Searching for a must-read? WTOP staff were asked what books they enjoyed most this year and which books they couldn’t stop talking about. This article compiles seven written (and, in one case, illustrated) works, some of which weren’t published in 2023, but are still worth being on your radar.
From memoirs to coming-of-age novels and a graphic novel, find out what WTOP’s staff read and loved below.
“Bliss Montage” by Ling Ma
The first book I read by Ling Ma was “Severance,” and it was a zombie story like none other I had read before. It was also very timely as it was written and released in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ma’s writing style and word choices scratch a part of my brain that is not often touched. So, I was super excited to hear that she’d released “Bliss Montage,” which is a collection of short stories that are seemingly random and unrelated, but are connected in theme and energy.
The stories revolve around relationships, emotion, heartbreak and humanity — and Ma explores them in a way that is at once vague and incredibly detailed. The reader is able to find themselves in each story, and identify with some aspect of whatever mundane or supernatural narrative Ma has dunked us into for 10 to 20 pages at a time. I recommend this book because it can be read in any order, at any time, and you’ll be able to extract something applicable or meaningful each time.
— Dana Sukontarak, Digital Writer/Editor
“Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley
This is the first Angeline Boulley novel I have read, but I chose it because it was recommended by Reese’s Book Club, had Native American themes and is a mystery/thriller novel, which I love. The story is about a girl who follows in her uncle’s footsteps to uncover a mystery within the community which could have been the reason for his mysterious death. The characters and the imagery descriptions are so good, and the undertones are ones that many within Native American communities across the country are familiar with as they are extremely common in those circles.
— Elly Rowe, Marketing Director
“Deacon King Kong” by James McBride
You might think a story that follows the aftermath of a Brooklyn deacon getting drunk and shooting the local drug dealer would be dark, heavy and depressing, but it is the opposite — a story about humor, love and hope.
As the story unfolds, we see a community circle around and support both the shooter and the victim. McBride’s storytelling can seems a little hectic and even unfocused at first. As you dig into the plot, however, he weaves everything together in such a brilliant, satisfying way.
McBride paints such wonderfully full characters that are never defined by one aspect of their identity. The people in this fictional project in Brooklyn are so much more than a drunk, a mobster, a cop, a church elder. They may make mistakes but the compassion of their community helps them find the best in themselves. This is ultimately an optimistic story that helps us find the good in everyone.
— Bill McFarland, PM Broadcast News Director
“Leslie F*cking Jones” by Leslie Jones
Leslie Jones is a national treasure and this memoir reveals exactly why. From her time on SNL to her stand-up specials, her hilarious podcast, her Daily Show appearances and — my personal favorite — her running commentary on her Instagram account about the day’s news or new TV shows she’s discovered, Leslie Jones always brings a comic voice that is completely unchained and right at the razor’s edge.
Her memoir is very much the same: unrepressed and raw. If you’re sensitive about language, you might want to pass this one by; an F-bomb explodes on virtually every page. But the laughs more than make up for it, and ultimately what emerges is a portrait of a tenacious, brave, unique and hilarious original comedian who has learned to spin the madness of the world around her into comic gold.
Postscript: if you’d really like a treat, be sure to grab the audiobook as well as a printed copy. The audiobook is absolutely not your traditional reading of the book, and the two together are the ultimate Leslie Jones experience.
— Terik King, Associate Producer and host of WTOP Book Report
“My Name is Barbra” by Barbra Streisand
This is, of course, Streisand’s long-awaited autobiography. It’s 1,000 pages long, which is a bit intimidating, but they really do fly by. She spares no detail. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to hear the story of a woman who took charge of her career when that was not a popular thing to do and, despite being widely maligned for decades, hasn’t backed down.
Seriously, I cried like every 100 words for some reason. She also writes at length about the work that went into some of her most famous performances, and it’s delightful to go back and re-watch them alongside her commentary.
— Kate Corliss, Digital Writer/Editor
“They’re Going to Love You” by Meg Howrey
I’m a sucker for any book that has dance — but particularly ballet — as its backdrop. “They’re Going to Love You” is an intriguing story about what it means to be loved, the joy and the pain, and the lengths that we go to gain and keep love. This is not a romantic love story set in a dance company.
It tackles love on a more visceral level between partners and within families, whether biological or chosen. The story is told from the perspective of Carlisle Martin, a woman whose parents began their careers as ballet dancers in New York City. She ultimately builds a successful career as a choreographer, creating her own ballet and providing choreography for film, TV, art and advertising as a freelance creative in Los Angeles.
The book travels back and forth between her childhood and current day, anchored around a series of traumatic events the author cleverly reveals like puzzle pieces. Meg Howrey’s writing is Spartan yet nuanced, not unlike a ballet. It’s certainly a world that Howrey knows well as a former ballet dancer herself. This book resonates on so many levels, and its plot keeps you as engaged as any good thriller. Ultimately, read “They’re Going to Love You” for the thoughts the story inevitably provokes about one’s own choices made in the name of love.
— Vanessa Roberts, Branded Content Manager
“Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands” by Kate Beaton
In Kate Beaton’s first full-length graphic narrative, “Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands,” she explores her harsh experiences with working in the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta. The book is much darker and more personal than her webcomic, “Hark! A Vagrant,” with “Ducks” hitting on serious themes like environmentalism and sexual trauma.
Many of the book’s scenes show Beaton enduring harassment from her coworkers, withholding complaints in order to maintain her job so she can pay off her student loans. Meanwhile, she is forced to grapple with how the industry she works in pollutes the land and displaced people of the First Nations.
The book won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Memoir and was also named one of former President Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2022. So if you’re typically unenthused about reading graphic novels, this one is sure to convince you that sequential art is a medium worth exploring.
— Michelle Goldchain, Social Media and Video Editor