Yeah, yeah. Boo hiss, "Worst-of" lists are bad and terrible and we're horrible for people for hopping on this trend.
It's easy to say that we should be supporting writers and talking about the books we loved instead of the books we hated. But best of lists just don't get that sort of traction. It's not a spicy take to tell you that I, co-founder of the resource site for spooky writers, love the art that is produced by spooky writers. No one cares how many bangers I read this year, and that's just the cold hard truth.
We are just a small team, desperately trying to do some numbers for the end of the year, shouting negative things into the void for attention because things feel a little slow. So, no offense to the writers listed, but I'm about to throw you under the bus for clicks and engagement. That's just the price of doing business.
Now. If you're suspicious reading this because you know me and my previous, very public stances on the harmful impact of "Worst of" lists on the community, I need you to believe me. I'm a terrible hypocrite, but I would never, ever dream of dressing up a best of list as a worst of list and releasing it to the public as an excuse to bait you into reading while gushing about my favorite reads of the year. That would be insane. Who wins there?
I mean, I would win, because you've already clicked and now I could just talk about the books that brought joy to me in an otherwise rough year... but I won't do it. I've committed to doing a worst of list. So, below are some of the books I read from 2023 that were too engaging, too queer, and honestly sometimes just too scary.
The 13 Worst Books of 2023
I'm starting with this one so that you know I'm being very objective and serious. I helped edit and format this absolutely stunning collection of short stories from my good friend, Angel. But unfortunately, it just missed the mark for me. I thought it offered too many strong female characters at their most vulnerable moments, overcoming too wide an array of obstacles. Sure, every story had its own deep mythos and interesting creature design, but I just have no interest in reading about too many awesome women.
On the other side of that coin, the characters in Deep were just too flawed and stubborn. I related to them? I thought they showed realistic struggles and character growth? This did have the Slickerman, who was one of my favorite monsters of the year, so it wins some points for that. But I just can't stand strong settings or characters who make me think about my own humanity.
We all know that Ai Jiang is a talented writer. She has the prose part down. But when I read a story about a haunted house, I just want it to be about a haunted house. I was hoping for a bland story with all the classic haunting tropes and this book just didn't deliver on that promise. I thought it was too clever a subversion and was honestly offended that it would turn this genre up on its head like this.
Okay, you may remember me saying earlier this year that I really liked and personally recommended The Briars. I'll admit, I got pretty sucked into the hype. With a gorgeous cover and a horror story that's pro sex-work, I really wanted to like it. But here I am months later and I still can't forget the setting or its characters? It's still on my mind and feels fresh? If you want to read a book that's going to stay with you I guess that's on you, but personally I just would feel more comfortable recommending something forgettable.
This wouldn't be complete without a short story collection on here, and unfortunately the worst one I read this year was by Judith Sonnet. I've loved her writing in other places, but I was annoyed and quite frankly a little jealous to see her showing off this kind of range in what was supposed to be an extreme horror collection but actually ended up offering style alongside the gore.
I'm actually really mad about this one, because I hate second-person perspective and Lauren made me like a whole book of it, and I don't know if I'll ever forgive her for this.
In that same vein, I can't in good conscience recommend Hungers as Old as This Land because it fundamentally changed my reading habits and I'm annoyed. I've been a lifelong hater of westerns and I think it was unfair to try and lure me over into liking them by writing impeccable horror in a western setting and making me care for the sapphic main characters. That's cheating, Zach, and I hope you're happy because now you're on my very legitimate worst of list for playing dirty with my genre preferences and getting me on a western kick.
Same for Rae and her pirate book. I don't like reading about ships and water and I think having a complex, sapphic couple at the center of one was inconsiderate to me, especially while I was already dealing with the whole western upset. She even tried to bribe me with adorable custom stickers (which included a design of my absolute favorite character from the book.) It's not going to work on me. I'm going to read anything this woman writes for all of eternity, but I'm sure as hell not going to recommend that you do the same on this list.
I blurbed this book, and I've been a loud advocate for it, but real talk, I think it's entirely too fun. Should we be having fun when we're talking about serious topics like sex and death and the struggles of being a teenager in a world where eldritch monsters could drive us mad? No. It should have been more serious, and not fun at all.
Speaking of books that were too fun, Cow Shark was utterly ridiculous. You should avoid this title, and probably all of Brian's work because even though he's a great writer, he chooses topics like this all the time. The only circumstance I could recommend this in is if you're someone who likes both cheesy shark movies and engaging prose, in which case this might actually be a perfect read.
This one juggled too many things. Mothman. Christmas. Silly premise. Genuine emotion? Too much stuff, and I think it was executed with more than an acceptable level of efficiency because it made me all teary-eyed and I don't think that's fair to me or my eyeliner.
I absolutely don't think this is the best that Ruth Anna has to offer. You all know I adore her writing, but this one honestly was just a miss in the grand scheme of things. The main character in it was too sympathetic and I was too invested in her journey. It made the book scarier and more emotional, and Ruth Anna does enough of that in her other books, so she could really have taken this opportunity to just coast on that reputation for a little while.
Okay, so you might be thinking that you've seen me declare loudly and often that this is my favorite book of 2023. You might be starting to doubt the integrity of my list here and wondering if I might secretly just be trying to get your attention on some of these titles. But!
The Breaking of Mona Hill is genuinely one of the most upsetting books I've ever read. I read almost exclusively traumatizing books, so it's not every year that a new one cracks into the top ten most upsetting things I've ever laid my eyes on. To do that was an achievement and while I personally may have been impressed, that doesn't make it any less horrific.
If you DO go against my advice and pick up a copy of this for yourself, please read the trigger warnings. I don't say that often.
So, these were my 13 worst reads of 2023. I guess technically I can't stop you from buying and reading all of them to decide for yourself how they rank on your lists, but I hope you don't. I just don't know if any of you out there are brave enough or strong enough to be entertained by these wonder-- awful books.