Best of 2023: Writing
A look back at the most memorable written pieces of the past year.
Writing! The thing that I do! Like music, this is something I am constantly engaging in and something I am always down to talk about but rarely do. If you read The Trend Report™ regularly, some of these will look familiar. Either way: feast on them! Enjoy the Best Writing of 2023!
Not worth the hype: Catherine Lacey Biography of X
I know this was on literally every Best Books of 2023 list but I found this book to be too long, without enough metaphorical explosions, and generally a great idea and framing executed in an uninteresting way. It’s not a bad book! It just leaves so much on the table, and dares to be boring. Why even have such an interesting dystopian alternate universe if it’s simply liberal literary clickbait?
The Sally Rooney award: Bryan Washington Family Dinner
Bryan Washington is such a great writer and, while I don’t love his fiction, Family Dinner is his best work. That said: I realized why I don’t love the fiction he writes, because it reminds me of the love dramatics of Sally Rooney books but for a queer, social justice oriented audience. The writing is great, the drama is high, but his stories have a similar love-pulp-triangular situation that I just don’t vibe with. People love it! Just not for me.
Required Reading: John Vailant’s Fire Weather
I talked about this book a few times and, while there were similar climate change books like The Heat Will Kill You First, John Vailant’s book had such heart, such depth, and such urgency. It was so good that I bought it for my right-leaning dad, because of the way the author writes about firefighters. It’s a 2023 must-read.
Best future read: Siddharth Kara Cobalt Red
Like Fire Weather, Cobalt Red was a similarly urgent and political read about the planet. I think this deserved more attention but, as the Congo TikTok protest grows, it’s going to become a hallmark of 2024.
Filthiest: Jen Beagin Big Swiss
I didn’t know I wanted to read about cunnilingus until I was reading about cunnilingus. What a fun, filthy romp! I loved every second.
Most exciting: Victor Lavalle Lone Women
I read a lot about this book and was “Eh.” on the idea of reading historical fiction — but then I started the book and immediately was captivated. It is a hoot. It needed more monster moments but the ones that happened were truly some of the best writing of the year.
Creepiest “reality”: Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi The Centre
This book on a curious language center felt like a possible reality, like something that would happen. The story explores the idea of language learning within days — but it comes at an unknown cost. I won’t say anything about what happens, but the feeling is “Yeah, that could happen.” if that technology was real. It’s a fucked up, enjoyable read that really stuck with me.
The crowd pleaser award: Britney Spears The Woman In Me
Was this book good? I’m not sure. But did it need to be so sad and biting, with Michelle Williams serve cunt? Absolutely not — but it did and it was very good.
Ditto: Julia Fox Down The Drain
This was fun too!
Most prescient: Stories of violent children
As we talked about kids misbehaving and not being able to read, a few other stories happened this year that I “remember” but didn’t quite clock as being related. I’m talking about the teens who killed a swan and the 11 year old who was stabbed for bullying someone from calling them an NPC to the 6 year old who shot their teacher, proclaiming “I shot that bitch dead.” I don’t know about you but these are all very related red flags about kids today. Every child isn’t “like this” but this is certainly a signal of something. Watch this space.
Also prescient: Teen Vogue “Influencer Parents and The Kids Who Had Their Childhood Made Into Content”
We are going to be talking more and more about these relationships as these kids come of age! This and about reality television children (and stars) all these decades later.
Best Hollywood book, LA edition: Ed Begley Jr.’s To the Temple of Tranquility…And Step On It!
I thought this book was going to be dumb but what a hoot. He knew everyone! What an everyman! This is such a fun LA romp too.
Most delicious beef: ProPublica & Clarence Thomas
The investigative journalism outlet published not one, not two, not three, not four, as there were many more stories from ProPublica documenting this Justice’s terrible behavior. Each trended, each were juicy.
Worst trend: Publications as rich people PR
We “know” this has always been the case but stories like Elizabeth Holmes rebranding to “Liz Holmes” showed a new low for how soulless some journalistic outlets have become.
Most hmmm: Non-TV writers support-simping TV-writers
I didn’t “voice” this as it was happening, save for with friends: there was something so pick-me about non-TV writers (and creators, for that matter) on social media going above and beyond to pledge allegiance to striking union writers. I get supporting unions — but it’s also very cringe to to use a strike as a moment to network one’s own talents in the name of support.
Most interesting uninteresting read: Bent Flyvbjerg & Dan Gardner How Big Things Get Done
Let me tell you: this book sounds lame, as it basically is ramblings from “the world's leading megaproject expert.” But let me tell you: for any creative or anyone who manages projects, you need to read this as it’s a primer on how to get anything done. It was so fascinating!
Favorite literary imprint: Zando
I unwittingly read so many Zando books this year, a publishing imprint backed by Gillian Flynn. I didn’t realize this until many books after and, once I did, everything clicked since I think she is just one of the most genius, creepiest minds of our time. They are publishing such interesting, queer, “scary” things. Everything is so smart!
Favorite thing I published of 2023: “Improvement” for Apogee
I had been trying to get this lil story published for about three or four years and it finally found a home. The team was fabulous to work with!! Now…to figure out more fiction and essay venues for publishing, which I just need more time to devote to 😭
Favorite Trend Report™ of 2023: STAIN SWAG LET’S GOOO
I think this is mostly because it didn’t “pop” like I thought it would but this March story on “stained” clothes was a personal favorite because I really do see fashion going this way, as a shopping reckoning is coming. (Also, fashion as a subject comes around every so often and is always a joy to explore.) An honorable mention goes to January’s “would you live in an adult dorm?” as this came out weeks and months before larger trends on cities having similar buildings emerged. Recency bias be damned, but I also loved the “your job is eating your creativity” essay and the “kids can’t read” essay, which popped off despite my being so hungover when I wrote it.
Favorite short story: Suzane Wang “Mall of America”
Don’t let the “This is about AI!” fool you but this story is so heartwarming and sweet and sad. As a current stranger in a strange land, it hit particularly close to home.
Best story imagery: The New Yorker “How Thom Browne’s Gray Suit Conquered American Fashion”
Best fashion story: The Cut “Cathy Horyn on Her Balenciaga Model Moment”
Best feature: New York Times Magazine “Michael Stipe Is Writing His Next Act. Slowly“
Best word game: New York Times’ Connections
A close second to Washington Post’s Keyword, a Wordle ripoff that goes to another level, and new mobile game GUBBINS, which doesn’t have the brain twisting edge (but it makes up for that with oodles of charm).
Best reads of 2023
Washington Post “A gay-owned Virginia restaurant is in a dispute with its neighbors”
Washington Post “The Blast Effect”
Washington Post “A trans woman joined a Wyoming sorority. Then her new sisters sued.”
Washington Post “What’s the best rotisserie chicken?”
New York Times “I Got My Name From Connie Chung.”
New York Times “What’s the Deal With Cookie Monster’s Cookies?”
The Guardian “My mother, the troll”
The Guardian “‘Ethel Cain on fans, fainting and being ‘Miss Alt-Pop Star’”
The Guardian “‘How Shallow Hal almost broke Gwyneth Paltrow’s body double”
New York Times “Restaurants Rethink Gender’s Role in Service”
The Cut “How Author Gillian Flynn Gets It Done”
Financial Times “Parlez-vous Parisian? How to speak like a local in the French capital”
- “The Erratic Flight Patterns Edition”
- “Phoebe, Please”
Dirt “A-List Mukbang”
Dirt “Mommy Issues”
Favorite things I read in 2023
Best books of 2023
Best story of 2023: New York Times “I Got My Name From Connie Chung.”
In this economy, or at least in the year 2023, few things really hit the “America is great!” button. But this story by Connie Wang, about Asian American communities and the amount of young women named “Connie” does just that. It reminds of a hopeful time — Seeing Connie Chung on the TV! Wanting your child to be like her! — and that the American dream can be real in so many ways. It also functions as a victory lap for the famed television anchor, tracing her (long overdue) history while tracing individual families, their relationship to media, and their hopes for their children. It’s inspiring! It’s sweet and, in a sea of stories and news that seem to twist your nipples and yell how awful the world is, this story did the opposite. It was like sitting atop a hill just outside a city, marveling at how great people are.
Best nonfiction of 2023: Claire Dederer Monsters
I will be honest: I didn’t love Claire Dederer’s Monsters while I was reading it. I thought it was a little bit over-done, a bit redundant, and not that exciting. It was exactly what the title and premise suggested: musings on the fan’s dilemma, of whether to love a “monster” — an artist or celebrity who has created enjoyable work but has engaged in reprehensible behavior — despite knowing the truth about them. It’s a question that the book doesn’t really answer because it’s an unanswerable, personal, complicated question. This is why the book stuck with me for the whole of the year, because this dilemma is everywhere in a culture where everything is politicized, where tribalism demands one pick a side, where there is no in between but only right or wrong. While applicable to a very specific aspect of entertainment, I find myself wondering if this dynamic that Dederer defines in the book is truly just “how culture is” now, that the taboo idea of “canceling” has become less about doing wrong and more about the cultural buzz around it. It also gets at ideas of reconciliation and, in these times, that is one subject that doesn’t get written about enough: how can one become not-a-monster? If someone does something that isn’t a crime, per se, how can one make amends? It reminds of the modern parable of Justine Sacco, a PR person whose insensitive joke to an audience of none somehow became an international incident. She was the “first” real person to get canceled but was able to turn her narrative around, by doing the work and owning that what she did was wrong — even if no one should care, given that so many wrong, bad takes happen everywhere, at all times. There’s another book that will build on what Monsters did, and will arguably do it in a way that helps to reshape culture beyond a niche like the arts. Dederer created a launch pad for that. Now, it’s time for us to think a bit more deeply about what it means to change and be changed in a world that demands simplistic answers for the most complex questions.
Best fiction of 2023: Sarah Bernstein Study for Obedience
To me, there weren’t a lot of great books in 2023. But were there books that I read that I loved, books that stuck with me for some time, which made the idea of picking the “best” book of the year quite a task? Yes. The obvious pick would be Jen Beagin’s Big Swiss, as it was the most filthy fun I’ve had in a long time with a book. It was a hoot and a holler! But could I tell you anything about the book now, since reading it in May? Not really. It didn’t “stick” with me, but I do want to re-read it. The same can be said of Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi’s The Centre, which was a thrilling, voice-driven narrative about seeking knowledge but not liking what you learn. It was certainly the most entertaining thriller of the year! But are these the “best fiction” of 2023. I don’t know. The book that I kept coming back to as the answer was Sarah Bernstein’s Study for Obedience, which is the most traditional “weird” book. Booker nominated, it follows the story of a woman who moves to an unnamed country to help her older brother who has lived abroad for years and years, establishing himself within the community. The book follows the narrator as she attempts to care for her brother and be a local, which goes poorly as strange happenings happen in parallel to her arrival. The townsfolk are suspicious of her and there is a strange but appealing confusion that Bernstein does by making the specifics of this world intentionally secret, by not giving names to things and obfuscating truth. (Example: the narrator doesn’t have a name, nor do the countries in question.) It’s a drama that feels like a caper, a quiet Rachel Cusk style read that has a deep political boiling underneath it. I read it once, mostly confused, but wanted to know “what happened.” It felt wrong to just let the book be. So, I read it again, taking more time and allowing myself to understand the basics. Do I still “get it”? Honestly I don’t, meaning I had to Google to get some answers (which has to do with anti-semitism). What the book does well is that it relates people of a specific place — Let’s say America. — who have histories to other places, feel an ownership, but aren’t “there.” If you were to move “there,” you might feel like this foreign place is “yours” — but that’s not reality, not what the locals actually feel. Thus, the book: a sort of blithe whodunit, of if this narrator (and her brother) are actually bad people who are oppressing the locals or if she simply has a case of being an ugly outsider who just doesn’t “get” her local surroundings. (Also: I admit that, as someone who left one country for another, it has a certain symmetry to the experience which is why I was so interested. This is to say: I’m biased.) It’s an intriguing, weird read that will unfold for days and weeks after you finish. It’s good, but not exactly something that will have you clamouring to tell people about. Thus 2023: a year of media that was enjoyable, if not memorable, exciting, or something that we’ll talk about forever and ever. We’ll have to revisit in a decade, to see if any of these things hold up — or if they were simply contributors to our world of too much information.