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The covers of my four favourite books of 2023

My Four Favourite Books of 2023

  12+   Since 2018, I've shared an annual review of the books I've read during the year and my favourites. Proving to be a consistent reader, I read 16 titles in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

2021's total included paper-based and ebooks (I bought a Kindle in 2021) but not the 20 audiobooks I listened to during the year.

In 2022, my reading pattern shifted further towards audio. I read only 13 paper-based and ebooks and listened to 31 audiobooks.

2023 was a busy year for me: writing and podcasting, helping my son fit out his van, and supporting the Indigenous Voice to Parliament campaign. When ABC Book Clubbers on Facebook started posting their lists of books in December, I realised I had no idea how many books I'd read, listened to, or started and set aside on my to-be-read pile in 2023. 

However, four standout favourites were among my unknown total of paper-based books, ebooks, and audiobooks. Three I recall fondly, and one with sadness and shame.

The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams

As with  Pip Williams' debut novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words (one of my favourite books of 2020), I loved The Bookbinder of Jericho, but the book affected me differently. 

For instance, while I enjoyed the journey with Peggy and Maude in The Bookbinder and thoroughly recommend it, I was happy to move on after reading the Author's Note and Acknowledgments. Whereas, I felt bereft when I finished The Dictionary of Lost Words

Either way, I'll happily read Williams' next book, whether it's a "companion" to these books (her description of their relationship) or something new. 

PS. I only discovered the handy maps of Oxford and Calliope at the front of The Bookbinder when I had 100 pages left to read. And it was fun to refer to them and trace Peggy and Maude's steps.

Browse or buy The Bookbinder of Jericho on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Surrender - 40 Songs, One Story by Bono (narrated by Bono)

I'm a U2 fan, and I streamed the band's albums as Bono revealed the background to the songs (though not their "Pop Muzik" period!). 

Apart from delving deeply into the history of U2 and Bono's family and friends (including a moving tribute to Michael Hutchence) and his activism, I appreciated Bono's openness and honesty, especially when talking about his late mother, Iris, and his wife, Ali. And his often self-deprecating humour - he's a great mimic, and his Bill Clinton is brilliant!  

Though I knew I'd enjoy the memoir, I hadn't expected the tears when Bono recounts his relationship with his late father. And listening to Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own will never feel the same again. It touched a raw nerve for me as a son and father.

I loved the storytelling—Bono is an incredible songsmith and wordsmith— and the music of this audiobook so much that I bought my dad a paper-based copy for Father's Day.

Browse or buy Surrender on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Truth-Telling by Henry Reynolds

I read True-Telling while campaigning for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament in Australia. I thought I was knowledgeable about the issues from decades of reading about the true history of Australia. But even with my library of books by Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers, fiction and nonfiction, I soon realised there was still so much to learn about the long fight for First Nations recognition and respect. 

Unlike the No campaign's catchphrase, "If you don't know, vote NO", I wanted to be informed and intended to vote YES. So, I attended forums and workshops, watched webinars, and read more books, including:

  • Black Bones Read Earth by Lee Richie
  • Everything You Need To Know About The Uluru Statement From The Heart by Meanga Davis and George Willams
  • Talking To My Country by Stan Grant
  • We Come With This Place by Debra Dank
  • White Girl by Tony Birch

Several of these ended up on my partly-read pile, but not Truth-Telling. Starting with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Williams guides the reader through the colonisation of Australia, from the British taking possession of the country and establishing a penal colony to the expansion of settlements beyond Sydney and New South Wales.

In doing so, Reynolds documents the dispossession and decimation of the Indigenous Australians and how they fought back through frontier wars and modern legal challenges and have never ceded sovereignty.

What struck me most about Truth-Telling was Reynolds' exploration of what he calls the "great forgetting". Before the Australian Federation in 1901, knowledge of Indigenous peoples' resistance to colonisation and the violence and toll of the frontier wars was widespread among the white population of the colonies.

But, this knowledge was suppressed and lost during the first sixty years of the 20th century. "It meant that two and even three generations of Australians were nurtured with a national story that left out much of the most significant aspects of their colonial heritage." 

It was a process where the Indigenous-First Nations peoples of Australia disappeared from our history books from the early years of Federation until the last decades of the 20th century. And I was one of the generations affected by this loss of knowledge!

Reading Truth-Telling left me sad and ashamed but more informed about Australia's true history.

Browse or buy Truth-Telling on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Willowman by Inga Simpson

Yes, I'm a cricket fan, but I suggest Willowman transcends sport. But then, I'd argue the same about cricket! 

I loved Simpson's interrelated tale of the older batmaker coping with the break-up of his marriage and reconnecting with his daughter through the crafting of willow bats and a shared love of cricket. 

And the young cricketer, destined for greatness, who faces the trials and tribulations all cricket fans will recognise. Meanwhile, his sister seeks to make her mark in a traditionally male-orientated sport. 

In a fitting coincidence, I finished the book after watching the Season 1 episode of Amazon Prime's The Test dedicated to the young former Australian Test cricketer Phillip Hughes. In her Acknowledgements, Simpson wrote:

Thank you to Phillip Hughes, who should have played a hundred Tests, for the motivation to write this story. I loved watching you bat.

Browse or buy Willowman on Amazon (affiliate link). 

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Happy Reading

Regardless of the total number, genre and format, these were my four favourite books of the year. 

When I think of them, I recall struggling to keep my eyes open in bed to read another chapter of The Bookbinder, replaying sections of Surrender to savour Bono's words, grinding my teeth at the injustice laid bare in Truth-Telling, and sitting in the sun reading Willowman at the SCG on Day 5 of the New Year cricket test.

I hope you had similar rewarding reading experiences and memories in 2023 and that "Santa" brings you more favourite books for 2024.

© 2023 Robert Fairhead

N.B. You might like to read about my end-of-year Dad and Son Road Trip in my son's van. 

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Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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