91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

These are a few of my favorite reads: Michigan Radio staffers on the best books they read this year

There's fiction, non-fiction, essays, new books and decades-old books. Here's what Michigan Radio staffers loved reading this year.
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
There's fiction, non-fiction, essays, new books, and decades-old books. Here's what Michigan Radio staffers loved reading this year.

For a lot of us public radio listeners, audiobooks really speak to us.

But it doesn’t matter whether you read your books or listen to them — it all counts.

We know a lot of folks are booked for the rest of 2023, but some Michigan Radio staffers want to share a few novel ideas: their favorite books they’ve read this year.

It’s never too soon to start planning for your next chapter.

For those of you with no shelf control, here’s what our staff would like to recommend you put on your list.

Lester Graham, reporter for The Environment Report

A recently published book that really caught my attention was about free speech. We hear a lot of people say, "You can’t take away my right to free speech!" But what is free speech in the United States?

The book Free Speech: From Core Values to Current Debates takes a hard look at what the law says about free speech.

There are a lot of contemporary examples about free expression in the public square, in employment — think NFL football and taking a knee.

The book is by University of Michigan First Amendment Law Professor Len Niehoff (full disclosure, he’s a friend) and co-author E. Thomas Sullivan at the University of Vermont.

It will undoubtedly change how you understand free speech.

Jodi Westrick, director of digital audiences

The book I read and loved this year features a family vacationing in Long Island, only to be disrupted by internet and TV outages.

The couple who owns the home they're renting arrives, bringing news about a massive blackout in New York City, among other events that suggest something larger is happening.

The story is suspenseful because you're never quite sure the extent of the crisis or who to trust. And that's what makes Leave the world Behind by Rumaan Alam a great commentary on human nature and how we might all respond when it feels like the world is ending.

April Baer, Stateside host

When I finished Louise Erdrich's novel The Sentence, I thought to myself, "This is it. This is the book that future generations are going to go to to talk about what happened in 2020."

The pandemic, all the terror, all the loss, everything that happened after the death of George Floyd. It's all in here. Plus, a fantastic narrator named Tookie, who came right out of a prison sentence to go to work at a bookstore in Minneapolis. There's a ghost story. There's a mystery. This book literally has it all.

Rebecca Williams, senior editor

The best book that I read this year is Samantha Irby's Quietly Hostile.

She lives in Kalamazoo with her wife, and her essays are very, very funny. I read this book in the evenings on a vacation with extended family this year. Everybody else is playing games and I was reading the book and I was laughing so hard that I had tears running down my face, which required a little bit of explaining.

Tyler Scott, weekend host

I'm recommending the novel Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.

It's super weird. This guy is almost entirely by himself in this house, by the sea. It's his whole world. It's the universe. It's the only place he's ever been. And he's trying to figure out what it all means.

And slowly you start to realize, through this novel that's set up like his journal entries, that there's a whole lot more going on. It has you questioning until the very end.

Lindsey Smith, Amplify team leader

I am recommending a book, as a mom, called Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. This is by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

It gives me a different way of thinking about my spirited kid and it takes like these old kind of negative labels and switches your perspective. Maybe instead of "demanding," you "hold high standards." Maybe instead of being "defiant," you’re "principled."

And really it's a book that I've gone back to throughout the year as I navigate motherhood.

Briana Rice, reporter

This is one of those books that I stayed up reading for days in a row. No sleep.

It's called The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois by Honoré Fanonne Jeffers.

It's an epic, multigenerational story about a Black family in the South, spanning from the time before the Civil War to the present. It has so much about family choosing our own paths, home, and race.

I really feel like you are missing out on something if you haven't picked this book up yet. 800 pages may be daunting, but it's worth it.

April Van Buren, Stateside producer

One of the books I read this year that I loved was My Murder by Katie Williams.

It's set in Lansing, where a woman has been cloned and brought back to life after being murdered by a serial killer. And she's searching for answers about what happened in the lead up to her death.

It's a great work of speculative fiction that has a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of crime thriller, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for something to binge over winter break.

Sarah Hulett, director of Amplify & longform

A book I loved this past year is The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride.

At the heart of the story it's about this Black and Jewish neighborhood called Chicken Hill in Pennsylvania and how the people in this community come together to protect a 12-year-old boy and hide him from the state, which wants to put him into an institution.

It is about race and class and gender divisions and how we communicate across those and how we build community. But I promise it is not preachy in the least. It is a lovely story and you should read it.

Dustin Dwyer, West Michigan reporter

The book that really grabbed me this year is called Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism and the World. The author is Malcolm Harris.

The writing is really excellent. It's 700-plus pages, which is a lot to take in. But the writing was so good that I just felt myself, you know, really grabbed by it the whole time. So an excellent book.

Katheryne Friske, weekend morning host and All Things Considered producer

I'm a big fan of autobiography audiobooks read by the author.

I just wrapped up Stephen King's On Writing published in 2004, a book that's over 20 years old. It's pretty timeless.

Full disclosure, I don't like horror, and I never read his novels. But King gives practical advice on writing, how it doesn't happen in a vacuum, how his childhood, his marriage, his substance abuse were all part of what launched him into literary stardom.

On Writing might inspire you to stop putting things off because King reminds us life is hard. Now might not be a good time, but it's the time we've got.

Doug Tribou, Morning Edition host

I'm recommending Properties of Thirst. It's by Marianne Wiggins.

It's historical fiction set in the Sierras of Eastern California. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the army sends a man named Schiff to organize the Manzanar internment camp, where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II.

Schiff's guilt about his job and a growing romance he has with the daughter of a wealthy local family are at the center of the story.

The author, Marianne Wiggins, was almost done writing when she suffered a massive stroke in 2016. That took a lot of her memory. Her daughter worked with her for years to complete the book.

Kate Wells, public health reporter

My favorite book that I read this year was The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell.

It's set in the 1500s. It's about a 15-year-old girl from a powerful Italian family who is married off to this prominent young duke, and then less than a year later, she's dead. The official story is a fever, but everybody low-key knows that her husband killed her.

The book sounds like a real downer in that it is women learning that the things that they were taught as kids — to be brave, to be smart — that these are the things the world will try to punish them for as adults. It's not a downer. Somehow it's just brilliant and wonderful. Go read it.

Laura Weber Davis, Stateside executive producer

The book that I picked up this year that has been most impactful for me is Persuasion by Jane Austen. And the reason it means a lot to me, is because it's the book in college that made me fall in love with reading.

The word that best describes her writing is "clever." And I don't mean that in any small way. I mean that her brain is sharp and funny and telling, and her use of words conveys, to the highest degree, the ability of a storyteller to show, rather than tell you what's going on in a scene.

So if you're interested in a good read, maybe it's Persuasion. But I guess I'd encourage you to pick up the book that made you fall in love with reading.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
Related Content