The Best Books I Didn’t Read in 2023

a sea of books

Last week’s newsletter focused on the best books I read in 2023. This week, I’m taking a little different trip down the literary road…

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First, let’s discuss the idea of an “antilibrary” and why it’s important.

An antilibrary, a collection of unread books, is seen as a valuable tool for intellectual growth. It’s a reminder of what you don’t know and a symbol of potential knowledge to acquire. It’s not a sign of intellectual failure but a testament to your curiosity and desire to learn more.

And so, to the dismay of my bookshelves and perhaps my wife, I keep buying books. I’ve tried to switch to only buying ebooks, but there is something about being surrounded by physical books; the reminder that no matter how I try, I’ll never be able to read them all or know them all.

That feeling is similar to the one I get each time I think about Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. As the earth hangs in a sunbeam, surrounded by the inky blackness of the infinite universe, so do I sit as a small speck of learning in an infinite ocean of knowledge when surrounded by books.

It’s humbling and puts the world in perspective if you let it. Surround yourself with books, even if you’ll never get to them all.

I try to read more books every year, but I’ll never get through them all. I embrace this incredibly Sisyphean task, mostly because I already have a backlog of nearly 3,000 books on my list and because those silly publishers keep putting out new books.

Yet, I persevere.

There are a number of great books published in 2023 that I’d like to get to but haven’t yet—one of them is staring at me now as I write this piece. Here are some of the best books from 2023 I haven’t read (yet), but they’re now in my ever-expanding to-be-read (TBR) list:

James McBride, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store

This novel by James McBride tells a story rooted in family, faith, and the search for understanding. It explores the lives of diverse characters whose paths intersect at a small grocery store, revealing the complexities of human experience through lyrical prose and deep emotional resonance.

David Grann, The Wager

David Grann’s “The Wager” is a gripping tale of adventure and survival. It recounts the harrowing story of shipwrecked sailors in the 18th century, who make a desperate bet for survival. The book is a thrilling blend of history and narrative, showcasing Grann’s talent for uncovering forgotten stories.

R.F. Kuang, Yellowface

“Yellowface” by R.F. Kuang delves into the controversial topic of cultural appropriation in the literary world. It’s a provocative exploration of identity, authorship, and the blurry line between homage and theft, framed within an engaging and thought-provoking narrative.

Matthew Desmond, Poverty, By America

In “Poverty, By America,” Matthew Desmond offers a groundbreaking examination of poverty in the United States. The book challenges conventional views, revealing how systemic forces and policies contribute to economic hardship and argues for fundamental changes to address this persistent issue.

Lauren Groff, The Vaster Wilds

Lauren Groff’s “The Vaster Wilds” is a beautifully written novel that transports readers into a world of nature and mystery. Set in an enigmatic wilderness, it weaves a tale of self-discovery and connection to the natural world, marked by Groff’s signature lyrical style and deep, reflective storytelling.

Timothy Egan, A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them

Timothy Egan’s “A Fever in the Heartland” is a gripping historical account of the Ku Klux Klan’s insidious attempt to infiltrate American society in the early 20th century. The book also highlights the courageous efforts of those who fought against the Klan, focusing on the pivotal role of one woman.

Michael Finkel, The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession

In “The Art Thief,” Michael Finkel narrates a riveting true story of an infamous art heist. The book blends elements of romance, crime, and suspense, offering an inside look into the high-stakes world of art theft and the obsessive love that drives it, all set against a backdrop of international intrigue.

Benjamin Labatut, The MANIAC

Benjamin Labatut’s “The MANIAC” is a dark and compelling narrative exploring the mind of a genius on the brink of madness. This novel blends historical facts with fiction, delving deep into the psyche of a brilliant but troubled character, set against a backdrop of scientific discovery and moral ambiguity.

Salman Rushdie, Victory City

“Victory City” by Salman Rushdie is an epic tale spanning centuries, centered around a mystical city that rises and falls through the ages. Rushdie’s storytelling weaves together history, mythology, and magic, creating a vivid tapestry of human triumphs and tragedies, resilience, and the power of imagination.

Jonathan Eig, King: A Life

Jonathan Eig’s “King: A Life” is a comprehensive and insightful biography of one of the most iconic figures in American history. The book delves into the complexities of his life, exploring his achievements, challenges, and enduring impact on civil rights and social justice, painted with meticulous research.

Alright, there’s the list, although it’s quite incomplete. Hundreds of great books came out in 2023, and it’s our job to go out there, find them, read them, and share them with the world.

Maybe you’ll start building your own antilibrary in 2024. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

See you next year!

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

The Best Books I Read in 2023

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Since we all had much more time on our hands during the pandemic, I decided that it was high time I became more intentional with my reading. Not that I didn’t read at all; I’ve always been a reader. I’ve always had books around, whether comics, graphic novels, classics, or paperbacks.

I’m pretty sure a few old Tom Clancy paperbacks are still hanging out in my parents’ basement.

Regardless, I decided in 2020 that I’d read more and keep track of that reading. Thank goodness for tools like Goodreads that allow me to keep up with books I want to read.

I also create book notes in Notion to keep track of my thoughts on each book. Readwise helps me keep track of highlights from books (and just about everything else I read) and syncs with my Notion to create a true collection of what I get from each book.

Yes, I’m aware I go overboard on many things. My wife says I’d make a very good addict, so I figure it’s best for me to find other things to be addicted to, which means I read books.

Side note: I’m also getting into collecting vinyl, another expensive and space-filling addiction…

I published a best books of 2022 list last year and decided to give it another go this year.

Please remember: these opinions are mine, and if I love a book that you hate, that’s ok. That’s pretty much how things are supposed to work in the world. I read mostly sci-fi/fantasy, history, historical fiction, biographies, and mysteries. I also read quite a bit on education since that’s my job.

There are many other fine reading genres, and I venture into other realms occasionally. You read what you like, I’ll read what I like, and we’ll all share what we learn and grow together.

Now, in no particular order, here are the best books I read in 2023:

Tress of the Emerald Sea

For much of the fantasy reading world, 2023 was the Year of Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson, one of the top current fantasy authors, ran the most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time in 2022, producing leather-bound editions of four completely new novels. The year’s first release was a cozy fairy tale; Tress of the Emerald Sea.

I love this book. Loved it. While it does connect to Sanderson’s wider Cosmere universe, it works wonderfully as a stand-alone novel. As Sanderson has described the inspiration for the book, “What would happen if Buttercup had to save Westley in The Princess Bride?”

It’s one of my all-time favorite books.

tress of the emerald sea

The Greatcoats Series

I’m cheating a bit with this selection and the next since I’m choosing a whole series rather than just one book. But, I couldn’t help myself.

If you’re a fan of swashbuckling tales and grew up watching continual retellings of Robin Hood, Horatio Hornblower, and the like, you will love The Greatcoats.

Falcio Val Mond became one of my favorite characters ever this year, and I can only hope that he and the rest of the Greatcoats return again soon.

traitor's blade

The Licanius Trilogy

Another series I finally got around to reading this year is The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

These books are incredible. But, I will say this: you have to stay on your toes when reading them. There are many, MANY moments of what happened and how we got here in each of these three books.

But, the payoff is worth it. So, so good.

the shadow of what was lost

In Search of Deeper Learning

Back to the world of education, I read this book as part of my ongoing dissertation readings. My biggest takeaway is this: there are pockets of innovation and work toward deeper learning across the US. But we still have a long way to go.

This text gives insight into how some schools are “doing” deeper learning and may give you some ideas as you begin your journey into deeper learning with your students.

Unpleasant Truth about Education #47: Kids learn more deeply in school when participating in extracurriculars than they do when being taught in classrooms.

In Search of Deeper Learning

Street Data

This one. Oh my. I really need every assessment coordinator, teacher, administrator… pretty much everyone in education to read this book and think about how we assess students.

Street data” is ever so much more important than most other assessment data that we spend days, weeks, and months poring over while our students care less and less about the meaningless work we ask them to complete.

Get this book, read it, and then share it with a colleague.

street data

The City of the Singing Flame

I shared my thoughts on this one not long ago, and honestly, this story has quickly become an all-time favorite. Yes, it’s dated, and it may not be your thing. But, for speculative fiction fans, I believe you can see so many other stories that were likely inspired by this one.

Final Thoughts

Somehow, amidst accepting a new position halfway through the year and completing more doctoral coursework, I read 120 books in 2023. For the first time since I began tracking, I crossed the 50k pages read in a year mark.

I don’t share those numbers to boast–I can barely believe them myself–I share them to hopefully encourage you that you have more time to read than you think.

My tips to read more:

  • Always have a book with you. Yes, ebooks and audiobooks count, and if someone tells you they don’t, punch them in their dirty mouth.
  • Take stock of how much time you spend on your phone. Whether on social media or playing games, trade some of that time for reading. Try out this social media alternatives calculator and see how much time you have to read.
  • Don’t read books you don’t like. No law says you must finish a book if you don’t like it. I use the rule ‘100 pages minus your age’–if you’re not fully into a book by that many pages, you can stop reading. And yes, I count that as ‘reading’ that book.
  • Re-reading a book you love still counts as reading.

That wraps up this year’s ‘best books’ list. Maybe you’ll start tracking your own reading and share your thoughts with the world. If you like this list and want to see more, I have a free weekly newsletter that includes monthly reading recommendations.

You can sign up for those updates through the form below. I hope 2024 brings you lots of new reading, knowledge, and fun.

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Redefining College & Career Readiness for Students

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Ask ten teachers what their job is, and you’ll receive ten different answers. However, most of them share the common goal of preparing the next generation of citizens. Yet, educators acknowledge that the world in which students will live and work will radically differ from the current version. Therefore, it is nearly impossible for the education system to prepare students for that future fully.

To address this challenge, educators often discuss the concept of “college and career readiness.” Being “college and career ready” means that students possess the skills to strategically and effectively apply their learning in various situations, enabling their success in both academic and work environments. This readiness extends beyond academic knowledge and encompasses essential skills such as resilience, mental health, and performance, which are crucial for adapting to an ever-changing future.

However, the focus on specific pathways for college and career readiness often stems from traditional educational structures and measures of success. There is a growing awareness that a one-size-fits-all approach may not suit all students, and personalized learning experiences are increasingly valued. It is important to recognize that success in the future will require adaptability and a broad skill set beyond academic knowledge.

To prepare students for an unpredictable future, we must move beyond traditional 20th-century learning practices and cultivate an updated skill set. This includes fostering strong learning and critical thinking skills and developing “human” skills that equip students to navigate an uncertain world. Moreover, it is crucial to view students as change-makers and provide them with opportunities to develop traits such as optimism and resilience. This preparation should involve nurturing creativity, encouraging exploration, and fostering a willingness to take risks. It is essential to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to progress steadily towards their goals.

However, it is important to acknowledge that a portion of the student population does not fit into the accepted mold of “college and career readiness” imposed by the system. These are the students who consider themselves artists, creators, inventors, and so on. They do not neatly fit into career pathways or college preparatory tracks, which are currently popular trends in high school education.

Regardless of our efforts, we cannot force these square pegs into round holes, or any other shape for that matter. Instead, we should explore ways for these students to create their own paths.

This is where personalized learning comes into play. Personalized learning is becoming increasingly important as it caters to the unique needs of each student, promoting progress at an individual pace. It empowers students to take greater ownership of their learning journey, leading to deeper learning, increased motivation, and improved relationships and communication skills. The implementation of personalized learning requires a shift from traditional classrooms to learning hubs, from a rigid curriculum to personalized pathways, and from a fixed pace to personalized progressions through cycles of inquiry. Creating personalized learning pathways for teachers and recognizing their competency in specific areas through micro-credentials is also beneficial. Additionally, online platforms can offer a range of activities that align with each student’s unique interests and strengths.

Personalized learning and the concept of graduate profiles contribute to a new perspective on career readiness by focusing on individual student strengths and interests. Personalized learning enables student-driven models in which students engage in meaningful, authentic, and rigorous challenges to showcase desired outcomes. This approach fosters skills like goal setting, time management, and the ability to navigate unpredictable obstacles, all of which are crucial for career readiness.

Graduate profiles outline the skills and competencies that a district or institution aims for its students to possess upon graduation. These profiles serve as a guiding principle for improvement efforts and reflect the collective commitment to equipping students with the skills necessary for personal success and meaningful civic engagement. By embracing personalized learning, graduate profiles, and similar concepts, we can better prepare students for their future careers in a rapidly changing world.

Further Reading:

Winter breaks…

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

-Percy Bysshe Shelley
low angle photo of snow field

There are only a few days left before Winter Break for most schools here in the US, and the holiday feelings are already very strong. I’m wrapping up a couple of projects (and another semester of doctoral work) before settling in for a long winter’s nap.

At least, I hope I’m able to get a few naps in 😉

Anyway, here are 10 things I think you might enjoy…

10 Things Worth Sharing

That’s all, folks. Thanks again for hanging out with me on another Friday. I hope you continue to find value in this weekly newsletter.

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Are We Reading Right in the Digital Age?

person holding a kindle
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Just like schools grappling with the cell phone conundrum, there’s another digital dilemma brewing – our reading habits. In a compelling study by Altamura, Vargas, and Salmerón, we’re forced to question: Are digital reading habits benefiting us, especially our younger readers?

The research dives into the effects of leisure digital reading from 2000 to 2022, involving a staggering 469,564 participants. The findings? It’s a mixed bag. Digital reading, while convenient and interactive, doesn’t always enhance comprehension, particularly in younger readers. In early education stages, digital reading could even hinder learning. But, as students grow, the digital format shows promise, especially in high school and university settings.

So, what’s the catch? It seems the way we interact with digital content is key. Interactive elements like feedback questions and digital glossaries can spike engagement and understanding. Yet, the ease of digital access might be a double-edged sword, leading to superficial reading instead of deep comprehension.

Educators and parents are left pondering how we balance the digital reading revolution with the need for deep, thoughtful comprehension. It’s a puzzle we must solve, much like the ongoing battle with cell phones in classrooms.

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Mortality, Music, and the Meaning of Life

There’s perhaps no better reminder of your own mortality than when the people you grew up watching, reading, and listening begin to slip the surly bonds of earth.

While I’m not a huge fan of The Pogues or Shane MacGowan, I’m quite familiar with their impact as an 80s kid. And I’m shaken by the increasing number of deaths of artists I know. But they’ve all left their mark on the world

In the great critique on controlling your own destiny that is “City Slickers,” Curly reminds us that life is all about “just one thing.”

Curly was right. We all must find “just one thing” that matters to make our life incredible. Maybe Shane did that. Maybe.

“Shane, my friend in life and in whiskey. May the wind be at your sails. Keep River company and all our brethren who passed way before their time.

“I’ll never forget your support the last few years chum. LOVE Always, JD.” 

— Johnny Depp

I can only hope that those I love can celebrate my life and our time together when I’m gone, regardless of whatever else I’ve done. And maybe I’ll get to go out to a banger like this…

Leveraging Games in the Classroom: The Issues and the Benefits

game cartridges
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In January 2022, a review of 17 research studies showed that young kids can learn from “guided play” as well as if they were being directly instructed by an adult or a teacher. More play in the classroom also addresses issues currently burning precarious holes in the education system. In an email survey conducted by Lego Education in September, 98 percent of 1,000 K-8 teachers indicated that play-based learning “reduces their feelings of burnout.” The same study also captured responses from 1,000 K-8 students, of whom 89 percent said play made them “more excited” to go to school. Lego has used its signature building-block toys as a basis for play-based activity guides for teachers.

Gamification in classrooms has both advocates and critics. Some discourage using external rewards for learning, but others argue that the benefits can be profound when games and rewards tap into a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn. Students can learn to value learning as its own reward and become active, engaged learners over time.

Additionally, a program focused on the social-emotional learning aspects of gaming has shown positive results in student behavior and confidence. Many participants who may not have excelled in traditional classroom settings have become leaders of their gaming teams, showing that games can provide a platform for students to feel successful and express themselves.

Teachers like Philip Baselice and Jonathan Nardolilli use games to teach subjects like history and math, making lessons more engaging. This method, supported by research, helps in enhancing learning and memory. However, teachers face challenges in integrating games with curriculum goals, often leading them to create custom games for effectiveness.

While games increase student engagement and aid long-term learning, they must be thoughtfully incorporated into educational strategies. This innovative approach signifies a shift in traditional teaching methods, embracing interactive and enjoyable learning experiences.

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.


Until We Fix This, We’ll Always Fight Against Student Cell Phones

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Yes, it’s almost 2024, and schools are still fighting the losing battle against student cell phones in class.


Some schools have partnered with companies to implement the use of pouches that students are required to put their phones into at the beginning of the day and that don’t unlock until the final bell rings, while others are threatening punishments including suspension if a student is caught with their phone, even at lunch time.

Yes, because even during lunch, we must ensure students have no control over their personal time. Good grief.

Renesha Parks, chief wellness officer at Richmond Public Schools in Virginia, told The Hill of a pilot policy being implemented in six schools at the beginning of 2024 to stop cellphone usage, partnering with Yondr, which creates magnetic pouches for cellphones. The measure will impact around 4,200 students and cost approximately $75,000. (emphasis mine)

Here’s an idea: shift the educational focus from boring content without connection to the real world to more authentic learning experiences. I bet cell phones only come out when they are needed to accomplish a task.

Also, educators, how many of you put your phone away during a training session? A staff meeting?

Just sayin’…

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

Backward Design and the Portrait of a Learner

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Education’s landscape is shifting, shifting from focusing on rote learning to fostering 21st-century skills like collaboration and self-awareness. This evolution is captured in the emerging concept of “Portraits of a Graduate” (POG), which underscores the skills vital for success in today’s world.

To navigate this shift, the “Portrait of a Learner” (POL) model, steeped in research from diverse fields, provides a roadmap. It highlights the importance of nurturing curiosity, critical thinking, and collaboration while emphasizing identity and belonging in the learning process. This approach is about understanding learners as they are and designing education that supports their holistic growth, ensuring they are equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing global economy.

More and more school districts are crafting Portraits of Graduate (POG) to highlight the core skills and characteristics they believe students need to be successful in a 21st century global economy. What many of these portraits capture is a distinctive shift away from content knowledge and towards the 21st century skills and dispositions that drive lifelong learning—things like collaboration and self-awareness. This mirrors research on the science of learning that demonstrates how learning includes social emotional processes and is driven by interactions between the learner and their environment. In education there is often a disconnect between what exactly we are trying to teach students, and why, especially as the goals of education are shifting.

Alison R. Shell and Jessica Jackson

Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.