Almanac Books: Best Fiction Books I Read this Year



With Bleak City promising hail, floods, pestilence, locusts and modest opposition for the Boxing Day Test, I thought Almanackers might be in need of some light reading. 


I haven’t read much fiction in recent years.  Limited attention span and a bower bird inquisitiveness about how the world works (or doesn’t) led me down avenues of geopolitics, markets and the business of sport. Long form journalism and podcasts more than books.


Mid October I couldn’t take it any more.  The Israel-Palestinian war a dark wish fulfilment of biblical destiny.  If I continued injecting dystopia I’d join the junkies jumping off roofs.


Fiction seemed a likely escape – the rehab of the imagination.  My fiction history is obsessive compulsive. Shelves of half read. But when a writer grabs me I can’t let go. Captain WE Johns (Biggles); Alistair MacLean; John LeCarre; Peter Temple and most recently Henning Mankell (Wallender) all greedily devoured in their time.  This year – two late season gifts:





The Lincoln Highway – Amor Towles. 


An amazing journey. An endless surprise. Four young men in 1954 – barely adult – head off from the Mid West across America on a voyage of discovery. It sounds dated – but it’s timeless. The diversity of the principal characters and just as significant those they encounter along the way.  The richness and imagination of the language kept me entranced. Towles finds ways to introduce Shakespeare and Dickens; Homer and Ulysses; in ways that are educational but unforced. If that was expected from an erudite author what was unexpected and page turning was the constant surprises.  A book that spun off in a dozen directions with a unifying humanity.  Best fiction I’ve read in years. Restored my faith in humanity. (On the theme of obsessive consumption – I’m half way through Towle’s previous “A Gentleman in Moscow”.  Set in Russia of the first half of the 20th century.  Similarly erudite – Towles writes inner  musings compellingly. Just not the plot turning narrative of “Lincoln” – at least to half time. But plenty of juice to keep me wondering what happens to Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov under Stalin and Krushchev).





Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver. 


Never read any Dickens.  Just movie adaptations and pithy quotes. This book had been on my ‘should (rather than must) read’ list for a while. Driving around Europe mid year I heard a long interview about the book with one of my favourite podcasters.    Now or never I thought in November – post Lincoln. It’s a big book – in size and themes. Intimidating to me.  At one level it’s a book about addiction – the opiate epidemic (fentanyl, oxycontin, heroin etc etc) that is devouring middle America.  There are no end of big picture baddies in the opiate story – Purdue and big pharma; greedy doctors; Mexican cartels and Chinese state ‘soft’ war. But Kingsolver tells a more powerful and personal story – of exploitation of a people and the Appalachian region by its own industry and politics. Football – the opiate of the masses – as the entry vector for addiction into the life of a clever, determined, traumatised and naive young man.  David Copperfield transformed for current times.  It’s a beautifully written and powerfully imagined book.  Half way through I wanted it to end. How much pain and misfortune can one boy (and the reader) endure? Kill him off or let him triumph – I quietly pleaded looking at the remaining 280 pages.  But that is the nature of addiction – the endless repetition of increasing humiliations and diminishing pleasures.  Grateful that I persisted.  Kingsolver resolves the narrative with humanity and hope but no romantic nostrums. A rewarding book – a treasure more than the pleasures of ‘Lincoln’.


Over to you Almanackers. Share the fiction – old or new – that captivated you in 2023.  We all need a reading list for 2024 – and my Audible subscription is ticking over to another credit.


Another confession – both books were ‘heard’ rather than ‘read’ – unabridged and charmingly intoned.  Limited attention span and a tendency to nod off after 5 pages – but drives, gardening, painting and house cleaning are now unusually pleasurable. Needs must.


In coming days I’ll follow up with my Sports books; Non Fiction books and Podcast Sandovers and Magareys for 2023 (a pox on all your Brownlows).  So keep your suggestions and comments to fiction for now. 



More from Peter Baulderstone can be read Here



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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    PB – of the 65 books I’ve read this year the best by far – IMHO, is ”Old God’s Time’ by Sebastian Barry, and not far behind were three books by Claire Keegan I binged.

  2. Thanks PB. Need a good fiction too. Haven’t read enough lately. Not much modern stuff grabs me. Weighed down in messages as subtle as a dog turd on a footpath.

    This year, by a long way, was Stella Maris for me. Cormac McCarthy’s follow up to The Passenger (and the last thing he wrote). I couldn’t put it down. Readers should read The Passenger first.

    Stella Maris is wild, challenging and untamed. McCarthy didn’t seem to care about technicalities, he just wrote

    Not for the faint hearted.

  3. The books I have enjoyed the most this year have been from Michael Connelly (my favourite and I have all his books), Jeffrey Deaver (the master of the twist on the twist) and David Baldacci.. I have also been able to catch up on about a dozen science fiction books I have been sitting on for some time. There’s nothing quite like a good book.

  4. PB, I’m a big fan of Amor Towles. ‘Rules of Civility’ is also well worth a read. Towles’ particular gift is to shift styles, times, places, themes in each book with consummate ease. ‘A Gentleman from Moscow’ is probably my favourite fiction from the past few years.

    Like Col, I was directed to Claire Keegan this year. Precise and concise but so rich and packed with beauty.

    Also a big fan of Donna Leon! Her memoir ‘Wandering Through Life’ struck many a chord.

    I’m on non-fiction over the holidays with ‘George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle’ by Philip Norman. Lots of stuff I wasn’t aware of about both the group’s internal machinations and the intricacies of their lives from the perspective of George.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    Thanks for the tips PB. I have not read any fiction for years. The Lincoln Highway appeals to me. I need to follow up on the heard aspect as well, as I consider myself a slow reader.

  6. Thanks PB. The final novel in the Frank Bascombe series, Be Mine by Richard Ford is the best fiction of the year for me.

    ‘I think of other things that might be of importance to me and that I might’ve been musing about: Can grief be defeated, or merely outlived? How can I ever achieve complete immersion in earthly life? What is the greatest happiness? I can’t, I realize, find whatever I’d been thinking during the passage of time I’ve clearly lost. It is not forgotten, but paved over, as before.’

  7. Thanks for the tops PB and in the comments.

    I was explaining to a friend back in July that I hardly read fiction these days and he recommended/gave me the novel, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It came out in 2019 and I think won or was nominated for the Booker Prize. Whatever the case, I had started working at a new organisation a month or two prior and thought I could see how I went getting into this novel on my tram trips to and from work. Well, what a story. Or stories. While the novel appears to centre around one character, before you know it and after a number of chapters you find yourself inside another and another character’s life (I think the novel covers 10 or more main characters, across multiple decades and although many of these people’s lives overlap and closely (family, friends, work associates) within 400 pages, Evaristo subtly exposes how distinctly different we are. No one character is perfect, many good decent characters have obvious and questionable flaws, Class, sexism and race are ever-present barriers but that is not the focus of Evaristo’s stories. Her interest is how we find our connections, our trust and our togetherness. Not in a sterile lesson or settings and definitely not in an idealised way. There is humour galore along with wincing at things you know you’d probably do as well but in reading about someone else you can tut-tut instead. I know I haven’t explained a storyline, that is partly not to give away small gems you will come across page after page but also because the beauty of the novel is in the ordinariness of the characters and our lives.

  8. Peter Crossing says

    Thanks PB.
    I too thoroughly enjoyed Lincoln Highway. The comments have also provided ideas for a 2024 reading list.
    Three books I have savoured this year.
    Lessons in Chemistry by Bonne Garmus
    An unconventional female chemist challenges the status quo in a male dominated world. Some great home truths from a woman with a very individualistic approach to life.
    Slow Horses by Mick Herron
    The first in a series of books that follow the (mis)fortunes of group of reject MI5 agents aiming for redemption while suffering the taunts and jibes of their obnoxious, devious yet cunningly effective department head. Some brilliant one-liners.
    Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka
    Much more than a cricket novel. In a rambling discourse, an aging writer with a significant drinking problem relates the trials and tribulations encountered in his search for a mysterious Sri Lankan cricketer who may or may not have been the best spin bowler ever. All amidst family issues and the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils.

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