Be it novels, short stories, memoirs, or non-fiction, 2023 had a bunch of great new books you just couldn't put down. Spanning across a host of genres, be rest assured that this fascinating list has something for everyone.
'Yellowface: A Novel'
The unexpected death of acclaimed author, Athena Liu presents (what looks like) an opportunity for struggling writer June Hayward to finally break through—by stealing Liu’s last manuscript and inventing an Asian-American identity to pass off Liu’s masterwork as her own. Posing as “Juniper Song”, June gets a taste of the literary success she stole and definitely doesn’t deserve. As she soon learns, she can’t keep up the lie forever—can she?
RF Kuang’s satirical thriller covers everything from white privilege to internet culture with increasingly eviscerating precision, the further June/Juniper spirals away from the truth.
'The Late Americans: A Novel'
Brandon Taylor’s third book is the most dazzling example of his sharp pen and keen observations of human nature yet. The Late Americans assembles a troupe of Iowa City student-artists and their lovers, friends, and neighbours in a novel that tracks their shifting relationships over the course of a single year. Taylor develops his characters so precisely, they feel like close friends: recognisable, sometimes infuriating, and always worth following to the book’s last page.
'Girls and Their Horses: A Novel'
Tensions have always run high in the elite (and usually, rich) equestrian world. Girls and Their Horses dials up the intrigue by several degrees, embedding a new-money family into an insular and highly competitive horseback riding community—where deceit, romance, and even murder aren’t out of the question in pursuit of a blue ribbon.
'The Mythmakers: A Novel'
Keziah Weir’s debut novel takes an age-old literary question—“Is this fiction actually based on reality?”—and twists it into a compelling story about art, perspective, and the line between inspiration and transgression. The Mythmakers isn’t from the perspective of a novelist, though: It begins with a down-on-her-luck journalist who recognises herself in a short story by an acclaimed—and recently deceased—author.
'Adult Drama and Other Essays'
Three years after an essay about her (unhealthy) friendship with influencer Caroline Calloway went viral, Natalie Beach is delving into other can’t-look-away dramas—in her relationships, in her work, and in the world at large—with the same captivating voice that landed her on so many readers’ radar. This is a debut essay collection not to miss.
'The Light Room: On Art and Care'
Early reviews called this book a miracle between two covers. In The Light Room, Zambreno writes about the intersections of catastrophes that unfold on a global scale—like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change—with the small wonders and worries of raising her children. Despite the unfathomable distractions we’re all facing, Zambreno writes with a sense of hope that will especially resonate with anyone who’s soldiered through pandemic-era parenting.
'Crook Manifesto: A Novel'
Fans of 2022’s Harlem Shuffle didn’t have to wait long for its equally riveting sequel. Now, it’s the 1970s, New York is in chaos, and furniture salesman-slash-former con man, Ray Carney’s commitment to turning his back on crime is starting to waver. What comes next is a journey through a tumultuous decade in Manhattan with equal doses of dark humor and poignancy.
'Family Lore: A Novel'
In her first novel for adults, National Book Award winner, Elizabeth Acevedo tackles some of life’s biggest questions with the vivacity and empathy readers know from her young adult novels. Family Lore is a multi-generational family epic that’s grounded in a supernatural twist. This novel’s Dominican-American matriarch, Flor Marte, can predict exactly when someone will die—and the novel’s events build over three days toward a “living wake” for an as-yet-unannounced member of the Marte clan. Is the next death one of Flor’s three sisters, one of Flor’s nieces—or Flor herself?
'The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: A Novel'
National Book Award–winning author, James McBride will shatter your heart and then gently put it back together in The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. Two communities on the outside of a small Pittsburgh neighbourhood—one comprised of African-Americans, the other of Jewish immigrants—become intertwined as the discovery of a dead body brings up long-held secrets.
'Learned by Heart'
Emma Donoghue’s novel turns a real-life love story into one of the year’s most compelling dramas. Eliza Raine, an orphaned heiress, and Anne Lister, a tomboy with a rebellious streak, meet at the Manor School for Young Ladies in 1805. The 14-year-olds’ connection is the foundation of a story that’s passionate and heartbreaking in equal measure—inspired in part by the secret journal Lister kept as a student.
'The Vaster Wilds: A Novel'
Like The Matrix before it, The Vaster Wilds crackles with the spirit of a young woman and her connection to a higher power. But this latest Lauren Groff heroine isn’t in the confines of a convent, but rather the open, unfamiliar expanse of colonial America. After escaping servitude and heading into the deep wilderness, this young woman faces an unforgiving world that tests her resilience and will to survive at every turn in the year’s most propulsive new read.
'Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World'
No book is better suited for our times than Naomi Klein’s latest. It starts as an investigation into Klein’s digital double: a person she is often confused for, but who holds political views in stark opposition to Klein’s. It evolves into a dazzling examination of modern culture and the darkest corners of the Discourse online. Doppelganger is intellectual but not unapproachable, and provides a necessary, singular point of view for navigating 2023’s online identity crises.
'The Wren, the Wren: A Novel'
For the women of the McDaragh family, patriarch Phil McDaragh’s poetry is a beacon to some and a sign of all of his shortcomings to others. All three generations—grandmother, mother, and daughter—grapple with the long shadow of their family’s best-known voice in this moving and lyrical novel.
'Bright Young Women: A Novel'
On one level, Bright Young Women is a breakneck thriller based on Ted Bundy’s heinous crimes. It ties together the stories of two women with connections to the murders and their search for justice. On another, it functions as a sharp examination of our culture’s obsession with serial killers and true crime.
'Wellness: A Novel'
Every married couple knows they don’t just exchange vows with their spouse on their wedding day—they’re committing to all the versions their partner will become in the future. Often hilariously and above all honestly, Nathan Hill explores the intricacies and evolutions of a modern marriage in his follow-up to The Nix. The subjects are Jack and Elizabeth: a couple trying to save their relationship and reckon with whom they’ve become two decades after meeting in college.
Also read: Unputdownable books of 2023 you must add to your shelf: Part one
This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar USA