at the Lights My Love, Yale University, 2023)

From the French feminist who uses language as ‘a knife,’ Regarde les lumières mon amour is like a sweet break from the world. Annie Ernaux sees supermarkets as a spectacle and a kind of commons. In no other space, private or public, are people “brought into greater contact with their fellow humans”. Yet, because shopping is often portrayed as a chore, and a female chore at that, supermarkets are ignored by “politicians, journalists, ‘experts’”, who, as a result, “do not know the social reality of France today”. Annie Ernaux is the winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in literature. In her telling, supermarkets are more than retail hubs, they are microclimates. “Walking around in a warm atmosphere wherever you go is almost like stepping off a plane in Cairo on arrival from Paris.” Like casinos, they’re severed from their surroundings. It’s easy to lose your bearings. “Because there are no clocks, time is nowhere to be seen.” Temperature is regulated, shelves are rotated and refreshed, and the ambience is carefully modulated. To go inside is “to abruptly land in the effervescence, trepidation, and sparkle of things”.

Danny Ramadan, The Foghorn Echoes, Canongate Books, London, 2023

A deeply moving novel about a forbidden love between two boys in war-torn Syria and the fallout that ripples through their adult lives. Contemporary, mystical, timeless. . .The Foghorn Echoes gives me a similar feeling to that which I had with The Kite Runner, of characters haunted by love and hunted by loss, across oceans, timelines and warzones. The story is so specific, yet it speaks of all love. When I finished The Foghorn Echoes, I felt that I had read a fiction which was unquestionably, undeniably true. The Foghorn Echoes is the winner of Lambda Literary Prize.

Abdi Nazemian, Like a Love Story, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2020

Like a Love Story it is not a brilliant piece of literature. It a book to read in the train. Like a Love Story, is, in fact, an epic YA love story. Equally paramount, this book is an honest, heart-jerking history lesson. Nazemian transports readers to 1989, a time when queer culture was under attack. In Like a Love Story, Abdi Nazemian has created an instantly classic trio of teen characters. They are unique, yet relatable. They are flawed, yet highly likable. Abdi Nazemian was the producer of Call Me by Your Name and he is the recipient of the Stonewall Honor Book and Lambda Literary Award.


Răzvan Ion is the founder of GAY45. A professor of curatorial studies and critical thinking in Vienna, he is passionate about comic books, technology, the stock market, art, alternative indie music, movies, literature, and artificial intelligence.

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