The best books I read in 2023

Caleb Slinkard
6 min readDec 20, 2023

There’s something unmistakably appealing about a to-do list. Organizing my day’s labor into task-sized chunks means I might actually accomplish some of it, rather than allow it to snowball into an avalanche of anxiety and procrastination.

Even more appealing? The sense of accomplishment I (and I assume millions of others) get in crossing things off of said to-do list. I’ll even add things I’ve already done to the list just to get the small dopamine boost.

Perhaps that’s what I like so much about my annual Goodreads Reading Challenge: it’s a digital checklist, one that allows me to track my progress and compare it to my friends’ and, more importantly, myself from past years.

Last year, I decided to take a look back and highlight a handful of the dozens of titles I read as my favorites from 2022. Turned out, most of them were non-fiction (which kind of surprised me, I always considered myself a fiction kind of guy. That’s what I want to write, at least. Then again, I’m a journalist, so I spend most of my time in the non-fiction world. Maybe it’s not so weird).

Anyway, I’m doing it again. You’re welcome. Here’s the best of what I read in 2023.

“The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It,” by Lawrence S. Ritter

Baseball may or may not be my favorite sport to watch (this year, after decades of futility, my Texas Rangers finally won a World Series!), but it’s definitely my favorite sport to read about. And this book is a great example of why.

Constructed through one-on-one interviews that Ritter painstakingly put together more than 50 years ago, it’s a window into turn-of-the-century America. It’s profound in demonstrating how much our country has evolved (developing, recruiting and signing baseball players had changed in such significant ways) and yet how fundamental human nature is (old-school baseball players hammer “modern” — i.e. 1950s-60s — baseball players for being soft and focusing too much on money).

This is a must-read for baseball fans and folks interested in early 20th Century America. It features several players I’d heard of (Goose Goslin, Rube Marquard, Sam Crawford, Hank Greenberg) and plenty I knew little or nothing about (Jimmy Austin, Specs Toporcer, Bill Wambsganss). The only drawback is that Ritter completely ignores Black baseball players of the same era, whose untold stories would have been even more valuable.

“Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates

Framed as a letter from father to son, this book is small but packs a significant emotional, cultural, historical punch. This is the first Coates book I read (my first exposure to his work was an article in The Atlantic titled “The Case for Reparations), and it’s part autobiography, part celebration, part warning and part requiem, all relayed with a mesmerizing frankness and earnestness.

What remains with me the most is Coates’ focus on how damaging generational physical violence is to African Americans. When he writes about damage done to Black bodies, it’s never romanticized or glorified. It’s always brutal, shocking, unforgivable.

You also get an in-depth look at Coates’ educational and philosophical development and the impact his parents and Howard University (his “Mecca”) had on him, which alone is the price of admission.

A Wizard of Earthsea” and “The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia,” by Ursula K. Le Guin

These are two very different books written by the same author. I loved them both, for very different reasons.

“A Wizard of Earthsea” was a revelation. I’m not sure how I managed to live 34 years on this planet without reading it. It’s imminently accessible, it’s unique and imaginative and stunning. And it’s not hundreds upon hundreds of pages. This is a great book to get anyone into the world of high fantasy who is intimidated by the sheer volume of pages in a fantasy series like “A Song of Ice and Fire.” How someone hasn’t done a faithful film or TV adaption of this work is beyond me.

“The Dispossessed” was an experience. First, I’d read a lot about this book. It’s widely considered a masterpiece of science fiction. I’d owned it for years, and had even started to read it a while back, but I was confused after the first few chapters and put it aside (there’s a dual timeline thing going on here that, in retrospect, is pretty simple to figure out: most chapters alternates between the past and present). It’s a colossal work of creation, of imagination, rivaling Asimov’s best thought experiment and easily outpacing him in prose quality. “The Dispossessed” isn’t an easy book to read, necessarily. It’s not fast-paced. It’s deliberate, almost plodding at times, an exploration of humanity’s self-imposed limitations and our prodigious potential.

The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country,” by Laton McCartney

I’m a sucker for books about American history around the turn of the century — really anything between the end of the Civil War and World War II. It’s an era in U.S. history I feel is widely ignored by everything from high school history textbooks to Netflix documentaries. And it was just so damn weird.

The America we know today didn’t really exist, but it was beginning to form. The Teapot Dome Scandal is a good example of this: a group of oil executives funded Warren G. Harding’s — a relatively unknown presidential candidate — successful run to the White House. In exchange, Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall agreed to open up drilling in oil fields that were, at that time, under the control of the Navy and unavailable for private drilling.

There’s tons of political intrigue as crooked politicians and incredibly wealthy oil barons try to get their hands on the oil leases, as well as a dogged courtroom drama. Harding himself is a wild character, a president obsessed with secret rendezvous with his mistresses while his administration breaks federal laws.

The scandal didn’t become public knowledge until after Harding’s death, but it remains his lasting legacy (along with his infidelities).

“The Baseball 100,” by Joe Posnanski

I love reading about baseball, remember? And this book, written by one of the sport’s greatest writers, captures the soul of the sport. Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads right after I finished it:

“The Baseball 100 is the kind of book that makes you want to watch baseball games, to read baseball books, to find clips of Willie Mays and Stan Musial and Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose. It’s a book that reminds you why you love baseball, helps you fall in love with the timeless game and all the talented, depressing, joyous, wild, gracious, angry, timeless men who played it all over again.”

How can you not be romantic about baseball?

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Caleb Slinkard

I’m a journalist who has worked for community newspapers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia. I enjoy sci-fi books, chess and Fulham FC.