I made a reading resolution in 2022 to read fewer books. You read that right—as someone who reads a lot, I wanted to spend more time this year on other things, like developing more hobbies. I wouldn’t say I failed my goal—I did read fewer books than I did in 2021!—but I still finished more than 100 books, so I could certainly dedicate even more time to other hobbies next year. In any case, I was fortunate to read many wonderful books this year, but here are the 10 that stood out. From epic historical fantasy to creative memoirs and pandemic fiction to spicy romance, I hope you’ll find something on this list of book recommendations to add to your 2023 TBR.
One of the benefits of focusing on reading fewer books this year meant I was encouraged to pick up lengthier tomes that I may have put off in the past. Exhibit A: This historical fantasy epic set in an alternate-history Oxford is worth every one of its nearly 600 pages! This genius novel features a group of translation students and clever commentary on colonialism, imperialism, civil disobedience and so much more.
This debut novel tells the story of three generations of women on both sides of a Kuwaiti family from the early 20th century to almost-present day. The majority of the story is set in Kuwait (where the author was born), but it also spans India, Iraq, Lebanon and the United States. I fell in love with these characters, and I enjoyed learning about the political and social history of Kuwait through their stories.
This is a fantastic memoir/family history by a Colombian writer exploring the legacy of curanderos/as in her family. The story features a number of ghosts and a healthy dose of family drama, and I was especially interested in the way the author (who has Indigenous ancestry) talks about the colonial gaze on South American and Indigenous writing and traditions. If you enjoyed Rojas Contreras’ novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree, I think her memoir was even better.
I think Bolu Babalola is one of the funniest authors on Twitter, and her debut romance novel did not disappoint! This laugh-out-loud story features a college student in the U.K. who enters a fake relationship with the campus hottie to help improve her radio show ratings. The radio show is a big part of the book, so I found the audiobook was the perfect format for this story.
This dark but ultimately hopeful novel-in-stories begins in 2030 Siberia and continues for decades as a pandemic ravages the world. I should warn you that though I found this book hopeful, my book club … did not agree. But if you can handle some bleakness, I thought these stories were beautiful and thought-provoking. I mean, a chapter about a pig made me cry, so if that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.
I love recommending short story collections to busy readers or people who are trying to get back into reading for pleasure. This unsettlingly good collection by the author of Severance (another pandemic novel from several years ago) was the best I read this year. Ma’s surreal stories defy genre and blur the edges of reality, portraying everyday occurrences with a surprising twist.
This creative nonfiction book tells the story of the American South through various mechanisms to add nuance to the often flattened stereotype of the South that the rest of the nation (and even the world) often sees. Perry pulls together different threads including historical figures, unsung heroes, physical monuments, culinary traditions, art and dance, and even her personal genealogy research to craft her brilliant narrative of the South. Bonus: The audiobook narrated by the author is excellent.
I have a soft spot for prose written by poets, so when I saw the author of the poetry collection If They Come for Us was publishing a novel, I was beyond excited. This debut novel featuring a trio of orphaned sisters who are adopted by a neglectful relative did not disappoint, and Asghar’s lyrical style shines in the experimental writing and unique structure of the book.
Speaking of debut novels by poets, I was captivated by this multigenerational tale of three generations of Black women in Memphis, Tennessee. The way Stringfellow writes about mother/daughter relationships and sister relationships is beautifully and painfully real, and the city of Memphis was a character unto itself.
Having read Nović’s debut novel several years ago (about the Balkan wars of the 1990s), I was surprised and impressed to see her sophomore novel was completely different. Set at a boarding school for the Deaf, True Biz has all the hallmarks of a great campus novel—rebellious students, teachers with complicated motivations and definitely a dash of scandal—while also situating campus life within the wider social and political forces that affect Deaf culture.