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  • Writer's pictureTyler Hauth

2023's year-of-the-bookstore reading list (with Harry Potter rankings).

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

This year pretty well captures the full scope of what it takes to buy a rundown building, completely renovate it from the ground to the ceiling (literally), and then build a bookstore inside of it / start a company. I was a novice at every step, and made a thousand mistakes, but I also made some interesting friends along the way and learned a bunch of great skills. We're opening Jan 1st of 2024, so 2023 is quite literally the year-of-building-a-bookstore. It's been the busiest year of my life, but I still managed to find a lot of time to read (and write, more importantly). I'm going to rate all the books, but not necessarily rate them against one another. Here's the list:

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis - 9.4. I've had the immense pleasure of reading this book to my four-year-old son, Denver. He's capable of reading the book, too, and has taken down entire pages without asking for help on words more than once or twice. It's a great exercise in terms of expanding his already considerable reading ability, but also a great book to read to a kid because of the general ethos of the story. He calls it "Polly and Diggory's book," and that's not a bad title, actually.

In terms of content the book is largely too complex for a four-year-old, but the fact that he's become so attached to the nightly reading despite that tells you just how important this sort of quality time is. We've just started The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - or as he calls it, The Lion, the Witch, and the Laundry Room. It's really hard for a kid that's only four to pay full attention to a book like this, and his mind / eyes / body wanders most of the time, but we're still both getting a ton out of things. I think the great lesson in book 1 is that good things happen to people that do good, and that it's important to do good even when (especially when) no one is looking. Good advice for adults, too.

On Writing and Failure by Stephen Marche - 8.5. It's a really solid little booklet on writing, and especially on all the failures that come with writing. It can be bleak if you're naive, I guess. For me it was fun, and rang true. It did set quite the tone for the writing workshop I was in as the first book that we all read together.

All the Sinner's Bleed by S. A. Cosby - 8.2. This is a great crime novel, but crime fiction doesn't get me going as much as some of the other stuff on this list. I guess that's all I'll say. Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck - 8.0. The best thing about this novel is how short it was, and I don't mean that in a passive aggressive way. It was beautifully written, the prose being, I think, the primary draw. I respect it, but don't think I'll remember much about it in a few years.

The End of Good Intentions by David Borofka - 9.0. I got the chance to meet David Borofka thanks to Steve Yarbrough (who is also on this list), and I have to say he's a really informed and interesting guy. This novel was great, with concise prose, gripping conflict, and great twists that were hard to see coming.

Fairytale by Stephen King. 9.5+ Listen, I read this last year and read it again this year. Actually, I started reading it with Denver just a little before The Magician's Nephew. The beginning caught his attention a ton, but there's not enough time to read more than one book to him at a time, so I finished the second read on my own. It's probably the best thing King has written since 11/22/63 or The Institute.

Holly by Stephen King. 8.5 I had to work at this one a little, but it was masterfully crafted, well written, and generally a good story. I think I have a certain sort of expectation when it comes to King, and Holly didn't quite meet it. Still, it's good, and as someone that really admires cover art, I've got to say this one is striking. Fairytale was my favorite cover of 2022. I don't think this is my favorite of 2023, but it would make a top three list. Covers that actually evoke real elements of the story are things I really appreciate (obscure covers that look like a high schooler's graphic design project, on the other hand, are things I despise). Notice the figure in the basement, the figure upstairs, the grates in the basement window? The color scheme, too, is striking.

All right - I read the Harry Potter series toward the end of this year. I ripped through all 7 novels in about a month or two. I'd forgotten how incredibly well done they are, how overtly they're set up as mysteries / detective stories (particularly the first 4), and how well Rowling did in crafting the world, the characters, and the premise. It's beyond masterful, I think it's probably the best series to be written in our lifetimes. I could really go on about that, but I won't right now.

It's hard for me to give these 1-10 ratings, so I'll place them in the order I enjoyed them the most instead. They're all 9+ for me. The very best of them (book 4, book 1, book 2, book 7) are just about as good as fiction gets. I wouldn't hesitate to give the whole series a 10. The longer I look at my rankings, the more uncertain I am, and the clearer it is that I'm totally in love with all the books. It's especially worth mentioning how impossibly well Rowling ENDS the series in a climate where multiple best selling authors are dragging their feet to end a series (because of how difficult it is, I suspect). I think she just about ended things as impressively as is possible, and she wrote the books on a seriously disciplined schedule as well. I think these are the finest pieces of children's literature to ever be written, on par with the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but better, even, than them. I spent most of my youth obsessively reading these books back to back to back to back on a kind of insane, strange loop. I feel the urge to read them again despite having only finished a few weeks ago, so some things never change, I guess. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling - 2 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling - 4 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling - 5

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling - 1 (it's just the best, guys). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling - 7 (it's still good, but frustrated me a few times). Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling - 6 (this is the part in the rankings where I realize how difficult it is to rank these books, because this is a ridiculously good book, but I have no idea how to put it higher in the rankings). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling - 3 (this could easily be #2). The 4th book is an absolute slugfest. It's right on the edge of being convoluted, but it escapes that fate by an outrageously masterful final act. This is the book where the series really transitions from middle grade / young adult to new adult / adult fantasy. It's a rough shift (which book 5 takes the brunt of, and that's why book 5 is my least favorite - still a solid 9/10, though), and I think the reason book 4 is so memorable, and so fun, is that it's really the end of Harry's innocence, the beginning of his rapid and unfair catapult into adulthood, and the beginning of my only major complaints about the series (not going to get into it here). Reading Harry Potter at 29 rather than 15, and being a father now, was a really different experience. I still found the story completely engaging, I still connected with the world and the characters, but I also had an overwhelming desire to put my arm around Harry and tell him that he was doing a great job, and that everything would be all right. The most glaring and painful thing he lacks throughout the series is a strong parental figure to really take him under their wing and train him. It almost hurt, how badly he needed that figure, and how totally absent the figure was. Rowling is a master, this series is her magnum opus. If I had to pick a single book to read for the rest of my life, it would be one of these. If you think that Harry Potter is not fine fiction, or that you're above reading a story written for children, get over yourself. It's seriously good - or as Uncle Andrew from The Magician's Nephew would say, It's a dem' fine story, sir. A dem' fine story. The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne 7.0. Listen, I know everyone completely loved this book, but I didn't. I just didn't. The characters felt awkwardly distant, I struggled with their motivations, and it was hard to root for them because it felt like I didn't know them at all.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - 9.3. This series is my favorite new read of the year. I read books 1 and 2 - each of them were enormous, easily the equivalent of reading 5 or 6 standard size novels, and Sanderson makes it worth while. I've got to say he's the absolute king of the 3rd act. These books are the reading equivalents of watching someone hit a grand slam. I honestly can't wait to read books 3 and 4 this year.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson - 9.5. This book has the most rewarding death I've ever read. I quite literally was shouting happily when it happened. It was one of the very rare moments in the series where exactly what I wanted to happen, happened, and it was unbelievably awesome. If you've read the book, you probably know what I'm talking about. I believe it was in chapter 89 (Go, Adolin, Go!). The Lost Son by Stephanie Vanderslice - It's a 9.0+ all day. Vanderslice really knows how to tug at your heart strings. It's beautifully written, incredibly memorable, and worth talking about. I think it deserves a lot of attention. Highly recommend it. It's rich and textured and reveals so much about overcoming adversity and about what it means to be a parent.

The Unmade World by Steve Yarbrough - 9.5+. The Unmade World, I think, is a great illustration of what happens when an absolute master at their craft hits a homerun (not sure where all the baseball analogies are coming from). It's perfectly plotted, the pacing is fast but never confusing or rushed, and the climax gives you every bit of payoff you could ever want. I didn't expect this much suspense when I started the novel, nor a book that was this thoughtful.

I should mention that Steve has been a great mentor / help to me in the last few months as I've been navigating some really difficult publishing decisions. A great author, and a great member of the literary community.

Our Parent who Art in Heaven by Gary Craig Powell - 9.0 any day of the week, higher when you consider just how absolutely unique and unapologetic it is. My praise for this hilarious satire centers around how simultaneously funny and serious it is. Powell's asking real questions - what is the nature of truth in a world that's obsessed with being politically correct? Have we gone too far when we're policing not only action, not only speech, but thought itself? The book brings up some really tough questions - uncomfortable questions - and for that reason alone it's worth a serious look. It's important, I think, to be willing to offend someone to say the truth. It's also important to be thoughtful and careful about your words, though.

I read easily 200 short stories this year - indeed, the majority of my reading time was taken up by the reading of short pieces of fiction - from people in the MFA program at Emerson College, from celebrated authors, and from friends. It's way too much to list, but I do think it's very important to read short fiction as well as novel length fiction, especially if you're styling yourself as an author / instructor of writing. Merry Christmas everyone. If you live in Massachusetts, consider visiting us at The Book Forge on January 1st. It's at 3 South Main Street in Orange, MA. (If you read last year's list, I've got to admit that I failed to read 23 books and I'm also still fat. I accomplished a lot more than I thought I would elsewhere, though.)

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Dec 25, 2023

I remember reading a short story you wrote years ago. You touched my heart when you asked if I would like to read it. I was so impressed by the maturity in your work! I thought of all the times when our families got together. We always had so much fun, but what I most remember is you with your nose in a book. I was proud of you, because I was a voracious reader too and I also started early with my grandfather teaching me to read by his newspaper. Like Denver, he had me reading before I was in kindergarten. My mom also read to us every day. I wish more parents read to their children. I believe…

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