Explore the favorite books of the year from Certain Age Magazine's contributors. From nonfiction to great novels to self-help, this reading list has something for everyone.
I'm always curious about what books really matter to people, so this year, I invited Certain Age writers to share a book they read in 2023. It could be something published long ago or brand new, and any genre at all – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, self-help, whatever. The only condition was that it had to be a book they loved.
And they did not disappoint! From theological sci-fi to a radical new way to listen, the women writing for Certain Age are reading some amazing books. And writing them! So I've included two recently released bonus books written by CA authors. Needless to say, I have a lot of reading to catch up on!
Below, then, are the contributors, with links to their articles, and the books they recommend. And tell us: What book(s) did you love this year? Share in the comments!
OUR HIDEOUS PROGENY | C. E. McGill
Every once in a while something comes my way that makes me slow down to a crawl in order to enjoy it to the full. Our Hideous Progeny did that; a clever, queer, feminist riff on the Frankenstein story, which stitches together the Gothic, the modern, the historical and the scientific without ever seeming contrived.
Ex-medical student Victor Frankenstein has been missing for many years. His great-niece, Mary Sutherland and her husband, Henry, mean to follow in his scientific footsteps and become renowned paleontologists. Mary has the vision and the natural genius, but as a woman, is denied entry to the Royal Society. Henry has the ambition and the advantage of his gender. Together, they work on a project inspired by Frankenstein’s papers: the creation of a living plesiosaur, which will prove Mary’s theories to the world.
The characters are fully human; the style elegant and precise; a fitting tribute to Mary Shelley and Wilkie Collins. Loved it.
Jean Shields Fleming
ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT | Cal Flyn
What happens after the worst has happened? That’s the question Cal Flyn asked of the world’s most ecologically damaged landscapes, and she traveled far and wide to see for herself. With the inquisitive mind of an investigative journalist and a poet’s loving eye for detail, Flyn takes us, among other places, to Chernobyl, to meet the people who stayed on after the nuclear disaster. We visit the Salton Sea, in California, to meet the drifters who live in the aftermath of a development gone wrong. And in her native Scotland, we visit slag heaps that now, miraculously, house colonies of birds, and meet a herd of feral cattle. Flyn does not by any measure let us off the hook for our environmental recklessness, but she does offer glimmers of hope. Life has a way of persisting, and in these forgotten lands, it can even flourish anew.
THE PROMISE THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING | Nancy Kline
The title may suggest a focus on good manners (“well-educated people don’t interrupt”). Instead, it’s about listening in a revolutionary way: not to respond, not to understand, but to ignite the speaker’s finest independent thinking.
As listeners, our task is not to question the speaker to death or repeat back to them what they’ve just said. It’s to create a “thinking environment” that enables them to “think for themselves with rigour, imagination, courage and grace”. For that, the author provides a blueprint of 10 principles. The most important is attention, others are equality, appreciation, and place.
The book was enough to convince me but not sufficient to master listening in this new way – it requires training and dedication. I’m proud to say that I’ve started my certification path towards becoming a thinking environment coach and facilitator.
I AM SOPHIA | JF Alexander
In a season of the year when Advent reminds us to expect the unexpected, JF Alexander’s I Am Sophia more than exceeds expectations. Imagine the possibilities if the Incarnation of God were to appear as a homeless woman, camped out on the steps of Grace Cathedral in a dystopian San Francisco of the future. In a culture sharply divided between consumers and “lowcontribs”, the last eleven remaining “christworshippers” – under the reluctant leadership of Bishop Peter – struggle to understand this mysterious visitor and what her appearing means for them. As people of faith have always struggled to understand the holy, especially when it comes shrouded in the profane.
JF Alexander, Theologian in Residence at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in San Jose, manages to write a futuristic and feminist tale in a way that welcomes our deeper questions about God in contemporary ways. Through Alexander’s accessible prose, be drawn into Sophia’s mysterious and self-giving character, and – through her – into the depth of yourself and the spiritual archetypes that inhabit you. You will find community with the holy through this book... as well as a really compelling and delightful story.
KETO FOR WOMEN | Leanne Vogel
In 2023, I became a fat burner. At age 53, a solid decade into a panorama of perimenopause misadventures, I was desperate to sleep better, think coherently, stabilize hormonally, and send the tire around my belly packing. Keto for Women transformed my Little Engine that Could struggling endlessly uphill into a bullet train that delivered me to an upgraded operating system in a few months. Not only did this book teach me exactly how to flip the switch of my metabolism from carbohydrate-burning to fat-burning for fuel – and the myriad ways this would elevate my well-being. But, it offered a friendly, kind, self-honoring path of discovery with many possible ways to make a ketogenic lifestyle serve me well. I’ve read many books about the practice, science, and benefits of eating keto. And this is the one that changed my metabolic health game. Through eating delicious and satiating meals, I rapidly released 20 pounds (so far), sleep solidly through the night, think clearly all day long, and have effortless energy. This is the book that I want every woman struggling to rebalance to have on her bedside table. If you’ve tried everything to feel better and don’t know where to turn next, I propose that you spend a few hours with Keto for Women and see where it leads you.
DAISY JONES & THE SIX | Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & The Six is a fun fictional account of a rock band’s rise and fall. I was drawn to the 1970s timeline and the band’s Fleetwood Mac vibe. Daisy, the charismatic co-lead singer, is patterned after Stevie Nicks. She has a tortured relationship with Billy, the Lindsey Buckingm-esque lead singer. The author uses an interesting plot device to tell the story – band members being interviewed. It's like reading a lengthy Rolling Stone article, but without the journalist’s perspective. Because there is no description of the group members, the reader is forced to rely on the snappy back-and-forth dialogue and commentary. It’s not a perfect format as the characters tend to blend. However, once I got used to it, I connected to the story. I enjoyed the way this book captured the 1970s music scene.
Bonus Books! 2023 Releases by Certain Age Authors
Broken Light – Joanne Harris
A bold and timely novel that explores how women can feel invisible as they grow older—and what happens when they decide to take back control. Bernie Ingram is forty-nine, menopausal, lonely. Married, with no close friends and few family ties, she feels as if the past thirty years have been sacrificed to others. Bernie’s own ambitions and dreams have been forgotten by everyone – including Bernie herself. Until the murder of a woman in a local park unlocks a series of childhood memories, and with them, a power that she has suppressed for all her adult life.
Rain, At Times Heavy
Rains, At Times Heavy tells the story of the Kemp family, seemingly cursed to lose their men to stormy weather. Through vivid landscapes and complex characters, Rains, At Times Heavy explores how one moment, one trauma, can spiral through the generations until a single person steps bravely into its path.
If you'd like to purchase any of these titles, the book covers are linked to Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, except for those that aren't yet available in the US. Of course, best of all is supporting your favorite independent bookseller ❤️