Aga’s favourite reads of 2023. Plus a book to look out for in 2024.

SR Books of 23Three books I read in 2023 will stay with me forever:

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin is an American author and screenwriter and it is her tenth novel, soon to be transformed into a feature film by Paramount. The two main characters, Sam and Sadie, are childhood friends who later become partners in a company creating video games.

Yes, they’re both gamers, but you don’t have to be one to love the book. And yes, it is a boy meets girl story, but it’s not a physical romance. Their precious friendship waxes and wanes but never weakens. To quote Sadie: “Lovers are common… True collaborators in this life are rare.”

In Macbeth’s soliloquy, “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” refers to the relentlessness and futility of life. In Zevin’s book it’s about the “possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption”, of endless chances and restarts offered by video games. It’s an exhilarating prospect, and one that’s explored in this engrossing story of friendship, rivalry, creativity, and life’s messy twists.

Still Life by Sarah Winman

SR Reading novelsIt’s a whopper of a book, spanning several decades on 450 pages – and you’ll be glad it’s so long because you won’t want it to end.

The story begins in Italy during World War II. A young British soldier named Ulysses meets Miss Evelyn Skinner, a 64-year-old art historian, commissioned to help identify masterpieces hidden in the Tuscan hills to protect them from the carnage of war. Their paths diverge, he returns to London, but is soon drawn back to Italy, this time accompanied by his ‘accidental’ family — his ex-wife’s young daughter, Alys; his friend Cress who communicates with trees; and a talking parrot named Claude. Will he meet Evelyn again?

A lot happens in those 450 pages: relationships form and break, people fall in love, a life is saved and another lost, but one thing remains constant – the bond that holds together the chosen family and the role of art in maintaining what makes us human.

As Evelyn tells Ulysses:  “Beautiful art opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, Ulysses. It repositions our sight and judgment. Captures forever that which is fleeting,”

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel

SR Aga olive tree 1Emily St John Mandel’s 2014 dystopian novel, Station Eleven, left me in awe of her writing. Since that discovery, I’d been anxiously waiting for her follow-up books, and they never disappoint. The Glass Hotel was spellbinding, and you really need to read it to appreciate her latest book, Sea of Tranquility.

It’s so much more than a time travel novel – although we do a fair amount of time and space hopping. It intertwines the stories of Edwin St. Andrew, an Edwardian exile in British Columbia, and Olive Llewelyn, a famous writer who, two centuries later, is touring Earth, far away from her home in the second moon colony.

This brief summary doesn’t do the book justice, but revealing more would spoil your enjoyment of it. Suffice to say, this dazzling investigation of the idea of parallel worlds and of the fragility of our existence, is one of the best books I have ever read.

To quote the words of another favourite writer of mine, Naomi Alderman, author of The Power: “It is heaven to be immersed in the waters of Mandel's imagination, she is always able to see past the present moment to the futures it contains and the past that informed it.”

SR Aga ProfileAnd finally, the book I’m looking forward to reading in 2024:

Creation Lake  by Rachel Kushner

I loved Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, and her new science-fiction novel promises to be yet another treat. The story of a secret agent engaged to sabotage a group of eco-terrorists in a France of the near-future, apparently reads like Kill Bill written by John le Carré – that’s enough of a recommendation for me to want to snap it up as soon as it comes out in September.

Join Aga for a Writers Retreat in May 2024 to learn first hand how to become a better writer, how to develop what your idea is and how to fall in love with the process.