Book Therapy: Favourites From My Favourites

By Stacey May Fowles

Book Therapy Favourites From My Favourites - Stacey May Fowles

“My eclectic reading habits often lead me through various genres, from memoirs and horror novels to young adult fiction and anything else that I happen to grab. However, I have a particular fondness for sci-fi dystopias, and the unique way beautiful stories seem to shine brighter when framed within oppressive settings.” —Paige Maylott


It’s the time of year again when our thoughts turn to “best of” roundups, and Book Therapy loves to get in on that celebratory action. Each year I look forward to reaching out to the authors of some of my favourite 2023 books to ask them what reads they loved the most during the calendar year. This request is always pretty open-ended and garners some fun results—picks can be from any time, in any genre, and by any writer. The only rules are that the book had to have been read in 2023, and it has to mean something to the person who read it.

So here it is, an eclectic compilation of what the authors of some of my favourite books of 2023 offered up as theirs. Here you’ll find moving memoirs, sci-fi dystopia, challenging portrayals of motherhood and mental illness, a little bit of humour and a little bit of horror, and maybe even your next favourite read.


Jessica Westhead, author of Avalanche (Invisible Publishing): 

One of my very favourite books of 2023 was Superfan: How Pop Culture Broke My Heart by Jen Sookfong Lee. I kept marvelling at how the narrative in this stunning memoir moved between so many seemingly disjointed topics and then revealed common threads, and how the author’s voice swung from very funny to serious and poignant and back again with an ease and grace that was incredibly moving and compelling. Sookfong Lee's perspective shone new light on so much of the North American pop culture landscape for me. Because while I consumed this stuff mindlessly at the time, and found a lot of it comforting like Jen did, such as the pleasant blandness and predictability of Growing Pains (which my English-teacher dad always teased me for watching, but I always staunchly defended my tastes), I had never considered how so much of this content was made exclusively with white consumers like me in mind, to the purposeful exclusion of everyone else. Superfan was such a fun, thoughtful, and engaging read that I absolutely devoured from start to finish.


Paige Maylott, author of My Body Is Distant (ECW Press):

My top reading choice for 2023 is Adrian J. Walker's The Last Dog on Earth. My eclectic reading habits often lead me through various genres, from memoirs and horror novels to young adult fiction and anything else that I happen to grab. However, I have a particular fondness for sci-fi dystopias, and the unique way beautiful stories seem to shine brighter when framed within oppressive settings. Although I was not previously familiar with Walker's work, his novel, featuring a unique dual narrative structure from both a human and his dog, immediately intrigued me.

The story begins with engaging dynamics between the main characters; Reg—a quirky agoraphobic electrician, football enthusiast, and aspiring author who suffers from allodynia, and his loyal, foul-mouthed, mixed-breed dog, Lineker. Set against the backdrop of a London devastated by a fascist uprising, the narrative effortlessly draws you in. Initially, I expected a conventional plot, with the human propelling and defining the increasingly grim storyline, and the dog adding a touch of humour. However, Walker's novel quickly surprised me with its emotional depth.

Walker's writing is compelling, with every detail contributing to a richly woven narrative that beautifully explores themes of self-discovery, love, and purpose. I highly recommend this book to anyone with similar reading tastes to myself, dog lovers, or those who appreciate a story that doesn't shy away from realistic, intense, and occasionally unsettling situations. A recurring theme in The Last Dog on Earth is that high-quality work, even before the collapse of civilization, is increasingly rare. However, I'm pleased to report that Walker's excellent book stands as an exception to this rule.


Paola Ferrante, author of Her Body Among Animals (Book*hug):

Pebble & Dove by Amy Jones. This novel has an abandoned floating aquarium, a lovable 1000-pound manatee named Pebble, and touchingly complex mother-daughter relationships. I was first attracted to this book for how it feels like the spiritual successor to Swamplandia by Karen Russell (a writer whom I love), but what has made me return to this novel is Jones’s portrayal of ambiguous motherhood in the character of Imogen Starr, an artist who is most definitely a photographer first and a mother a distant second. As someone who keeps coming back to the tension that exists between being a mother and an artist in my own stories, I was so impressed by Jones’s unflinching and painfully real portrayal of a woman who is terrified motherhood will kill her ability to create, a facet of motherhood that most media, in their portrayals of the “bad mom,” completely ignores.


Adriana Chartrand, author or An Ordinary Violence (Anansi):

Last Winter by Carrie Mac. I read this book in February and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s about a young girl living with her mom and dad in a small British Columbia mountain town. The dad is a mountain guide and snowboarding champ, and the mom is originally from England and has bipolar disorder. The dad takes his daughter and her class on a hike up the mountain, and they are caught in a blizzard—with casualties. Rosy survives and we follow her and her mother in the aftermath, not knowing if her dad has survived somewhere on the mountain or died. It’s extremely compelling and nuanced. The portrayal of the mother, and her daughter’s relationship with her, is one of the most authentic, honest, and poignant portrayals of mental illness I’ve read. The questions surrounding the fatal trip—Did her dad, her hero, know bad weather was coming and act recklessly by taking them? Did he neglect to check the weather that day? Has he survived?—propel you through the story, while also acting as a window to delve deeper into both family and small town dynamics. It deftly handles heavy subject matter in a way that never feels gratuitous. I loved it, and it will stay with me for a very long time.  


Nathan Whitlock, author of Lump (Dundurn):

I tend to be a words-only/no-pictures kind of reader, and yet three of the books that engaged me the most this year were either graphic novels or picture books. Ducks by Katie Beaton has been praised all over, so I'll only say that it deserves all of its success. Fictional Father by Joe Ollman is a brilliant, intense, and very funny story about being the child of a famous creator who is as awful as a father as he was celebrated for his work. And, finally, The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen is a picture book-cum-graphic novel for kids that is every bit as smart and funny as Klassen's other books, but adds an element of gothic horror.


Stephanie Kain, author of Lifeline: An Elegy (ECW Press):

I have read a lot of fabulous books this year, but the one that I have shared the most is In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It was recommended to me by my agent when I was having difficulty reading anything with a linear structure. It is the perfect example of experimental creative nonfiction, pushing the boundaries of the genre after thoroughly exploring the many lenses of memoir. I love the interplay of literary form and compelling story. I teach this book in my Advanced Creative Nonfiction class and students love it. 

My daughter and I are also super into Kelly Yang’s middle grade books right now. Front Desk started us off, but we have also listened to Finally Seen and New from Here. These books deal with issues children and families face around immigration and racism. They are great stories, and very accessible. We started with the audio books for all of these and then bought the print. Great read-alouds!


Book Therapy is a monthly column about how books have the capacity to help, heal, and change our lives for the better.

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Stacey May Fowles is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and essayist whose bylines include The Globe and Mail, The National Post, BuzzFeed, Elle, Toronto Life, The Walrus, Vice, Hazlitt, Quill and Quire, and others. She is the author of the bestselling non-fiction collection Baseball Life Advice (McClelland and Stewart), and the co-editor of the recent anthology Whatever Gets You Through (Greystone).