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The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,560 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

My favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Death of Grass

Patricia Duncker Why did I love this book?

My friend read a critical book arguing that John Christopher’s apocalypse novel had been forgotten. Not by me, she said. “I read it in 1972, and I can remember every word - the terror of the tale and how everything collapses so rapidly.” I immediately ordered The Death of Grass and discovered an uncannily contemporary Penguin Classic, published in 1956 and more frightening than Lord of the Flies.

In this ecological apocalypse, the virus that kills all Leersia Oryzoides - grass, rice, wheat, oats, barley, and rye - originates in China. The earth dies slowly, famine looms, and civil society breaks down in three days. Two families escape from London, seeking safety in a northern hidden valley. I read the book in two sittings, thrilled, breathless, terrified. 

By John Christopher,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Death of Grass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A thought experiment in future-shock survivalism' Robert MacFarlane

'Gripping ... of all science fiction's apocalypses, this is one of the most haunting' Financial Times

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY ROBERT MACFARLANE

A post-apocalyptic vision of the world pushed to the brink by famine, John Christopher's science fiction masterpiece The Death of Grass includes an introduction by Robert MacFarlane in Penguin Modern Classics.

At first the virus wiping out grass and crops is of little concern to John Custance. It has decimated Asia, causing mass starvation and riots, but Europe is safe and a counter-virus is expected any day. Except, it turns…


My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Is Mother Dead

Patricia Duncker Why did I love this book?

Why isn’t there a question mark in the title? The bright cover caught my eye. Vigdis Hjorth is a leading novelist in Norway. She creates three vivid characters: Mother, Sister, Daughter, and this is a stalker story of familial retribution.

The abused and abandoned daughter is our compelling narrator: she seeks recognition and revenge. Hjorth uses the metaphors from Scandi-Noir crime fiction: the cabin buried in the forest, bitter cold turning to snow, a lone elk moving through the darkness.

The tension in this sinister emotional tale is almost unbearable, as the daughter stalks her prey: spying on her mother’s movements, visiting the father’s grave, hiding behind dustbins, plotting access to the flat. I felt completely involved in this terrifying drama and wolfed down every page. 

By Vigdis Hjorth, Charlotte Barslund (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Is Mother Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'To mother is to murder, or close enough', thinks Johanna, as she looks at the spelling of the two words in Norwegian. She's recently widowed and back in Oslo after a long absence as she prepares for a retrospective of her art. The subject of her work is motherhood and some of her more controversial paintings have brought about a dramatic rift between parent and child. This new proximity, after decades of acrimonious absence, set both women on edge, and before too long Johanna finds her mother stalking her thoughts, and Johanna starts stalking her mother's house.


My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Marriage Question: George Eliot's Double Life

Patricia Duncker Why did I love this book?

Eliot was never married to her not-quite husband, the biographer and scientist G.H. Lewes, but pretended that she was.

This elegant study of Eliot’s life and writing and the scandals surrounding her every move is written by a philosopher who has studied Eliot for decades. Courtship, marriage, and its vicissitudes are central to all of Eliot’s writing.

Carlisle’s book is gripping, original – and fun to read. At one point, she has an argument with her editor. Lewes has died, and Eliot is in mourning but about to marry her financial advisor, a sporty, muscular type, twenty years younger. Carlisle and her editor erupt in irresistible controversy!

By Clare Carlisle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Marriage Question as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An exceptional new biography that shows how George Eliot wrestled with the question of marriage, in art and life

When she was in her mid-thirties, Marian Evans transformed herself into George Eliot - an author celebrated for her genius as soon as she published her debut novel. During those years she also found her life partner, George Lewes - writer, philosopher and married father of three. After 'eloping' to Berlin in 1854 they lived together for twenty-four years: Eliot asked people to call her 'Mrs Lewes' and dedicated each novel to her 'Husband'. Though they could not legally marry, she…


Plus, check out my book…

Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance

By Patricia Duncker,

Book cover of Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance

What is my book about?

Berlin, 1872. George Eliot, now famous and rich, meets one of her adoring readers, Sophie, and her infatuated publisher, Max Duncker. I discovered years ago that Eliot’s German publisher and I share the same name.

The coincidence seemed too good to lose. I imagined both characters, the exuberant Sophie and the passionate Max, with equal vehemence. The anonymous 21st-century narrator is skeptical concerning Eliot’s actions and motives, for the great lady had a dark side.

She enjoyed having influence and control over other people’s lives. She became famous not just for her writing but for her moral wisdom; men and women begged her to advise them, console them, and direct their decisions. She loved the power.