Books Read in 2023

The Tradition

This is a tradition inspired many years ago by Corey Mesler, poet, novelist, and owner of Burke’s Books in Memphis . . . but Corey often adds movies to his list, which I haven’t done here.

As you can see, my reading is quite diverse, as is my writing. I read and write in several genres, but obviously, more in memoir/nonfiction/spiritual than in fiction. I didn’t read as much in 2023 as in previous years . . . not sure why. Busy with book tour for ALL NIGHT, ALL DAY: LIFE, DEATH, & ANGELS, and working on a new anthology, so there’s that. Also quite a bit of travel (maybe I’ll do another post about “trips in 2023!”). . . but here they are: the books I read in 2023:

Memoirs/Nonfiction: (10)

The Concrete Killing Fields: One woman’s battle to break the cycle of homelessness by Pat Morgan (Pat is writing the Foreword for my upcoming anthology, Memphis Cares: Homelessness, Hunger, Mental Illness, and Incarceration.)

We Hardly Knew Them: how homeless, mentally ill people became collateral damage by Pat Morgan

Jujitzu for Christ by Jack Butler

The Kneeling Man by Leta McCollough Seletzky (Memphis author)

Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York by Elizabeth Passarella (Memphis author)

Conversations with Beth Henley edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Mary C. Hartig

It Was an Ugly Couch Anyway by Elizabeth Passarella (Memphis author)

The Steps We Take: A Memoir of Southern Reckoning by Ellen Ann Fentress

Born Into Crisis by Kenneth Nixon Jr. (ARC read for interview for Southern Lit Review, coming soon!)

How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key (Harrison contributed an essay to my anthology Southern Writers on Writing from 2018 and wrote a wonderful blurb for my first novel, Cherry Bomb. I share a snippet of my education with Harrison, who graduated from Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, which I attended for one year, back in 1970-71.)

Novels: (5)

The Girl from the Red Rose Motel by Susan Beckham Zurenda

The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney (Robert wrote a wonderful blurb for All Night, All Day: Life, Death, & Angels.)

A Glooming Peace This Morning by Allen Mendenhall (Former editor of Southern Literary Review, Allen has reviewed several of my books and interviewed me in the past. See my blurb of his first novel below!)

The Exchange by John Grisham

Homeward by Angela Jackson-Brown (Angela is a contributor to my latest anthology, All Night, All Day: Life, Death, & Angels!)

Spiritual: (4)

Mary as the Early Christians Knew Her by Frederica Mathewes-Green (Frederica contributed an essay to All Night, All Day: Life, Death, & Angels)

The Struggle For Virtue by Archbishop Averky

The Cross of Loneliness, Hieromonk Nicholas Sakharov, editor

Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame by Fr. Stephen Freeman (Fr. Stephen wrote a wonderful blurb for my book Pilgrim Interrupted.)

Poetry: (1)

Paradise is Jagged by Ann Fisher-Wirth (Ann has several poems in All Night, All Day: Life, Death, & Angels and was on a panel with me at Off Square Books in Oxford on December 5.)

Coming up: (2)

Let us Descend by Jesmyn Ward (I am so excited that Jesmyn is an instructor and mentor for my God daughter Katherine Thames’s daughter Mary Thames, who is studying creative writing at Tulane University!)

Salvage This World by Michael Farris Smith (Michael has an essay in Southern Writers on Writing from 2018.)

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

In progress: (5)

Behold a Great Light: Daily Devotional for the Nativity Fast Through Theophany edited by Lynette Horner (Ancient Faith Publishing)

A Voice For Our Time by Alexander Schmemann (This is the current book I am studying with a group of women at St. John Orthodox Church and our pastor, Father Philip Rogers.)

My Name is Barbra by Barbra Streisand (memoir)

Soon Done with the Crosses (poems) by Claude Wilkinson (Claude was a contributor to my anthology Southern Writers on Writing in 2018.)

Known by Salt (poems) by Tina Mozelle Braziel

The “Favorites”

It’s hard to choose “favorites” from this list, since I really enjoyed all of them. (I don’t continue reading a book if I’m not “hooked” pretty early.) But I guess the ones in the photo at the top of this post are at least among my favorites this past year.

My blurb for A Glooming Peace This Morning by Allen Mendenhall

Allen Mendenhall succeeds abundantly in presenting what he himself calls “the universal familiar” in his eighth book and debut novel, A GLOOMING PEACE THIS MORNING.  Setting his story in the fictional county of Magnolia in the (also fictional) southern town of Andalusia, Mendenhall shows his literary skills and strong sense of place from the start, as Andalusia becomes an important character in the book. Comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are bound to appear, as readers encounter characters reminiscent of Boo Radley (Bobby Cox) and Scout (Cephas, the narrator) and long for an appearance by a lawyer with the chops of Atticus Finch. When no Atticus appears, the town—and readers of the book—are left to accept the “glooming peace” and the sad finality of the events that will affect Cephas and others forever. The story, of course, is everything, as Mendenhall states near the end of the book when he says, “All vanishes . . . except stories.” But I contend that the writing is also everything, especially when a story is told by a gifted literary artist like Mendenhall. If you’re looking for a Hallmark story, look elsewhere. But if you don’t mind words like “looming” and “glooming” populating a narrative, and you enjoy a good Fitzgerald-ish read, this book is for you. Forbidden love. Coming-of-age drama. Courtroom scenes. It’s all in there. Kudos to Mendenhall!—Susan Cushman, author of John and Mary Margaret, Cherry Bomb, and seven other books.