Top books of 2023: Who said it best? Me or ChatGBT?
My top books of 2023 – one version written by me, the other written by Chat GBT
I love writing about my favorite books of the year. I started the practice at Berkeleyside, the news site I co-founded in 2009, where it continues. I wanted to make a list for 2023 but thought experimenting would make it more interesting.
So, I wrote up my list. Then I fed the titles into Chat GBT, the AI platform, to see what it would generate. What a difference! Look below to see the limitations of artificial intelligence.
Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo
This a heart-pounding, thrilling narrative of a married couple who disguise themselves to escape from bondage in Georgia to freedom in Philadelphia. Ellen Craft, a mixed-race, light-skinned woman enslaved by her family, disguises herself as a sickly male enslaver. Her husband, William, poses as her slave. The pair travel north by train, steamship, and carriage, and have to keep up the masquerade while talking to other passengers, buying train tickets, and finding places to sleep. Their ruse almost fails, but they finally make it to freedom – or so they think. They became famous on the anti-slavery speaking circuit, traveling through the north to talk about the horrors of slavery. Congress then passes the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which allowed bounty hunters to kidnap the formerly enslaved and return them to their enslavers. Suddenly, the well-known Crafts have to flee for their freedom again.
Built from the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, America’s Black Wall Street by Victor Luckerson is a masterful, deeply researched book. It’s a searing tale of Black resistance in the face of white racism and violence. I had been anticipating this book for years since it features my good friend, M. David Goodwin, whom I met when we were both young reporters in Ithaca, N.Y. The Goodwins moved to Tulsa around 1914 when the city was emerging as a place where African Americans could flourish. The family eventually purchased (and is still running) The Oklahoma Eagle. They lived and suffered during the Tulsa Race Massacre but stayed in Tulsa and are now community leaders. Luckerson takes readers from the time the Greenwood section of Tulsa became a center for Black commerce, business, and culture in the early part of the 20th century, through the deadly violence of the Tulsa Race Massacre on May 31, 1921, through the community’s fight to get compensation from white politicians and community leaders, to its resurgence and its current challenges.
Adam Nagourney’s The Times: How the Newspaper of Record Survived Scandal, Scorn, and the Transformation of Journalism is probably too insider baseball for most readers. It tells the recent history of the country’s best newspaper from 1977 to 2016 through the stories of its executive editors: Abe Rosenthal, Max Frankel, Joseph Lelyveld, Bill Keller, Jill Abramson and Dean Baquet and its three publishers in that time: “Punch” Sulzberger, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. and A.G (Arthur Gregg) Sulzberger. The book is my personal history in journalism in many ways, which is one reason I enjoyed it. Nagourney relays the period in which newspapers were king, raking in huge profits by churning out special sections on food, style, and sports. (When I worked for the San Jose Mercury News in the 1990s, it made a 20% annual profit). He writes about how the paper responded to scandals, such as when Times reporter Jason Blair fabricated many articles, and the abrupt dismissal of the paper’s first female executive editor. Nagourney discusses how the Times transformed itself into more than just a newspaper by offering cooking and games apps.
All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby – There is no doubt Cosby writes dark, dark books about the South and racism. Generally, I find them brutal but that doesn’t mean I keep away. All the Sinners Bleed is less dark than, say, his last book, Razorblade Tears, even though the plot revolves around a serial killer who dismembers teens. This is my favorite Cosby book yet and it is very good because he creates a great main character. Sheriff Titus Crown was born in the fictional Charon County in rural east Virginia. He escaped to play college football but a misstep while working as an FBI agent and an ailing father brought him back. As the first Black sheriff — and an ethical one at that — Crown must cope with the county’s casual and intentional racism. When bodies stack up, a white politician questions Crown’s competence, which slows down the investigation into an evil that is truly hard to understand.
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Stout – This came out in 2022 and continues Stout’s exploration of Lucy Barton. This time the pandemic has set in, and Lucy moves from Manhattan, where her recently deceased husband’s presence lingers, to a house in Maine with her ex-husband, William. Isolated in a beautiful setting by the ocean, Lucy ponders her life and the state of the country. It’s as if she can see things more clearly from a distance, including what her two daughters are going through and the impact of her mothering on them. I found this novel to be both a reminder of the disassociation of lockdown (and I am surprised how much I have already forgotten about that time) and how the human quest for connection pulled us through.
Now here is Chat GBT’s version of my best books of 2023:
Title: Unveiling the Literary Gems of 2023: The Best Books You Can’t Miss
As the year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the literary wonders that captivated readers’ hearts and minds in 2023. From powerful historical narratives to gripping contemporary tales, this year’s selection of the ten best books offers a diverse and compelling range of stories. Here’s a closer look at each masterpiece:
Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo
Ilyon Woo’s “Master Slave Husband Wife” delves into the complex dynamics of relationships, exploring themes of power, love, and identity. Woo weaves a thought-provoking narrative that challenges societal norms and leaves readers questioning the nature of human connection.
Built from the Fire by Victor Luckerson
Victor Luckerson’s “Built from the Fire” is a riveting exploration of resilience and determination. Set against the backdrop of a transformative event, Luckerson’s characters navigate adversity and emerge stronger, showcasing the indomitable spirit of the human soul.
The Times by Adam Nagourney
Adam Nagourney’s “The Times” takes readers on a captivating journey through the corridors of journalism. With keen insight and a sharp eye for detail, Nagourney paints a vivid picture of the challenges and triumphs faced by those dedicated to uncovering the truth.
All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby
S.A. Cosby’s “All the Sinners Bleed” is a gritty and gripping noir thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. With a cast of compelling characters and a plot full of twists and turns, Cosby delivers a literary experience that is both thrilling and thought-provoking.
Lucy by the Sea
Elizabeth Strout’s “Lucy by the Sea” is a tender and introspective exploration of human emotions. Strout’s prose is both lyrical and evocative, creating a narrative that lingers in the reader’s mind long after the final page is turned.
As readers embrace these literary masterpieces, the legacy of the best books of 2023 is sure to endure, leaving an indelible mark on the world of literature.
The Chat GBT version of favorite books is bland and general. I could have improved the description by feeding it more description of each title. But that feels like plagiarism. There are good uses for AI in journalism, such as using it to generate summaries of meeting agendas. But it cannot replicate the writing of a human yet.