I read 10 books this year, the fewest number of books I’ve read in a year since I began to log them back in 2010. Why did I read so few books this year? Because I tried something new: I began to use my notebooks as a commonplace book.
Whenever I underlined a valuable passage in a book, I would spend the time to copy it down into my notebook and then add my comments to it. I loved this exercise a lot, but this exercise took up huge chunks of my time, time not spent reading. Additionally, I found myself not reading sometimes because I either had a backlog of passages to copy down or I didn’t feel like giving myself more work to do by reading and underlining more. Over time, though, as this habit became more ingrained, I found that the way I read changed. Since I knew I was going to comment on these passages in my notebook, what I underlined started to change. These passages weaved themselves into the larger narrative of my life, a narrative I’ve been writing in my journals within the same notebook.
My favorite book of the year was Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr. I’ve admired Emerson for years, mostly from afar, and primarily through a small handful of his essays. Reading this biography clarified who he was to me, and who he was was an amazing person. A big reason why I read so few books this year was because of this book—I swear, I underlined half the book, and it took me months to both read the book and to transcribe all the notes I underlined into my notebooks.
My other favorites were The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön and Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Both helped me see the structure of my life in a new way. I tried to live a better life this year, and even though I feel like I failed in many ways, I am starting to see the light seeping through the clouds with the promise of a new day just ahead of me, and I have these books (and my notes on them) to help me.
The Plague by Albert Camus was my favorite novel of the year. The others I read were fun but they didn’t compare to The Plague. I hope to read more Albert Camus books in the future.
I don’t know how many books I will read in 2023, but what this year taught me is that if I focus on the quality of my reading, the quantity doesn’t matter.
- The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
- The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön
- Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
- Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
- A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
- The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
- Slow Horses by Mick Herron
- Thrive: The Plant-Based Whole Foods Way to Staying Healthy for Life by Brendan Brazier