Monday, January 1, 2024

2023: Reading & Writing in Review

It's that magical time when countless people share their reading highlights from the previous year, and I'm excited to jump in! 2023 was a great year for reading. I didn't get around to reading poetry as I had planned, but I focused on reading whatever was working for me and not feeling bad about putting books down that I couldn't get into.

In 2023, I dove into a mix of novels for adults, graphic novels (the kids and I read all of the post-show Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels!), nonfiction books and children's novels. In my official total, I reached 95 books (which does not include some cookbooks and the multitude of picture books I read to my kids). A lot of the books I read were awesome! Here's a small sampling of what I read over the past year:

January-Viper's Tangle, by Francois Mauriac:
This classic portrays Louis, an ageing, sick lawyer, who knows that death is near and decides to write an account (which he'll leave for his wife to find after his death) where he dives into the history of the resentment and hatred that sprang up in their marriage. This novel was an incredible reflection on sin, resentment, forgiveness and renewal, and it would be perfect reading during Lent!

February-Laurus, by Eugene Volodozkin and translated by Lisa C. Hayden:
This is a gorgeous novel based in medieval Russia Arseny, a man who discovers that sin quite literally leads to death. He then embarks on a life of repentance and atonement, becoming a pilgrim as he seeks healing. Holy fools adorn the pages, and deep themes of humility, suffering, peace, and monasticism are all intertwined in this beautiful story.

March-North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell:
I had seen the miniseries version of this story over a decade ago, and I'm grateful I finally picked up the novel! It was excellent. It follows Margaret Hale, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman. At the story's outset, Margaret's father reveals that he cannot, in good conscience, continue with the Church of England. So, he uproots their family to Milton, a manufacturing town in the north of England. Here, Margaret is faced with issues of social justice, economic inequality, community and family bonds, and love. The miniseries is great, but the book is SO MUCH BETTER!

April-Animal Farm, by George Orwell:
I hadn't picked this novel up since high school, and revisiting it was a lot of fun! Rather than reading it strictly as an allegory or looking at the symbolism I simply read it as a whimsical story about animals. I really enjoyed it, and it was fun to see what jumped out at me when I wasn't focused on noting particular elements in preparation for an exam.

May-On the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Wingfeather Saga Book 1), by Andrew Peterson
This is a silly, fun, dramatic fantasy tale that follows Janner, a twelve-year-old boy who is feeling dissatisfied with life. Routinely caring for his younger siblings as he lives in a small town (that is ruled by the menacing Fangs of Dang) with his family, Janner longs to see the world. And one day, his life is turned upside-down as he finds himself on a dramatic, never-ending life-and-death adventure. This delightful book is a perfect read-aloud!

June-My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok
Asher Lev is a young boy in a devout Jewish community in 1950s New York. One day, he begins drawing, and discovers that he has a gift and a love for art. However, as Asher explores this talent, he realizes that not all in his religious community see his gift as something he should develop--especially when he wades into blasphemous territory. This was a fascinating book with so many thought-provoking themes and characters.

July-Winterset Hollow, by Jonathan Durham
In this modern, urban fantasy (with some splashes of horror mixed in), several young adults wind up on an island to pay tribute to a beloved novel and its author. However,they discover that the "fantasy" novel they love has more truth in it than they anticipated, and they find themselves running for their lives. Parts of the story reminded me of The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and The Walking Dead tv show. It was chilling, thought-provoking, completely engrossing, and I really enjoyed reading it.

August-The Invisible Child: On reading and writing books for children, by Katherine Paterson
Funnily enough, I've never read any of Paterson's novels and I'm not sure if I'd enjoy them. However, I LOVED this book of her lectures! She imparts beautiful wisdom and emphasizes the need to write good books for kids, and how we shouldn't try to push certain agendas in kids books or write according to certain fads or agendas. I underlined my copy quite a bit and this is one I know I'll be going back to again and again.

September-The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Set in the post-Civil War backwoods scrub of Florida, this classic children's novel follows a boy named Jody and his parents as they contend with wildlife and the forces of nature. Jody longs for someone to care for, and eventually befriends a young fawn, whom he names Flag. The story is beautiful, and the writing is absolutely gorgeous. There is such a strong sense of place in this story, and the characters are fantastic.

October-Walking on Water, by Madeleine L'Engle (reread)
This was a reread for me, but I love it so much I have to mention it. Each time I pick up this book of L'Engle's thoughts on being a Christian artist, I come away so edified and inspired. I definitely do not share all of her religious beliefs, but there are a lot of good, beautiful, and wise things she says in here.

November-The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG
This volume includes sayings from many of the desert fathers (abbas) and a couple of the mothers (amma) in the early centuries of the Church. Their sayings and witness are impactful and beautiful, and I jammed a ton of bookmarks into this so I can go back to specific sayings. This book also had some helpful notes, a glossary, and a map of Egypt at the time of the desert fathers. This was excellent, and one that I've already been going back to!

December-Dumbing us Down (25th Anniversary Edition): The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto was a public-school teacher in New York City for nearly thirty years and was honored as a "teacher of the year"--but eventually realized that he could no longer be complicit in the educational system. In this short book, he brings together speeches and articles about the ways that the school system in America does not serve children, how it has been detrimental to communities, and how even if there are incredible teachers, they can only do so much good within this broken system. Even though it was written in the 90s, this book still feels so fresh and relevant and brings up a lot of good points that everyone--no matter if they prefer homeschool, public school, or private school--can benefit from reflecting on and discussing.


In other news, I finally did something that I had planned for last year's Christmas but never got around to: making homemade marshmallows! I was a little nervous that I wouldn't heat the syrup to the correct temperature or would over-beat the mixture, but this morning I cut them up and WOW! They are actually marshmallows!!! I am super excited about this (one of my relatives told me that they are "more of a marshmallow than marshmallows" or something like that) and maybe I'll try making a flavored batch sometime. It's a whole new world :)

As I ponder my writing life in 2023, the phrase that comes to mind is "slow consistency."

I continued to write both online and offline, but it was at a much slower pace than I would have planned. There were many days when I was so mentally or physically tired from caring for my young and energetic children that I chose to rest instead of forcing my exhausted self to write. To read good books instead of constantly working on manuscripts. To ponder events instead of rushing to promote my opinions online and add to the noise of the internet needlessly. I slowed down in 2023, but tried to still remain consistent as I worked on my writing craft and furthering my skills. After much overthinking, I finally joined the Catholic Writer's Guild and discovered an incredibly encouraging and skilled community of writers-it has been a lot of fun to learn from them!

Over the past year, I did not blog as much as I had wanted to, but I did manage to write some posts that had been burning on my heart. I didn't send out as many newsletters as I had planned, but I stayed somewhat consistent at least, and I still really enjoy putting together and sending out the newsletters. In this coming year, I hope to continue consistently sending out newsletters and blog a bit more. I have a few different "rant" posts that have been slowly forming in my mind, and I hope that those will eventually come together to promote fruitful dialogue about the topics of education, the sacraments, and motherhood ;)

In the spring of 2023, I finished a full draft of Nonfiction Book #1, and I got about halfway through a full rewrite of that manuscript. I was/am so excited by that accomplishment, because even though I have a long way to go on that back, it was cool to see so much work come together in a coherent manuscript!! I also started putting together notes for Nonfiction Book #2 (which will be on the shorter side and hopefully can be my "practice self-publishing book" before I self-publish Book #1). At some point, I discovered that I somehow had a ton of notes and content for Book #2, so I decided to start an actual draft. I'm currently about a third of the way through writing that manuscript and got some helpful initial feedback on it. I feel very energized and hopeful by the progress I made in the past year, and by the possibilities that 2024 holds!

Ideally, I would love to finish the manuscript on Book #2 and start on a revision of that. I would also love to finish the revision on Book #1 and move that closer to the point where I can get it edited. I also have a couple of children's book ideas that I started putting together in 2023, and it'd be fun to work on those more. But, I'll see what I get to and what God has in store for me! The biggest thing on my radar right now is the Catholic Writer's Online Conference in February (I'll be giving a presentation on the importance of rest, and I am very excited!).

Our wall calendar for 2024 is mostly empty, my mug is full of tea, I have a lot of great writing projects in progress, and I finally cleaned my coffee grinder. This year has gotten off to a pretty good start :) Happy New Year and Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God!!


  1. You are an inspiration, AnneMarie! I loved reading this post, especially the part about your writing. It's encouraging to me and that is so amazing about your manuscript!! I really enjoy reading both your blog and newsletters!

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement, Elisabeth! And thanks for reading my work-I really enjoy getting to share my writing and thoughts with others :)