Friday 1 December 2023

Books of the Year 2023

 'They flee from me that some time did me seek...'

By which I mean it seems I'm no longer the go-to guy for annual roundups as organised by our leading print journals. AND I'M ABSOLUTELY FINE WITH THAT. I expect go-ahead commissioning editors don't want their pages sullied by some superannuated blimp with a taste for well-wrought prose from adventurous indie presses.  

Mind you Thomas Wyatt wasn't talking so much about go-ahead commissioning editors as ... well, you know... concubines? I wouldn't use the word myself, but he would have. And if any commissioning editor, or come to that any concubine, appeared at night 'with naked foot, stalking in my chamber' I'd pull the blanket over my head and holler like billy-oh. But all the same it's nice to think one is on somebody else's to-do list. 

So, since I've not been invited to share my books of the year with a paying audience (although I've knocked something off as usual for Houman Barekat's Review 31 and will also be contributing to the Galley Beggar Press Advent Calendar which starts on 1st December), I've decided to do so here, and for free, so if you're wondering at this time of year about books to buy for others or yourself, here are some suggestions, with links to the publishers. 

These are all books I've read and admired during 2023 and some of them are by writers I'm pleased to count as friends, and a couple of them come from my own publisher, Sagging Meniscus Press. If that means I'm log rolling, then call me a log roller. I've resisted the temptation to write about each book, but believe me when I say that I admire every one of them so much I wouldn't be disappointed to get extra copies as gifts. I'd be happy to have one in every room. 

Fiction (short stories)

Sports and Social by Kevin Boniface (Bluemoose  Books)

Open Up by Thomas Morris (Faber)

A Writer's Diary by Toby Litt (Galley Beggar Press) (and I include this book, published on 1st January 2023, in this section but it's really unclassifiable - a mash-up of fact and fiction in short diary entries that is a book to read every day for a year, any year).

Fiction (novels)

Caret by Adam Mars-Jones (Faber) (I write about this for Review 31)

let me go on by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press) (I wrote about this and the previous volume for the latest Literary Review)

This Plague of Souls by Mike McCormack (Tramp Press)

My Weil by Lars Iyer (Melville House)


I Think We're Alone Now by Abigail Parry (Bloodaxe Books)

Crisis Actor by Declan Ryan (Faber)

Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother by Julian Stannard (Salt)

House on the A34 by Philip Hancock (CB editions)


Photo, Phyto, Proto, Nitro by Melissa McCarthy (Sagging Meniscus Press)

Wish I Was Here by M. John Harrison  (Serpents Tail)

Playing to Lose by Ariel Andersson (Unbound)

The Stirrings: A Memoir in Northern Time by Catherine Taylor


Dante Elsner by Maia Elsner (Guillemot)

Plea$e Steal Me for 100 Plus Dollar-zz by Kirsten Mosher (I provide the cover blurb so should declare an interest. Kirsten's work is new to me, and a real discovery)

Songs for Olympia by Tomoé Hill (Sagging Meniscus Press)

Finally, looking forward, here are a dozen indie highlights to look out for next year:

Unwords by Andrew Gallix (Dodo Ink)

Walter Benjamin Stares at the Sea by C. D. Rose (Melville House)

Ava Anna Ada by Ali Millar (White Rabbit) 

Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen (Bluemoose Books)

Newtown by Dan O'Brien (CB editions)

Toothpull of St Dunstan  by Kevin Davey (Henningham Family Press) 

Ghost Mountain by Rónán Hession (Bluemoose Books) 

Paris Fantastique and Shadow Lines by Nicholas Royle (Confingo)

Spent Light by Lara Pawson (CB editions) 

Home is Where We Start by Susanna Crossman (FigTree, Penguin)

Mary and the Rabbit Dream by Noémi Kiss-Deáki (Galley Beggar Press)

Zerox Machine: Punk, Post-Punk and Fanzines in Britain, 1976–88 by Matthew Worley (Reaktion Books)

And coming later in 2024:

In the dream of the cold restaurant: fifty short essays about one short poem (Sagging Meniscus Press) by yours truly. I expect I'll mention this again at some point.

However and whatever you celebrate at this time of year, give it your best shot. And keep the lights on.


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