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5 of Ashley's Favorite Reads of 2023 (Part 2)

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

Oh my goodness, my reading picked up toward the end of the year (though we've still got a little more time!), and I have read some really amazing books recently. I thoroughly enjoyed several of the books I read during the spooky season (as seasonal reading is still pretty new for me!), and I also had multiple holds come in for books that I've highly anticipated. Library holds for the win!

For my five favorite reads from the first half of 2023, check out this Bookish Fave blog post.

Mike Gayle’s All the Lonely People ( | - Oh my goodness, this book, which I listened to on audio through Libro, was a phenomenal story of an elderly man, Hubert Bird, who had shut himself off from the world entirely over the last several years. Only his weekly phone calls with his daughter who lives in Australia connect him to the world, and in those calls, he tells her stories of a world of friends and liveliness that is far from the reality.

However, after years of isolation, Hubert finds himself in the unlikely position of becoming president of a new movement to end loneliness. It all begins with a frantic knock on his door from a new neighbor, a desperate young mother who needs childcare help for her daughter so that she can go to a job interview.

Watching the way Hubert's world changes, and how hard won those changes are, is incredibly moving, but seeing the way their efforts make a larger impact is even more amazing and also explores a core issue in our society - the isolation and loneliness that plague so many people. If I'd read this one earlier, it would've likely included it as one of my awards - it was truly outstanding.

K.C. Davis’s House to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing ( | - I could have used this book even earlier in my life (right around the time I had my first daughter, for example!), but I'm so very thankful that I experienced it this year - still very helpful. I felt like Davis's approach to "care tasks" is radically different than any of the other approaches I have seen, and while I learned a lot about reframing both my views of and my goals for care tasks because of this book, the central idea that has really stayed with me is the notion that keeping your house clean is not a moral act. In other words, inability to manage care tasks as well as you think you should is not a moral failing, and letting go of shame related to it is incredibly freeing.

Davis includes practical, actionable items that can be put in place immediately, but for me what has really resonated and stayed with me is a complete reframing of how we view household responsibilities (and our place in them). She talks a lot about reframing rather than cleaning, care tasks rather than chores, and compassionate self-talk rather than bullying - in the months that have followed since I listened to this one (which I LOVED on audio - she reads it herself, and I highly recommend it!), I find myself mentally revisiting her tips. I took lots of notes while listening, and I know I will be revisiting this one and reading more of her work.

Sara Novic’s True Biz ( | - I talked about this one on episode 257 because this was the recommendation that Jen had for me in our latest "recommendations for each other" episode, and I read it so that I could report back about it. I loved this one for many reasons, including the point of view of multiple narrators, the vivid setting, and the amount I learned during the reading experience. This novel centers a residential Deaf school where all learning comes in the form of American Sign Language.

Charlie is new at the school, and despite having been Deaf with a dysfunctional cochlear implant, she has never had the opportunity to learn ASL, and the discovery of this language is both exhilarating and overwhelming. Austin, who is her guide when she first gets to River Valley, comes from a family of multiple generations of deaf people, and he communicates only through ASL with no verbal speech. Then there is February, a CODA who is the headmistress of this amazing school, and we quickly discover that she is attempting to hold off major problems for the school. I learned so much about the complicated history of deaf education in the US, and I appreciated the exploration of what drives activism and brings about change.

Sonora Reyes’s The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School ( | - I talked about this brilliant book on episode 261. I have to say that I feel like this young adult pick has it all - humor, hard topics, complicated family dynamics, good friends, and young love.

Yamilet Flores is finding her way at a new private Catholic school where she feels like she stands out despite her goal of blending in. Yami starts out the year determined to keep her homosexuality a secret after being painfully outed and betrayed by her best friend at her previous school. She also wants to keep her brother César, who was constantly in fights at their other school, out of trouble. However, there are a lot of complications for both Yami and César, both of whom are keeping a lot of secrets that weigh on them. They have to learn to trust each other and to share some of those burdens to find a way forward.

Shelby Van Pelt's Remarkably Bright Creatures ( | - I'd seen this one everywhere and was concerned that it wouldn't live up to the hype, but I absolutely adored this brilliant book. We meet Tova, an elderly woman who works the night shift at the local aquarium, where she takes special care to greet the animals and to clean and care for the space in the conscientious way she's always lived her life.

This one is a spellbinding story that weaves together several very unlikely characters whose connections unfurl as the novel progresses. And yes, there is an octopus, a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus, who plays a vital role in this story. I read the e-book of this one, but I hear the audio is phenomenal as well. (As I was reviewing this post, I just noticed that Jen featured this one on her Five Favorites from the first half of the year! Sorry to duplicate, but it really is amazing!)

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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