Countdown to 2024: 2023 Books and Podcasts

Last year, I read 11 books! This year I read 15. Well over my usual goal of 10 books per year thanks to four audio books. I also listened to a lot of podcasts, which I have included at the end of this list. This was the first year I listened to audiobooks! I’m not the best listener, but I realized that if the book is non-fiction and similar in style to the podcasts I listen to, then I can do it, and it’s a good way to experience more books. I’m still primarily a reader, and I usually use my listening time for podcasts, so any audiobooks I choose should have a real reason to do the audio version, such as a specific reader or style.

6 fiction books 
(last year: 5)
Broken down into: 2 contemporary, 2 classic, 1 fantasy and 1 historical fiction
2 of these were the first books in a trilogy; 1 was a re-read

7 non-fiction books (last year: 4)
Broken down into: 4 memoirs, 1 academic/history, 1 psychology, and 1 motivational
1 of these was a theater book

2 books of poetry (both in the same collected poems book by the same author, 1 was short)

I read 3 non-American authors this year from Canada and the UK (same as last year). This year I read 9 female authors with 2 being a woman of color; last year I read 6 female authors, with 0 being women of color. 6 books were for book clubs (last year it was 3): 2 of those were for the fiction book club at work–last year there was 1 for that book club, and 3 were for the ERG discussion groups at work–last year it was 1 for those groups. Then one was a re-read for both the Thornton Wilder Society group and also my college friends book group. Usually I try to read 1 book by someone I know, and this year I read 2 (books by Daniel Mate and Erica Wernick). Last year I read 1 book because it related to something I was writing/working on, and this year I read 2 that were related to one of my musicals and to my podcast.

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s, though a big change this year is more non-fiction books. I also read more books by women authors (9/13 authors), and read more women of color. I kept my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, as well as read a theater book (I always try to read at least one a year).

Last year my goals were: “Keep up 1 poetry book, 1 Wilder book and make sure to read a feminism book and a biography. Only read 2 book club books. Read more women of color. Try to read at least 7 New Yorkers and New York Magazines.” Oy, I did not do well with these goals. I did read the 1 poetry book and 1 Wilder book, but I did not read a feminism book or a biography–though I read many autobiographies/memoirs, so maybe that’s okay. I read 6 books for book clubs, not 2, although that’s better than the 8 I read in 2021. I also fell really behind in my New Yorker and New York Magazine reading and only read 3 New Yorkers and 2 New York Magazines. Abysmal. Last year I read 6 New Yorkers and 6 New York Magazines in between books.

So, my goals for 2024 will be similar since I didn’t really accomplish any of last year’s: Keep up 1 poetry book, 1 Wilder book, and 1 theater book. Read the next books in the series that I started. Read a feminism book and a biography. I’ll try to only read 4 book club books. Continue to have at least half of the books be by women, and half of the books by women be authors of color. Try to read at least 7 New Yorkers and New York Magazines.

This year, I did the online poetry course ModPo in the fall, though just barely. I also read one short story and three screenplays this year.

My favorite book(s) of the year:
Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (I actually had quite a few issues with this book, but it still stuck with me and was enjoyable)

The List:

1. La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman
I love Pullman’s writing and I loved being back in this world, especially just after finishing the His Dark Materials series on HBO. The first half of this book had such a fantastic build. I loved the main character, a pre-teen boy named Malcolm who moves through all areas of his life–the inn his parents own, the priory where he visits the nuns and helps the carpenter build things, the scholar’s library he gets to visit, his school that has turned fascist when a League turns the students against parents and teachers–with a fascination for all that’s around him. I loved that Lyra was in the entire book without saying a word, as she is a baby. The book is essentially the story of how Lyra came to Jordan College, where we meet her in the first book of His Dark Materials when she’s about Malcolm’s age here, but, like His Dark Materials, it’s really the story of how children come into their sexuality, and how that’s not gross or inappropriate but natural and beautiful, and in the case for Malcolm, simply the discovery of certain feelings. When the flood came in the second half of the book, I wished the story didn’t just focus on Malcolm and his companion Alice shepherding Lyra down-river. The books are best when they are about what is going on in the whole world, and that laser focus on their odyssey (literally visiting enchanted islands with magical beings that wanted them to stay) was a bit much. I also felt the book was a missed opportunity to show what was going on with Marisa Coulter and Asriel during this time. They each appear, Marisa extremely briefly, but a real glimpse into their lives would have made the book more compelling. Overall, though, it was an enjoyable read, and I love this world and these characters.
Finished: February 2, 2023

2. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
I enjoyed this book, but I guess I’m very picky about perspectives in fiction and I thought the alternating of perspectives between the main characters, Sam and Sadie, resulted in me not really knowing either of them as well as I wanted to. There’d be sections from Sadie’s perspective, and we wouldn’t get to know what Sam was feeling, and vice versa. I felt I was being told more than being shown a lot of the time, and that was a little frustrating. This was the kind of book that I wanted to feel an intimate relationship between the two main characters, and aside from a few moments (mostly in the beginning, in Cambridge), I just didn’t. Part of that was because the story was about how their intimate friendship came apart for long stretches, but the narrative really needed them together in order to feel alive. Otherwise it was a little dull, even as it was moving forward. Again, I enjoyed this book, I just wanted more from it. They will probably try to make this into a movie whereas it should be a mini series or TV series. There’s too much to explore that wasn’t explored. As an aside, the character name Sadie Green is totally what I would call an alias of myself if I were writing a character I wanted to be based on me. I was named after a Sadie and my name shortens easily to Green. It didn’t help when I saw that we share the same Bat Mitzvah date 7 years apart (in the secular calendar, our Torah portions were two weeks off). Also, this author really knows her musical theater history. There’s a section in which Sam and his mother go see a production of The Rink.
Finished: February 25, 2023

3. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (Audiobook)
This was a re-read of a book I’d already read twice, so this time I listened to the audiobook to prepare for the book club discussions. I don’t have much to add about the book in this re-read, just that the two discussions I had, with both the Thornton Wilder Society and my college friends book club enhanced my experience with the book.
Finished: March 19, 2023

4. The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture by Gabor Mate MD with Daniel Mate (Audiobook)
My first audiobook! I read this in audiobook form because my friend and co-author Daniel Mate did the audiobook. This was not a typical book for me, but I appreciated reading/listening to it. I think if I had one issue it’s that I agreed with everything in the book, and it all made perfect sense to me. The issue in that is that nothing was particularly surprising. I enjoyed hearing the stories of the patients, well, maybe not enjoyed perhaps, but I was invested in these stories. As someone who grew up in a not normal household, I have long been critical of the idea of normal, and yet I also feel like I am susceptible to certain ways of living and doing things being seen as normal when they aren’t. It’s a good reminder that the way we think about our bodies and healing in our culture, which can seem normal, can also in fact be toxic. I’ll be thinking about that moving forward.
Finished: March 31, 2023

5. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy (Audiobook)
Another audiobook! I really enjoyed this book, especially to listen to, as it’s read by the author who has an acting background. Not only was everything in her own voice but she brought in other voices for people, and I was glad to hear those instead of whatever voice I would have given them in my head. I felt like I was living this life alongside her. The story was so well told that when I got to the end, I felt like I was missing one dramatic beat–when she comes to understand that her mom was abusive. The idea was introduced by a therapist she abruptly fires because she’s not ready to accept the idea. But then she goes into her eating disorder recovery, also well-told, and the focus shifts to that recovery and not her relationship with her mother. The relationship did come back in the last chapter, but at that point she tells us she was abusive as if it’s already fact. I really wanted to understand the lead up to that understanding in the last chapter–did her eating disorder recovery help the realization? Was it a gradual realization or sudden? I just needed that beat, especially since that’s the title.
Finished: April 28, 2023

6. Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love by Laura Dern and Diane Ladd (Audiobook)
I listened to the audiobook version of this, which the two of them read (and I think do a good job of making it feel like a spontaneous conversation, though you can also tell it’s being read). I only listen to audiobooks if I think the audio version is going to enhance the experience for me, and this one felt like the perfect audiobook. Enlightened, which starred the two of them as mother and daughter, is one of my favorite television series, and so I was interested in the their relationship from watching that. I was happy that they referenced working on Enlightened once or twice throughout the conversations, including some insight into my favorite scene. Overall I thought this was a good mother-daughter book that dug into that relationship, and it was also a good book about the life of a working actor. I recommend the audio version for Diane Ladd’s voice alone, though I’m sure the print version is fun to read too.
Finished: June 10, 2023

7. Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner
I think what makes this book important/necessary is that it is the words of Judith Heumann, one of the leading disability activists who was at all the turning points in disability justice in the latter half of the 20th century and 21st (she passed away this year). Not just present, but a leader. This book is short, so it doesn’t cover much in depth with the exception of the 504 Sit-In in 1977, the longest non-violent occupation of a federal building in United States history. The entire middle section of the book is an account of this protest, and since it’s something most people know very little about (few people even know about the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990), it was great to read about it from an inside perspective. The rest of the book was a climb to that event (Heumann’s childhood, college life, quest to become a teacher) and the aftermath (the ADA, Heumann’s positions working with disability around the world and in the White House), but those sections were more of an overview. While I’m grateful to have Judith Heumann’s words and perspective, I also wished I was getting more historical detail, and this book works as a great springboard to learn more about the disability movement past and present. I read this book for a company book discussion group, so it was also nice to discuss it with other folks.
Finished: June 29, 2023

8. Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
This was a very academic book, but once I got into it, I was hooked. It definitely helped that I was reading it with a group of people from work and discussing small sections of it weekly. It helped to focus on the dense material and ask questions, especially since I know very little about real estate. The 1960s and 1970s are two of my favorite decades to read/watch/think about, and this book really played into my love of that history. It will also help me with certain writing projects taking place during that time, and it gave me ideas for new ones. Sometimes I wished that the writing were less academic–like, could she just say this sentence a simpler way? But it really wasn’t that hard to follow. I think this book will be a very rewarding read for those interested in the topic of real estate, housing, race in the US, and 60s/70s politics and history. I knew race and real estate were related, but I did not realize the extent, and I never realized how complex it was. Even though I doubt I’ll ever be a home owner (and the book touches on how overly reliant our country is on homes as a way to build wealth), I will never sleep on real estate again as a current flowing through everything in our lives.
Finished: July 18, 2023

9. The Tree of Life, Book One: On the Brink of the Precipice, 1939 by Chava Rosenfarb
I fell into reading this book because it was discussed in another book I’d read, People Love Dead Jews, and as a group of us from work discussed that book, someone suggested reading The Tree of Life for discussion as well. I saw this book as a continuation of the Holocaust literature I read as an 11 or 12-year-old–and now this was Holocaust literature for adults, even though the young characters in it–Rachel, Bella, David–were the ones that most hooked me. As I reached the end of the book, however, I found myself even more compelled by the characters I found horrible in the beginning–Rumkowski and the English teacher. They do and say horrible things at first, but then become way more complicated, in particular, Rumkowski and his fascination with Hitler and delusions of working with him. There are 10 main characters in this story, and sometimes I couldn’t keep track of them all. Some would appear and then disappear for a long while. But that gave me an overall sense of the diversity of Jews in Lodz, Poland, in 1939 (this first book in the trilogy covers that entire year) and how with so much diversity they were still intertwined. This book also showed me that with all my Holocaust education, there is still so much I don’t know about that time and what happened across Europe. The chapter in which the Germans invade Poland–those events were new to me. I was also struck but how quickly lives were changed once the Germans invaded. I always thinking of the events of the war and Holocaust happening gradually to people, and yet while it was a slow build to September, 1939, the move to takeover and forced labor was quick. In the next book the characters will be in the ghetto, and while I know there won’t be much hope of survival for any of them, I still feel I owe it to these characters to know them while they are alive.
Finished: September 1, 2023

10. Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder
Wilder’s final novel, it’s quite enjoyable and light and fun in tone. The last 75 pages or so were a little slower for me, but I could just have been busy, though maybe I was ready for it to end a little sooner. At some point I will re-read it and probably have a deeper perspective on it, but overall there was so much in the book to think about. There were some really interesting chapters that touched on disability, and there was possibly the only character in Wilder’s work that is explicitly Jewish (a very minor character). The novel is set in Newport, Rhode Island, and the opening chapters set up the idea of the 9 cities of Newport, similar to the 9 cities of Troy. Throughout the novel I kept going back to that chapter to refer to them. I really felt the book’s commentary on class and how this character, Theophilus North, being white, male, middle class, and educated, was able to move among all the classes with ease and how that afforded him a certain power over every situation, in a way. Wilder had planned sequels for this character, which I can totally see. It seemed similar in tone to a series of old movies from the 30s like The Thin Man. I see there is a 1988 movie version with Anthony Edwards, which I’ll have to watch. So funny that this novel, written in the early 1970s about New England in the 1920s, became a 1980s movie.
Finished: October 7, 2023

11. Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green
I really enjoyed this book and the way in which it was written. At the end, co-author Jesse Green says that his footnotes were a away to make the book feel more conversational. I’m not sure they do that, but they do add a commentary, sort of like the reader’s perspective as if they also were in the room listening to Mary Rodgers tell her story. I enjoyed getting to know Mary, first as a mischievous little girl and then as an adult and writer trying to make her way in the musical theater business. I found it refreshing to hear from the perspective of someone who struggled during this golden age time because one usually only reads about the writers who had a string of hits with a flop or two, rather than the inverse. Refreshing may be the wrong word, let’s say it felt more realistic of the industry. And reading this book while I, myself, was putting on a reading of my musical… well it was like a balm–we’re all in this together and chaos is normal. I was having trouble sleeping as I was fixing lyrics last minute, and she was expanding her show The Princess and the Pea into the two-act Once Upon a Mattress in like two months for Broadway, not sleeping at all. Different scale, but same universe. I was also interested in the juxtaposition of the idea of “genius” throughout the book, as Mary pits herself against not only her father Richard Rodgers, but her friend Stephen Sondheim. There seemed to be a theme of, whose work deserves life? And just because you aren’t a “genius” doesn’t mean your work isn’t worth being seen. I loved her friendship with Sondheim, and I would love to see their story told in some way, like a TV series like Fosse/Verdon. Another interesting aspect of the book to me was Mary’s Jewishness, especially after watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Mary is a contemporary of that character, but her upper class Jewish experience during this era (even after she converts to Catholicism) feels so much more authentic than anything in that TV series. And finally, as much as I enjoyed the showbiz stuff, what really hooks me are the personal relationships, like her marriages, friendships, and family dynamics. I’m glad she told her story and the book was written in this way. You don’t need to be a “genius” to have a compelling story.
Finished: December 8, 2023

12. You Are the Magic by Erica Wernick
I was so happy to read one of Erica Wernick’s books this year. I love Erica’s honesty, especially with her own journey. As someone trying to make things happen in the arts/entertainment field, so much of this book resonated with me and gave me more to think about. I also felt validated that what I am doing is right, and I should just keep going. I would often read it at night when I couldn’t sleep, and so the book was also helpful in creating a calm and focused headspace. I’m looking forward to reading Erica’s other book as well.
Finished: December 22, 2023

13. The Green Wave by Muriel Rukeyser
I’m making my way through all of Rukeyser’s poetry, and the latest book was The Green Wave, which I’d read off and on for about two months. There were some real gems in here, particularly “Traditional Tune,” about genocides, which felt very relevant. I also appreciated reading a speech from her play “The Middle of the Air”, translations of six poems by Octavio Paz, and translations of Rari from the Marquesas, all included in this book.
Finished: December 25, 2023

14. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I loved how different in form this book was–I found myself fascinated not just by the juxtaposition of historical record with fictional narrative but with how the fictional narrative was in the form of historical record and why that choice was made. Why weren’t the different voices written in traditional dialogue or like a script? I was also fascinated by the tone of this–at once seeming as stark and ethereal as the graveyard scene in Our Town (cited as an influence) and as zany as the netherworld in Beetlejuice. I know this book is being adapted into an opera, and I’m excited to see it one day because I think that will inform more on the tone, or at least what this opera wants to do with the tone. I think this was a really simple story told in a deep and complex way. And the complexity really wasn’t actually that complicated once I was more immersed in the book. I don’t think I fully registered every detail of character, plot, and setting, but I felt them, or intuited them, maybe. The book felt more lived-in in that way. Like I was inside the book similar to how the characters went inside other characters and learned and felt things. Or the book was inside me. Very ghost-like. I once heard Saunders speak at a New Yorker Festival talk, and I remember him saying something like, good writing makes you want to read the next sentence, and then the next sentence, and then the next sentence (very much paraphrasing from my memory of 15 years or so ago). I thought about that a lot while reading this, as the sentences were so spaced out for much of the book. I felt like was being asked, did you like this sentence? Then move on to the next one. I did move on. I read Saunders’ Pastoralia short story book and enjoyed it, so I was intrigued by this novel. I remain intrigued by his work and hope to read more of his books.
Finished: December 29, 2023

15. “Orpheus” by Muriel Rukeyser
I read this immediately after finishing her previous book of poetry, The Green Wave. This was a tough poem, and I think I’m going to have to return to it at some point after reading more about it. Rukeyser has written about her experience writing this poem, so there’s more to explore here. It is about Orpheus but it’s about Rukeyser as well, after she’s had a child.
Finished: December 31, 2023

Short Stories:
“His Dark Materials: The Collectors” by Philip Pullman on Audible

Little Women by Greta Gerwig, Women Talking by Sarah Polley, and Aftersun by Charlotte Wells.

Online Classes:
ModPo, 10th Year (University of Pennsylvania)

Podcasts (listened to all episodes)
Scene to Song
Moonlighting the Podcast
On the Nose: A Jewish Currents Podcast
36 Questions
Let’s Get Lyrical with Carice and Daniel
This is Reality
Mother Country Radicals
Disney Inside Out
In Strange Woods
Kisses on a Postcard

And Episodes of:

You Are Good
Putting it Together
Thesis on Joan
The Original Cast
Maintenance Phase
You’re Wrong About
Broadway Breakdown
Know the Show
Aria Code
Out for Blood
The Neurotic Vaccine
A Musical Theatre Podcast
The Gospel of Musical Theatre
Spielberg Pod
Spielberg Chronologically
Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel
Superhero Ethics
Pod Meets World
Setting the Standard: Stories from the Great American Songbook
Broadway Nation
Little Known Facts
Bechdel Cast
Shame Spiral
Fall of the House of Sunshine
Dear Evan Hansen Town Hall (Sirius XM On Broadway)
Millennials are Killing Capitalism
Adventures with Dead Jews

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