Books I Read in 2023: Addendum

I read one more book in 2023. In the spirit of completeness, I am adding it here. But, in the spirit of giving out recommendations, I am also saying, “READ THIS BOOK IT RULES!”


Susanna Clarke

Date Finished: December 14, 2023

Let me start by saying, I don’t rate books 5/5 often. Since I started keeping track of the books I read in 2020, only two have received a 5/5 (George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo and Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep). For a book to receive 5/5 from me, it must change me in some profound way. I have to think about it often. Piranesi is the third book to join this collection for me.1

Piranesi is the name of the book’s central character (although he doesn’t think that is his real name). He lives in a castle? church? museum?… an enormous building that he calls the House. The House has existed for a very long time. It is a labyrinth of halls, alcoves, vestibules, and ante-chambers which Piranesi has attempted to explore, categorize, and map. As far as he knows only two people live in the house; but, others have lived there before. The House is surrounded by water. Perhaps it is built on land; but, the land was long ago submerged and the bottom floors of the House along with it. Aside from the sea life that lives on the lower floors, some birds visit and occasionally inhabit the House. Oh, and the House is full of enormous statues. Piranesi has also been cataloging the statues and giving them names such as The Gorilla, The Elephant Carrying a Castle, and The Woman Carrying a Beehive.

The story is told through Piranesi’s journal entries. Given the fact that he has no frame of reference for time, he devises his own descriptive method such as Entry for the eighteenth day of the fifth month in the year the albatross came to the south-western halls. I mean, come on! Who thinks of that?

One of my other qualifications for a book to reach 5/5 is that it must be untransmutable. So often books of fiction are merely a screenplay in novel form. And I get that because there’s a lot of money to be made by getting a book turned into a movie. But, I don’t want to read a movie-in-waiting. I want books to be books! So, if I can think of a way that some screenwriter can turn a book into a film, then it can’t be 5/5 for me. There’s no way to make a movie of Piranesi (well, no good way). The whole story happens in Piranesi’s mind. The movie would just be shots of a guy walking around, doing some fishing, looking at the stars, and very little action beyond that.2

The book is full of beautiful writing that sends my heart a flutter. What always touched me the most was how attached Piranesi was to the House. Many would think that Piranesi was in a secluded prison or a horrible maze from which there is no exit; but, not Piranesi. For him, the House provides all of his needs. When Piranesi finds an old letter from someone named Laurance, he writes a reply and signs it “May the House in its Beauty shelter us both.” In a moment of self-doubt, Piranesi reminds himself, “You are a Beloved Child of the House. Be comforted.” As he says goodbye to a person he meets in the House he says, “Then sir, may your Paths be safe, your Floors unbroken and may the House fill your eyes with Beauty.” Because for Piranesi, the House is his whole world, it is as if he is reminding us, the readers of his journals, to look up and be reminded about the beauty of our own world.

★★★★★ (5/5)–I think about this book often. “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”

  1. I find it interesting that two of the three books in the 5/5 list are works of fiction, even though I read a lot more non-fiction than fiction. My brain wants facts; but, my heart wants art. ↩︎

  2. Lincoln in the Bardo is equally impossible to turn into a film because 1. everyone is dead (not a spoiler), and 2. most of the characters don’t know they’re dead. It would be very confusing. I suppose Why We Sleep could be a documentary; but, documentaries don’t count. ↩︎