Local Author Favorites of 2023

We asked several writers from around the Inland Northwest to highlight their favorite reads of this last year, and the results are awesome! If you’re looking for reading inspiration, take a look at these wide-ranging suggestions, which contain everything from middle readers to literary fiction to poetry to creative non-fiction. Thank you, local writers, for sharing your reading expertise! 

Mark L. Anderson, author of the poetry collection Scarecrow Oracle: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. “I love labyrinths and this slowly unraveling story set in a metaphysical labyrinth became one of my favorite books when I read it last January.” 

Kim Barnes, author of In the Kingdom of Men and more: “Kathryn Davis, one of those mystical ‘writer’s writers,’ has long been lauded for her fiction (Graywolf Press is reissuing her earlier work), but then comes her 2022 memoir, Aurelia, Aurélia, a fantastic journey of grief driven by the death of her husband. Think space-time with some Pixie Dust thrown in.”  

Polly Buckingham, author of The River People: “Matthew Baker’s Why Visit America, a skewed vision of today and tomorrow, slightly fantastical with sentences that will break your heart. Surprising all the way through, mind-blowing (think, 4th Dimension and the time moving backwards), and resonant. These stories shook me and made me weep. Also, Leigh Newman’s Nobody Gets Out Alive—gritty stories of rural Alaska focusing in particular on strong, liminal women who are nonetheless trapped by circumstance—a woman who collects wolf pelts, an artist living in the woods carving trees, a clairvoyant who as a child was sold by her mom. These stories taking surprisingly dark turns: nobody gets out alive, or at least not badly broken.” 

Janelle Cordero, author of the poetry collection Impossible Years: “I’ve read some amazing books this year, but the one I think about the most is Julie Otsuka’s The Swimmers. The novel follows a group of regulars at an underground swimming pool in an unnamed city. Otsuka perfectly captures the rigid devotion of any avid exerciser while also highlighting the ragtag communities that form when we stick to our mundane routines, every single day, year round. Otsuka also explores loss and dementia in an honest, straightforward and heart-wrenching way.” 

Carla Crujido, author of The Strange Beautiful (fiction inspired by an apartment building here in Spokane!): “In  The Missing Morningstar and Other Stories Stacie Shannon Denetsosiewrites the Sonoran desert and everyday life on the Navajo rez into technicolor with her vivid, luminous prose.” 

Kris Dinnison, author of You and Me and Him: “VenCo by Cherie Dimaline. I loved this book about a coven of witches brought together in modern times to take on the systems that killed their ancestors; plus it’s beautifully shaped by Métis writer Cherie Dimaline.”  

Writer Lisa Gardner has published work in Trending Northwest, The Spokesman Review, The Black Lens, and other venues: “All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I purchased it over a year ago and it sat collecting dust until a friend recommended I read it in my quest to know and understand about love.” 

April Rivers Eberhardt, author of Curiosity, a picture book: “Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson. This book shows the layers of complexity around race, class, identity, intersectionality, and how cultural and generational trauma impact family dynamics. It also provides an international perspective of how Black people navigate the world. ” 

CMarie Fuhrman, writer and co-editor of Cascadia Field Guide and Native Voices: “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I chose this book because I see students and fellow faculty working so hard to try to get a thing done and I wanted to be able to give them permission, through quantifiable proof, that rest is a key ingredient to creativity, productivity, and a fulfilling life. (Spoiler! Rest doesn’t mean inactive!). Also, I recommend In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom. This book is a masterclass on writing memoir. I wanted my heartbroken and Amy delivered.” 

Shantell Jackson, writer and visual artist: “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. This anthology is a beautiful tapestry of stories of Black women. I enjoy the depth and intimacy weaved into each story.”  

Leyna Krow, author most recently of Fire Season: A Novel: “My fave book I read this year is The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty. A friend sent it to me with a note saying it was the best book she’d read all year and that I would absolutely love it and she was right.” 

Jack Nisbet, author of The Dreamer and the Doctor: A Forest Lover and a Physician on the Edge of the Frontier and other titles: “In Baobab, a world-class photographer and a publisher of fine art books combine to present an other-worldly tree in ways that no other medium can.” 

Emma Noyes, author and illustrator of Baby Speaks Salish: “The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin. Don’t get me wrong, I read fiction this year that will stay with me forever. This is not the kind of book I would normally recommend. Listen to the audiobook, ignore the gong if you can, and sit with those insights that speak to your spirit.” 

Stephanie Oakes, author of the ya/teen novel The Meadows: “My favorite book of 2023 was The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty. This book is a swashbuckling, historical fantasy about a retired pirate living peacefully with her daughter, who reluctantly gets roped in for one last job. This book was a blast! I loved reading about this badass, middle-aged female protagonist. The fantasy elements are inventive and unexpected, and the rich setting is one I’ve never read before: a version of 12th century Yemen, Oman, and Somalia along the Indian Ocean. I haven’t been so excited for a sequel in a long time.”  

Laura Read, author of But She Is Also Jane: Poems: I loved The Laughter by Sonora Jha. It’s a satire of academia, told from the perspective of a white professor, so the reader gets to enjoy the delight unreliable narrators provide of seeing something they don’t, in this case being continually amazed (and also not) by his racism and his capacity to justify himself in any situation. The plot is also suspenseful and surprising. 

Tara Karr Roberts, author of the forthcoming novel Wild and Distant Seas: “The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara. If you’re curious or excited or terrified about where technology might take us (or all of the above), you’ll love this book about a flawed and fascinating tech founder.” 

Lora Senf, author of The Clackity and The Nighthouse Keeper: “Tales to Keep You Up at Night (2022) and More Tales to Keep You Up at Night (2023) by Dan Poblocki. These are wonderfully spooky middle grade collections but each has a larger arc that ties the stories together and makes you feel like you’re sneaking in a novel. Highly recommended for kids who love a spine-tingling tale.” 

Alexis M. Smith, author of the novels Glaciers and Marrow Island: “After Sapphoby Selby Wynn Schwartz. A Greek chorus recounts the lineage of women and gender non-conforming artists, writers, and renegades of the early 20th century. Read it to catch glimpses of known characters like Isadora Duncan and Virginia Woolf, or to learn about the undersung sisters of the Modernists. Or read it for the breathtaking sentences alone. I’ve never been so jealous of another writer’s work.” 

Alexandra Teague, author of Spinning Tea Cups: A Mythical American Memoir: I am not just being biased when I say that two Spokane-based authors, Laura Read and Maya Jewell Zeller, had poetry collections come out this year that absolutely stunned me and have stayed on my mind (and in conversations with other readers) all year. I imagine these will make others’ lists, but But She Is Also Jane and out takes / glove box are both extraordinary and wide-ranging collections: personal, capacious, inventive, humorous, wrenching.  

Nance Van Winckel, author of Sister Zero: A Memoir: “My fave book lately has been Sean Singer’s Today in the Taxi. It’s highbrow meets lowbrow, every page a little prose poem meditation as we hurtle through the streets of NYC.”  

Shawn Vestal, author of Daredevils: A Novel: The book that just knocked me for a loop is Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. This ambitious, sprawling novel about slavery in a fictional Virginia county is so rich with life, so densely peopled, so humane and morally complex. It’s just astonishingly good. 

Maya Jewell Zeller, author of out takes / glove box: Cascadia Field Guide: Art. Ecology. Poetryedited by regional witches Liz Bradfield, Derek Sheffield, and CMarie Fuhrman—brings us into close and intimate community with water weeds and cougars, sea lions and salmonberries, all the real authors of our region. I loved how so many writers and visual artists shared their relationships with the beings herein. Would make a great gift for wanderers, writers, readers, painters. Also: Spinning Tea Cups: A Mythical American Memoir, by Alexandra Teague. This book is not afraid to be itself. It’s like VH1’s Behind the Music, opening with the author’s mother, panopticons, Lewis Carrol. Later, “bright desert light” and the emptiness there, repeating rabbits. Reading these essays helps us rethink our own lives.