Welcome to the 19th installment of The Millions' annual Year in Reading series! YIR gathers together some of today's most exciting writers, thinkers, and tastemakers to share the books that shaped their year. What makes the series special is that it celebrates the subjectivity of reading: where yearend best-of lists pass off their value judgement as definitive, YIR essayists take a more phenomenological tact, focusing instead on capturing the experience of the books they read. (I'm not particularly interested in handing down a decision on "The 10 Best Books of 2023," and neither are this year's contributors.) This, of course, makes for great, probing essays—in writing about our reading lives, we inevitably write about our inner lives. YIR contributors were encouraged approach the assignment—to reflect on the books they read this year, an intentionally vague prompt—however they wanted, and many did so with dazzling creativity. One contributor, a former writer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arranged her essay like an art gallery, with each book she read assigned a museum wall label. Another, whose work revolves around revolutionary and utopian movements in history, organized her year by the long-defunct French Revolutionary calendar. Some opted to write personal narratives, while others embraced the listicle format. Some divided up their reading between work and pleasure; for others, the two blended together (as is often the case for those of us in the literary profession). The books that populate this year's essays also varied widely. Some contributors read with intention: one writer of nonfiction returned to reading fiction for the first time in 13 years; one poet decided to read only Black romance in the second half of 2023. For two new parents, their years in reading were defined by the many picture books that they read to their infants. There were, however, common threads. This year, contributors read one book more than any other: Catherine Lacey's novel Biography of X, which chronicles the life of a fictional artist against the backdrop of an alternate America. Also widely read and written about were Dan Sinykin's Big Fiction, an analysis of the conglomeration of the publishing industry, and the works of Annie Ernaux (a star of last year's YIR as well). I'm profoundly grateful for the generosity of this year's contributors, the names of whom will be revealed below as entries are published throughout the month, concluding on Thursday, December 21. Be sure to bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date. —Sophia Stewart, editor Emily Wilson, classicist and translator of The IliadVauhini Vara, author of This Is SalvagedJenn Shapland, author of Thin SkinDamion Searls, writer and translatorLaToya Watkins, author of Holler, ChildIsle McElroy, author of People CollideTaylor Byas, author of I Done Clicked My Heels Three TimesKristen Ghodsee, author of Everyday UtopiaJames Frankie Thomas, author of IdlewildJoanna Biggs, author of A Life of One's OwnAthena Dixon, author of The Loneliness FilesChristine Coulson, author of One Woman ShowPhillip Lopate, author of A Year and a Day
Middle Cyclone, the new album by my favorite redheaded crooner, Neko Case, was released yesterday. At the time of this writing, I've listened to the album twice as I worked on my novel, and then I repeated a few songs so that I could dance and swoon around the apartment.My friend Robin Benway, fellow Neko Case-lover, and author of the music-centric, young adult novel Audrey, Wait!, pointed me to this piece in Paste Magazine: "17 Things I Love, by Neko Case." In the article, Case lists the books she read while making her record, including Watership Down by Richard Adams, What It Is by Lynda Barry, and Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. I love this literary insight into Case's gorgeous, passionate music, and the combination of authors does seem to translate into something Neko Case-ish. (Starting with that rabbit world...)Perhaps when I'm done with my novel, I'll write a list of the albums I played as I wrote it. I have a feeling Middle Cyclone will make an appearance (along with Case's previous album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.) I'm curious if Neko Case, New Order, Beirut, Songs: Ohia, and silence (lots of silence, actually, as I revise), will reveal anything about my book. Any thoughts? And, for the writers out there, what do you listen to, if anything, as you work?