UVA librarians share their favorite books read in 2023

By Molly Minturn | December 18, 2023

As the end of the year approaches, we asked UVA Library staff to recommend their favorite books they read in 2023. The books could be any genre, published in any year, so long as they were available in UVA Library’s or the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library’s collections.

Take a look at our extensive list below and check some books out for the holidays. Please note: the publication years listed correspond with the editions in our collections, not necessarily the original publication dates.

Happy reading; see you in the newly renovated main library in January 2024!

Recommended by Sherri Brown, Librarian for English

Book covers for "Tom Lake," "Native Son," "How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water," and "The Guest List."






“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water” by Angie Cruz (Flatiron Books, 2022)

This quick read swept me up into the daily trials and tribulations of its narrator, Cara Romero, and left me wanting more.

“Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett (Harper, 2023) 

A mother recounts the summer she fell in love with a soon-to-be movie star to her children. Like all of Patchett’s novels, a delight.

“Let the Dead Bury Their Dead” by Randall Kenan (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992) 

In 2022 I read Kenan’s posthumously published essays and loved them, so I sought out this collection of short stories. My favorites, including “Clarence and the Dead” and “Things of this World; or Angels Unawares,” delved into the fantastical and supernatural, and stuck with me long after I finished the book.

“Native Son” by Richard Wright (Harper & Brothers, 1940) 

I was inspired to read this based on a fall class I worked with. This powerful book has one pondering Bigger Thomas’s motives for murder, the society that influenced his actions, and his reflections after his crimes.

“The Guest List” by Lucy Foley (William Morrow, 2020) 

This was my favorite just-for-fun thriller read of the year. A private island, a wedding, many secrets revealed, and a murder – what’s not to like?

Recommended by Ann Burns, Metadata Librarian

Book covers for "Yellow Wife," "Lessons in Chemistry," "The Land of Lost Things," and "Properties of Thirst."






“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday, 2022) 

Hasn’t everyone heard of this one? Elizabeth Zott is confident, prickly, and smarter that almost everyone around her, which is what makes her story irresistible. Light but very profound.

“The Land of Lost Things” by John Connolly (Emily Bestler Books, Atria, 2023)

This is a sequel but stands by itself. One of the best and most thoughtful fantasy books I’ve read: the power of stories to teach and to heal.

“Properties of Thirst” by Marianne Wiggins (Simon & Schuster, 2022)

The story of a man trying to keep from losing his rights to the water under his own land while his family navigates the presence of a Japanese internment camp on their doorstep. A stark and beautiful story.

“The Yellow Wife” by Sadeqa Johnson (Simon & Schuster, 2021)

The story of an enslaved woman who lived the role of wife to a white slave trader in 1850s Richmond. This situation is not often addressed and I found the protagonist’s navigation of it frightening and enlightening.

Recommended by Sue Donovan, Conservator for Special Collections

Book covers for "Last Night at the Telegraph Club," "Weyward," "The Bullet That Missed," "Entangled Life," and "The Worst Hard Time."






“Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures” by Merlin Sheldrake (The Bodley Head, 2020)

I thought I loved mushrooms before, but this was transformational.

“The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl” by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

A reread, this time about the Dust Bowl: what led up to it, why it happened when it did, and how things were never the same. Two words that will devastate me forever: dirt mulch.

“The Bullet that Missed” by Richard Osman (Pamela Dorman Books, 2022)

The third book in the Thursday Murder Club Series. I just can’t get enough of this octogenarian murder-solving crew. It feels like coming home to friends, and the audiobook narrated by Fiona Shaw is simply perfect.

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo (Dutton Books 2021)

This was recommended to me by a friend, and I melted into Lily’s story of self-awakening and family dynamics in San Francisco in the 1950s.

“Weyward” by Emilia Hart (St. Martin’s Press, 2023)

This one was just under the wire of December for me. While a number of bad things happen to the women in this book, the author approaches the issues with gentleness and shows the strength of her characters in how they deal with the events. I found the generational connections of the three women really engaging. I couldn’t put this book down.

Recommended by Haley Gillilan, Undergraduate Student Success Librarian

Book covers for "Silver Nitrate," "Loot," and "A Living Remedy."





“A Living Remedy” by Nicole Chung (Ecco, 2023)

This memoir about parental loss, navigating the early days of COVID-19, and staying afloat in the American healthcare system is overall heartbreaking but necessary. Chung’s writing always makes me feel less alone and reminds me that grief needs to be expressed. 

“Loot” by Tania James (Knopf, 2023)

This work of historical fiction is such an exciting heist adventure! This book imagines an elaborate backstory for the very real automaton Tipu’s Tiger and how far the inventor will go to get it back.

“Silver Nitrate” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Ray, 2023)

Moreno-Garcia is the master of genre fiction. Every book she writes is completely different than the rest of her catalog, and it impresses me every time. “Silver Nitrate” is a creepy ’90s thriller about a sound editor and her best friend who stumble upon an occultist plot. It’s as cinematic as a book can get, with Moreno-Garcia wielding her ability to create a soundscape and atmosphere with just words on the page.

Recommended by Grace Hale, Reference Librarian

Book covers for "Constructing Grounded Theory," "Hunger," "Knowledge Justice," "Playlist for the Apocalypse," and "The Greatest Empire."






“Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Analysis” by Kathy Charmaz (Sage Publications, 2006)

Although there are plenty of more up-to-date publications available, to my mind this is still the most practical and useful introduction to grounded theory out there for anyone interested in qualitative analysis. I use this manual (along with “Applications of Social Research Methods to Questions in Information and Library Science” by Barbara M. Wildemuth) whenever thinking about research design.

“Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies Through Critical Race Theory” edited by Sofia Y. Leung and Jorge R. López-McKnight (MIT Press, 2021)

This volume brings together a really insightful group of essays on social justice work in libraries by early career BIPOC library and archive professionals.

“The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca” by Emily R. Wilson (Oxford University Press, 2014)

This ebook is an accessible meditation on the contradictions of Seneca’s life that touches on modern concerns like how to create serenity in an achievement-oriented capitalistic society.

“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay (Harper, 2017)

Gay’s autobiographical meditation on food and bodies explore attitudes around consumption, health, self love/hate.

“Playlist for the Apocalypse: Poems” by Rita Dove (W. W. Norton & Company, 2021)

Dove’s eleventh volume of poetry explores American history both macro & micro.

Recommended by Bret Heddleston, Print Periodicals Specialist

Book covers for "Ten Problems Concerning Providence," "The Gate," "Fullmetal Alchemist," "If All the World and Love Were Young," and "Mansfield Park."






“Mon” (“The Gate”) by Natsume Sōseki; translated by Francis Mathy (Owen, 1972)

Though poorly known in the U.S., Natsume Sōseki is so famous in Japan that they put his picture on the 1,000 yen note. “Mon” is a slow-paced, gently painful, and deeply moving story of a struggling young Japanese couple living in alienation from their family and society in Tokyo at the beginning of the 20th century.

“Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen (Dent, Dutton, 1910)

A short, early work by Jane Austen is titled “The Female Philosopher”; Austen was herself the female philosopher as she wrote her lesser-known major novel, “Mansfield Park.” Readers will enjoy long, philosophical dialogue on norms, society and religion, which occur intermittently between the members of the novel’s main love triangle: the upright (and maybe a little stiff) Edmund Bertram, the cynical and bitingly witty Mary Crawford, and the demure, but well-cultured heroine, Fanny Price.

“Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol.15” by Arakawa Hiromu (Viz Media, 2011)

If some slightly graphic illustrations of war are not too much, then Vol. 15 of this famous manga and anime series is particularly important for revealing the events of a civil war that many of the major characters were involved in. The inside cover explains that the author based many of the characters’ struggles on interviews she conducted with Japanese World War II veterans.

“Ten Questions Concerning Providence” by Proclus, translated by Jan Opsomer and Carlos Steel (Bloomsbury Academic, 2012)

Students of philosophy — particularly ancient philosophy and Neoplatonism — may find this work by Proclus, who is often called the last great philosopher of Antiquity, to be of interest. His writings considering questions of fate, determinism, providence and the One, may either remind readers of later philosophy or theology, or be instructively dissimilar in approach.

“If All the World and Love Were Young” by Stephen Sexton (Penguin, 2019)

A book of poetry about the passing of the author’s mother at a young age from cancer, this work consists of poems named after the levels of the game he was playing at the time: “Super Mario World.” Because the use of imagery from the game is so clever, the best way to read the book is to play through a level before reading the poem named after it. The reader may find the slower pace of the narrative read in this way to amplify both the sweetness and the pain of the journey.

Recommended by Laura Hjerpe, Senior Research Data Management Librarian

 Book covers for "The Monk of Mokha" and "All the Lovers in the Night."





I read these books for a Meetup group based in Northern Virginia that alternates between nonfiction and fiction.

“The Monk of Mokha” by Dave Eggers (Knopf, 2018)

Mokhtar Alkhanshali grows up in the San Francisco Tenderloin and eventually becomes a coffee entrepreneur in Yemen. This was such an inspiring story, and I learned about the Yemeni diaspora in the U.S., especially in California.

“All the Lovers in the Night” by Mieko Kawakami; translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa Editions 2022)

Fuyuko Irie, a proofreader whose life is her job, struggles with taking initiative, developing interests, and connecting with others. I had trouble getting started with this novel but was completely engrossed by the end.

Recommended by Ervin “EJ” Jordan Jr., Research Archivist, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library

Book covers for "Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England," "Sleeping With the Ancestors," "Santa’s Sleigh Is on Its Way to Virginia," "Changing History," and Four Hundred Souls."






My five selections this year pertain to African American, British, and Virginia history, as well as Christmas.

“Santa’s Sleigh Is on Its Way to Virginia: A Christmas Adventure” by Eric James (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2015)

Illustrated rhyming tale of Santa’s delivery of gifts and cheer to children in Arlington, Bon Air, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Oakton, Richmond, Salem, and elsewhere. Charmingly suitable for kids from ages 1 to 92.

“Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World, 2021)

A thought-provoking “choral history” of commentaries, essays, poetry, short stories, and personal reflections by ninety writers commemorating 400 years of African American history.

“Changing History: Virginia Women Through Four Centuries” by Cynthia A. Kierner, Jennifer R. Loux, Megan Taylor Shockley (Library of Virginia, 2013)

A wide-ranging history focusing on women of African, European, and Indigenous ancestry as transformative participants of their times. Printed on acid-free paper, marvelously illustrated, meticulously researched, and insightfully written, this is a must-read for everyone’s Virginia bookshelf.

“Sleeping With the Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery” by Joseph McGill Jr. and Herb Frazier (Hachette Books, 2023)

Slave Dwelling Project founder McGill recounts his 12-year, 25-state sleepovers at 200 slave dwellings on plantations, college campuses, private and public historical sites, state and national parks, and camping overnight where structures no longer exist. This project is a reminder that whenever we discover new historical information we must re-evaluate our perceptions about the past — and ourselves.

“The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer (Bodley Head, 2012)

If you’re planning to visit England during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), you’ll need this engrossing guidebook of do’s and don’ts about food, drink, and clothing and how to navigate smells, rogues, social customs, and religious disputes to avoid getting yourself hanged — or worse. A witty page-turner and stocking stuffer for Anglophiles.

Recommended by Nancy Kechner, Research Software Specialist

Book covers for "The Covenant of Water," "Hello Beautiful," and "Hang the Moon."






Descriptions below are from the publishers’ websites.

“Hang the Moon” by Jeannette Walls (Scribner, 2023)

When Sallie tries to teach young Eddie to be more like their father, her daredevil coaching leads to an accident, and Sallie is cast out. Nine years later, she returns, determined to reclaim her place in the family.

“Hello Beautiful” by Ann Napolitano (The Dial Press, 2023)

An exquisite homage to Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic, “Little Women,” “Hello Beautiful” is a profoundly moving portrait of what is possible when we choose to love someone not in spite of who they are, but because of it.

“The Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese (Grove Press, 2023)

A stunning and magisterial epic of love, faith, and medicine, set in Kerala, South India, following three generations of a family seeking the answers to a strange secret.

Recommended by Rose Oliveira-Abbey, Accessioning Archivist

Book covers for "Redshirts," "The Sentence," "Faith, Hope and Carnage," and "Light From Uncommon Stars."






I am part of a book club, and three out of four of my recommendations come from our readings this year. Being in my book club exposed me to books I would not have typically read but enjoyed. Besides these books, I recommend finding a good book club. There is nothing like arguing over a plot point with good people.

“Faith, Hope, and Carnage” by Nick Cave and Sèn O'Hagan (Canongate Books, 2022)

This book is a series of interviews between musician Nick Cave and journalist Sèn O'Hagan in the summer of 2020. The conversation explores grief, the creative practice, addiction, and religion. I found his reflections on the death of his son, Arthur, and the effects on him, his family, and his art profoundly moving.

“Light from the Uncommon Stars” by Ryka Aoki (Tor, 2021).

Katrina Nguyen, a transgender run-away violinist, catches the attention of Shizuka Satomi, a former violin star now teacher, who has made a deal with the devil. Will Satomi use Katrina to escape her Faustian bargain with the devil? If that isn’t enough, there are aliens to boot. This book has so many threads that it seems impossible to work. But it does!

“The Sentence: A Novel” by Louise Erdrich (Harper, 2021)

Tookie, the Native American woman protagonist of the book, served a 10-year prison sentence and now works in a bookstore in Minneapolis. Flora, an annoying customer, dies, and her spirit haunts the bookstore (and Tookie). The story dives into their connection and captures the effect on Tookie and the city after George Floyd’s death.

“Redshirts” by John Scalzi (Tor, 2012).

In “Star Trek,” a red shirt is a stock character who dies shortly after being introduced. This book plays on this theme and asks what the creators’ responsibility is to their characters. It was a quick and fun read that had me laughing all the way through.

Recommended by Amber Lautigar Reichert, Director of Content Strategy 

Book covers for "Olga Dies Dreaming," "Sea of Tranquility," and "A People's Future of the United States."






“A People’s Future of the United States” edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams (One World, 2019)

This collection of speculative fiction gathers inventively hopeful, technologically interesting, and beautifully inclusive tales. Each story left me feeling unexpectedly optimistic about the future of humanity, even as the authors reject any rose-colored depictions of the future (or the present). Plus, after reading from the 25 talented contributors, you’ll have plenty of ideas of what to read next. 

“Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. Mandel (Knopf, 2022)

A quiet, engrossing sci-fi tale that doesn’t shy away from the fun stuff — the technolust, the temporal paradoxes — but somehow remains fully grounded, both on earth and the human colony on the moon. My only complaint is that it wasn’t longer: I would’ve happily lived in this world for a long time, but St. Mandel tells a complete, lovely, and unforgettable story.

“Olga Dies Dreaming” by Xochitl Gonzalez (Flatiron Books, 2021)

Olga is a wedding planner for wealthy brides and grooms, and her life in Brooklyn and Manhattan is fascinating, complex, and (at times) enviable. What made this a “best book” for me, though, was the richness given to her family life, and those around her, all of whom are relatable and complex. This book also led me to learn about the Comedores Sociales, an amazing organization which arose from the breadth of human responses to natural disasters in Puerto Rico.

Recommended by Jennifer Roper, Director of Digital Strategies and Scholarly Communications

Book covers for "Trust," "Beloved," and "The Shards."






When I looked through my list of books read this year, narrowed it down to the most interesting reads, and figured out which ones are available via UVA it turns out that the three on this list are all on a theme: Perception is reality or reality is perception?

“Trust” by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead Books, 2022)

The story of a husband and wife living the high life in the Roaring ’20s, primarily in New York. The story is told in three parts, all from different perspectives; all have similarities as well as different portrayals of the primary characters. Ends up with a bit of a “gotcha” moment at the end because everyone is telling the story differently.

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison (Knopf, 2005)

Post-Civil War tale of a formerly enslaved woman struggling to live with the aftermath of the brutality of enslavement, her hard-fought journey to freedom, and her grief over her choices to protect her children from the life she was forced live.

“The Shards” by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf, 2023)

Auto-fictional story of early ’80s Los Angeles teenagers caught in typical high school dramas while the news is covering an active serial killer, until the two stories collide. As a proud member of Generation X, I found Ellis’ use of music references a mesmerizing scene-setting.

Recommended by Douglas Ross, Information Technology Specialist, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities

Book covers for "Under the Volcano," "To the Lighthouse," "As I Lay Dying," “The Brothers Karamazov" and "Mrs. Dalloway."






Descriptions below are from the publishers’ websites.

“To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf (Oxford University Press, 2006)

“To the Lighthouse” is Woolf’s most autobiographical novel, and this new edition provides a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of its appeal.

“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

“Mrs. Dalloway,” created from a series of short stories, is one of Woolf’s best-known novels. Thematically it conveys a rich and genuine humanity, while technically it showcases Woolf's use of interior perspective.

“The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage Books, 1991)

This award-winning translation remains true to the verbal inventiveness of Dostoevsky’s prose, preserving the multiple voices, the humor, and the surprising modernity of the original.

“Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry (Lippincott, 1965)

It is the fiesta “Day of the Dead” in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac. In the shadow of the volcano, Geoffrey Firmin — ex-consul, ex-husband, an alcoholic, and a ruined man — is living out the last day of his life.

“As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner (Random House, 1957)

A true 20th-century classic from the Nobel Prize-winning author of “The Sound and the Fury”: the famed harrowing account of the Bundren family’s odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother.

Recommended by Josh Thorud, Multimedia Teaching & Learning Librarian 

Book covers for "Midnight in Chernobyl," “The Beatles: All These Years: Volume 1: Tune In,” Delta Blues," and “The Birth of Loud."






“Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham (Simon & Schuster, 2019)

This book was eye-opening and deeply researched, clearly articulating how and why things went wrong with both the technology and the bureaucratic system that made it. It makes the people involved feel human rather than cardboard cutouts.

“Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music” by Ted Gioia (W.W. Norton, 2008)

As a Delta Blues fan, I loved this book. It dives deep into the roots of Delta Blues and tells the stories of the musicians who innovated, recorded, or were inspired by it.

“The Beatles: All These Years: Volume 1: Tune In” by Mark Lewisohn (Crown Archetype, 2013)

For a Beatles fan, this book is a treasure. Lewisohn goes into amazing detail about the band’s early days and is compellingly written.

“The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll” by Ian S. Port (Scribner, 2019)

A fascinating look at Leo Fender and Les Paul as they cross paths, innovate, and become rivals, greatly influencing the sound and technology of 20th-century music.

Recommended by Keith Weimer, Librarian for History and Religious Studies

Book covers for "River Spirit" and "Germany in the World."






“River Spirit” by Lela Aboulela (Grove Press, 2023)

Sudanese (and two European) characters react to the rise of the Mahdi, “the Expected One,” a figure who claimed to be Islam’s version of the end times Messiah and drove the British and Turks out of Sudan in the 1880s. Aboulela does a remarkable job of creating and developing multiple voices, and the novel could be used to teach this historical event.

“Germany in the World: A Global History, 1500-2000” by David Blackbourn (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2023)

Historians have often regarded Germans as largely reacting to history that was made by Europeans to their west — at least until sometime in the 19th century. This work shows that Germans (there was no united “Germany” until 1871) were significant players in all European intellectual and commercial movements from the “Age of Discovery” onwards — movements that were influenced by and impacted people across the globe.