all of my 2023 book recommendations

All year long, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I like, mostly fiction. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’re just long-standing favorites.

Here’s the complete list of what I’ve recommended this year (maybe in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites. This was an excellent year for reading!

How Lucky, by Will Leitch. A man with a degenerative disease that’s left him unable to speak, or to move without a wheelchair, witnesses a kidnapping outside his door and tries to solve it.

Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman. A lawyer is sentenced to six months of house arrest after being caught having sex on her apartment building roof … and befriends a man in her building who is similarly captive. It’s Elinor Lipman, so it’s funny and charming and you are in good hands.

Mouth to Mouth, by Antoine Wilson. After a man saves a famous art dealer from drowning, their paths twist together in surprising ways. Beautifully written and compelling.

L.A. Weather, by María Amparo Escandón. A Mexican-Jewish family in Los Angeles tries to navigate secrets, divorce, money, and guilt.

Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner. An older woman who has always put her controlling family’s needs before her own decides to move out and become a witch.

Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones, in which a man has two daughters — one in his public family and one in his secret family on the side. Only the secret family is aware he’s leading a double life, but when the two daughters meet things begin to unravel.

A Quiet Life, by Ethan Joella. Three people in a small town figure out how to move forward after loss. It’s quiet and at times sad but also beautiful and affirming.

None of This Would Have Happened If Prince Were Alive, by Carolyn Prusa. A woman in the midst of evacuating her family for a category four hurricane discovers her husband has been having an affair. Funnier than it sounds.

Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin. Best friends each fall in love and navigate courtship and marriage alongside each other. Funny and charming.

All Together Now, by Matthew Norman. A terminally ill man brings his oldest friends together for a final vacation and tries to use his wealth to alter their lives.

Vintage Contemporaries, by Dan Kois. This is about friendship in your 20s and how it changes as you get older and try to figure out where you fit in the world. I loved, loved, loved it.

The Sweet Spot, by Amy Poeppel. A young family moves into a borrowed brownstone with a bar in the basement and a variety of interpersonal messes ensue. It’s about family, break-ups, enemies, work, ambition, and the best kind of chaos …most of all, it’s about finding family in unexpected places. It’s funny, charming, and I loved it.

Sam, by Allegra Goodman. This follows Sam from age seven though young adulthood as she navigates a father who comes and goes, a mother who desperately wants Sam to avoid making the same mistakes she did, the attention of an older man, and her own sense of self. There’s something almost trance-like about it.

Small Admissions, by Amy Poeppel. A grad student whose life is falling apart takes a job as an admissions officer at a private school and chaos and hilarity ensure. Her writing reminds me a lot of Elinor Lipman, who I love.

The Helpline, by Katherine Collette. A woman who’s better with numbers than with people gets pushed into a job answering a senior citizens helpline. What follows includes the mayor’s feud with a local golf club, intrigue with a disgraced Sudoko champion, and a cookie-related scandal.

Pineapple Street, by Jenny Jackson. Three women — two sisters and one the sister-in-law who has married their brother — navigate their 20s, old money, family, marriage, work, and love. It’s being called a contemporary Henry James and that feels right.

Romantic Comedy, by Curtis Sittenfeld. A woman working on a show clearly inspired by SNL becomes annoyed at how many of her average male coworkers end up dating beautiful, famous, accomplished women (cough, Pete Davidson) while the reverse never happens … and then is surprised when her own sparks fly with a pop star.

Limelight, by Amy Poeppel – A stressed out mom has a run-in with a troubled teen pop star and develops an unexpectedly rewarding relationship with him.

Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy. Secrets follow a close-knit Catholic family through four generations. A satisfying family saga.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, by Jesse Q. Sutanto. An older woman with busybody tendencies finds a dead body in her small tea shop and takes it upon herself to investigate what happens. It’s funny and charming.

Yellowface, by R.F. Kuang. A satire about race and privilege and publishing and fame. After her writer friend dies in front of her, June Hayward steals her nearly-finished manuscript and passes it off as her own. I couldn’t put this down.

Bad Summer People, by Emma Rosenblum. Badly behaved rich people get into various forms of trouble while summering on an exclusive island. It’s gossipy and fun. I saw a review compare it to White Lotus, and that’s spot-on.

Games and Rituals, by Katherine Heiny. I have mixed feelings about short stories because when they’re good, I wish they were full-length books and that was the case here. Each story really enjoyable and each too short.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. The story of a home for kids who stumbled into other worlds — like the Narnia kids with the wardrobe, or Alice with the rabbit hole — but then came back to the real world and had trouble adjusting. Darkness lurks.

By the Book, by Jasmine Guillory. A reimagining of Beauty and the Beast in which a young publishing assistant agrees to help a stand-offish celebrity get his memoir on the page. I am not normally a romance reader but this was fun and charming.

Barbara Isn’t Dying, by Alina Bronsky. A man who has relied on his wife to cook and clean for him his entire life needs to learn new skills when she takes to her bed.

My Last Innocent Year, by Daisy Alpert Florin. A college student in the 90s has an affair with her professor, as the Clinton impeachment plays out in the background.

The Guest, by Emma Cline. A young woman with few resources relies on men’s interest in her to survive — while making bad decision after bad decision. It’s riveting — I read it almost all in one night — but also disturbing enough that I wanted to shower afterwards.

The Truth and Other Hidden Things, by Lea Geller. After moving for her husband’s job, a woman begins writing an anonymous newspaper column about the habits of her new hipster neighbors. The column is not flattering; things explode.

The Innocents, by Francesca Segal. A modern retelling of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, but set in a tight-knit Jewish community in London.

The Appeal, by Janice Hallett. A murder mystery told entirely through emails and messages sent among the members of a local theater group that has been rallying to raise funds for a sick child in their director’s family. The epistolary element is great fun.

Sunshine Nails, by Mai Nguyen. A Vietnamese Canadian family tries to save their nail salon after a more glamorous salon opens across the street … but it’s really more about family dynamics than nails.

Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. The D.C. novel of its time when it was published in 1983, this is a thinly disguised but highly entertaining account of Nora Ephron’s marriage to and divorce from Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein.

Maame, by Jessica George. A young woman cares for her ill father while juggling work, an overbearing but absent mom, work, friends, roommates, and love.

The Connellys of County Down, by Tracey Lange. After being released from prison, a woman moves back in with her sister, brother, and nephew and tries to rebuild her life.

Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett. Stuck together on their family farm during the pandemic, a woman tells her three grown daughters about the time years earlier when she performed in summer stock and fell in love with a star before he was famous. It’s like pulling a big cozy quilt over yourself.

You Can’t Stay Here Forever, by Katherine Lin. Days after losing her husband in a car crash, a lawyer discovers he had been having an affair with her coworker and heads to a luxury French resort with her best friend to figure out how to restart her life.

Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl, by Renee Rosen. It never occurred to me that the story behind the rise of cosmetics giant Estee Lauder would be fascinating, but it turns out that it is. This is a novel — historical fiction, I suppose — but it’s based on the real story of Lauder’s life.

The Whispers, by Ashley Audrain. A neighborhood tries to figure out what happened when the young son of a woman known for losing her temper ends up in a coma.

An Available Man, by Hilma Wolitzer. A widower tries to figure out dating again, while mourning his wife.

Daughters-in-Law, by Joanna Trollope. A married couple struggle to adjust as their new daughter-in-law brings changes to their family.

Flight, by Lynn Steger Strong. Four siblings and their spouses gather for Christmas after the death of their mother, each unmoored in different ways.

High Maintenance, by Jennifer Belle – Reeling from her divorce — and perhaps even more from the loss of her New York penthouse — a woman tries to remake her life via work, real estate, and a string of troubled men. It’s funny.

Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls. A woman in an unsatisfying marriage develops a much more satisfying relationship with a seven-foot-tall sea monster.

Hello Beautiful, by Ann Napolitano. A boy raised by distant parents grows up to marry one of four daughters from a warm, tight-knit family, but things don’t go smoothly.

A Family Daughter, by Maile Meloy – Building on the events of Meloy’s Liars and Saints, which followed a close-knit Catholic family through four generations, this retells the story but from the perspective of the youngest daughter.

Family Happiness, by Laurie Colwin. A seemingly perfect wife and mother finds herself having an affair.

The Man I Never Met, by Elle Cook. A wrong number leads to a long-distance relationship that takes unexpected turns. I thought the initial premise was A Bit Much and I wondered if it would just be a fluffy romance but it had a lot more substance and I ended up really liking it.

And if you’re looking for more, here are my lists of book recommendations from 2022 … from 2021from 2020from 2019from 2018from 2017from 2016 … and from 2015.

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{ 77 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A huge chunk of these I actually read during December 2022 when I took the month off — that kept me with books to recommend well into 2023! But otherwise, before bed … which means I end up staying up too late more often than I should.

      1. AGD*

        I do exactly the same thing – which is what I get for having a love of reading and an excessively comfortable couch.

      2. Decidedly Me*

        Before bed for me, too, almost without fail.

        The biggest chunk outside of that for me is on flights.

        1. SarahKay*

          The most lethal books are the ones with *really* short chapters.
          It’s so easy to just keep telling myself ‘Oh, the chapters are only a couple of pages long, one more won’t hurt’ and thus not stopping until way past the time I would (might) have with longer chapters.

  1. Rook Thomas*

    I whipped out my phone, pulled up my library’s app and just put a bunch of these on hold for myself. Thank you!!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Chucked so many on my Amazon list!

      Especially glad to see Happy All The Time on there–Laurie Colwin is such a hidden gem.

        1. k*

          This is how I know Laurie Colwin as well! Those food essays are marvelous for anyone who tries to cook thoughtfully or is interested in personal food reflections in general.

          It always tickles me to see older books on a “what I read” list!

      1. AY*

        All the Laurie Colwin fans here need to read Vintage Contemporaries! It’s an homage to Laurie Colwin, and I, like Alison, loved it.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I do the same thing – my biggest barrier to reading is deciding what to read, and Alison’s lists (which I nerdily compiled into a master reading list recently) have made that so much easier. I also tend to go down rabbit holes reading more of the works of an author that I find I enjoy.

  2. Jose*

    Mrs. Caliban, yay! It’s so good! I paired it with the book All’s Well by Mona Awad, which also had Shakespearean references and was a little surreal.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I read it in high school. (Being a circulation page meant I came across a lot of stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily read.)

      Maybe I’ll re-read, as I will probably get more out of it now.

  3. Ann Onymous*

    Thanks so much for sharing book recommendations! I’ve found a number of books based on your recommendations that I’ve really enjoyed.

  4. Sal*

    John Mayer should be paying Curtis Sittenfeld a LOT of money for the roman a clef-appearing reputation management services she provides in Romantic Comedy.

  5. Kristi*

    Funny and charming are always right at the top of my list, so I’m really looking forward to reading some of these – thank you so much for the list!

  6. HotLaundress*

    I’d like to suggest a holiday-themed novella (you can read it in one sitting) THE CHRISTMAS GUEST by Peter Swanson. What starts out as a 19-year-old’s diary account of a Christmas stay at an acquaintance’s Cotswolds manor morphs into something dark and shocking. Well worth reading, especially for those who aren’t especially fond of the holiday and its trappings.

  7. Emelius*

    The Lost Ticket by Freya Sampson…. I’m a little bit late commenting about this book because it was on your list of recommended books for 2022. I remember when you first recommended it and it sounded interesting. Unfortunately, I had a few other books queued up to read already at the time, but I decided to add it to my wish list for later. I actually finally got around to reading it just a couple of months ago while I was on vacation.

    This is honestly one of the best fiction books I have ever read. The story is so heartwarming and exciting at the same time. I read the entire book in about two and a half days. I can’t recommend it enough.

    1. Sunny days are better*

      I am off sick with Covid (hence reading more than usual) and could do with some heartwarming. First time I’ve been sick in over 4 years and it’s kicking my ass.

      I’ve just checked it out of my online library. Thanks for the suggestion.

            1. LemonDrops*

              The “Every Heart a Doorway” series is a very quirky, imaginative adventure, with humor and sobriety in equal mixes. I hope you read them all!

  8. Kristen*

    I can second Romantic Comedy. It’s not my normal genre, and I really enjoyed it. I bought it for my sister-in-law for Christmas. I can recommend Forty Elephants by Erin Bledsoe. “Peaky Blinders meets Ocean’s 8 in The Forty Elephants, an epic novel set in Roaring Twenties London, based on the real-life, all-female gang of the same name who specialized in crime as high art, targeting posh department stores and elites.” I really liked it and so have the library patrons I’ve recommended it to.

  9. Lily Rowan*

    I also loved Vintage Contemporaries so much! I recommended it to all of my same-age friends who lived in NYC in the 90s/2000s.

  10. Blarg*

    If it is ok, I’d love to hear anyone’s recs for non-fiction this year. Some of my favorites:

    Anansi’s Gold by Yepoka Yeebo
    The Art Thief by Michael Finkel
    The Exceptions by Kate Zernike
    Fancy Bear Goes Fishing by Scott Shapiro
    I Felt the End Before it Came by Daniel Allen Cox
    Number Go Up by Zeke Faux
    Prequel by Rachel Maddow
    The Shadow Docket by Steve Vladeck
    Homegrown by Jeffrey Toobin

    1. Seashell*

      Some non-fiction books published this year that I liked:
      I Swear: Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan by Katie Porter
      A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung
      We Should Not Be Friends: The Story of a Friendship by Will Schwalbe
      Uncle of the Year – Andrew Rannells
      Walking With Sam – Andrew McCarthy
      It Goes So Fast – Mary Louise Kelly
      World Within a Song – Jeff Tweedy

    2. kendall^2*

      Some of the nonfiction I read this year and liked:
      Elephant Company, by Vicki Constantine Croke
      All the Living and the Dead, by Hayley Campbell
      Master Slave Husband Wife, by Ilyon Woo
      Unearthed, by Meryl Frank
      Lost in Translation, by Eva Hoffman
      One Size Fits None, by Stephanie Anderson
      The Case for Good Jobs, by Zeynep Ton
      Class, by Stephanie Land

    3. word nerd*

      Nine Nasty Words by John McWhorter (fascinating discussion about swear words)
      The Country of the Blind by Andrew Leland (memoir about a man whose vision is deteriorating)
      Nursery Earth: The Wondrous Lives of Baby Animals and the Extraordinary Ways They Shape Our World by Danna Staaf
      Blurb Your Enthusiasm: A Cracking Compendium of Book Blurbs, Writing Tips, Literary Folklore and Publishing Secrets
      An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong

      I may or may not read a pretty narrow range of nonfiction…

    4. AY*

      I didn’t read much nonfiction–I had a baby in May, and it’s much easier to read fiction right now. Not sure why, but it is. But I still read and loved We Were Once a Family by Roxanna Asgarian. It’s about the foster kids adopted by a couple and then drugged and driven off a cliff by them. Very sad, but very well done. Like some others I see here, I also recommend A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung.

    5. Nerdling*

      I apparently didn’t read a ton of non-fiction this year, judging by my library and Kindle apps, but I did just finish The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder by David Grann. He draws from a lot of primary sources to tell a story that he fully admits no one will ever really know the truth of.

    6. Hlao-roo*

      Non-fiction I read in 2023:

      American Comics: A History by Jeremy Dauber
      The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan
      There Are No Accidents by Jessie Singer
      In the Eye of the Wild by Nastassja Martin
      Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis
      The Riddle of Gender by Deborah Rudacille
      Following Atticus by Tom Ryan
      Great Waters by Deborah Cramer
      Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
      Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
      The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Travis
      Burn it Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood by Maureen Ryan
      Battle of Ink and Ice by Darrell Hartman
      Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
      The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann
      The Quickening by Elizabeth Rush
      Fen, Bog and Swamp by Annie Proulx

    7. Nona Selah*

      (in no particular order – and I am pretty wide ranging in subject!)
      Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane
      Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James M Fallows
      The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood One Day: and Wonders What the Hell Happened by Bill McKibben
      The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten
      Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes DuMez
      52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander
      Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World by Lauren Fleshman
      Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too by Amanda Thebe

      1. Nona Selah*

        Oops, I don’t know how that happened. the Weingarten title is called One Day, but that ended up in the title above randomly. Ah well, it’s Friday!

    8. Daisy-dog*

      In order of how they appear on my Storygraph:
      The 6 Types of Working Genius by Patrick Lencioni (business book that really helped me)
      How to Be Perfect by Michael Schur (philosophy book by the creator of The Good Place)
      “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon (title says it all)
      Paris: The Memoir by Paris Hilton (eye-opening memoir)
      The Wellness Trap by Christy Harrison (I’ve been a Christy stan for almost 8 years and still learned a lot in this book)
      North to Paradise by Ousman Umar (beautiful memoir)

  11. lovetoreadallthebooks*

    Yellowface was so good! Highly recommend. I was so angry at June Hayward for most of this book. I thought a lot about this book after I finished reading it.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Agreed! I don’t know if should be someone’s first R.F. Kuang book though. Her other books are so different. Though I suppose if you aren’t a fantasy reader….

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is why I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t want to spend one more second with June. She had no redeeming qualities at all, so I neither empathized with her a single bit nor needed the more repetitive examples of how awful she was. I felt like everyone in the book was a caricature and a highly unlikable, unrelatable one at that. I usually love satire, but I barely made it through this one.

  12. sjw*

    The only place our lists intersected was Tom Lake, which I LOVED. Your lists are always my go-to for new books to read! Copying now!!!

  13. phira*

    Great list! I loved Romantic Comedy and The Man I Never Met (agree that the premise is a little wild, but the turn it takes really worked for me). I read Babel by R. F. Kuang and absolutely frickin’ loved it, so I will try Yellowface on your recommendation.

    I adored The Appeal but found the follow-up (The Twyford Code) to be much less enjoyable. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Hallet’s latest being a more enjoyable read for me.

    If you like your contemporary romance more about serious topics than genre cliches, I’d recommend Float Plan by Trish Doller, although it’s extremely about grief so your mileage may vary.

    1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Seconding Babel! I’m reading it right now (and just put Yellowface on my list too!). I love how Babel is a mix of history, fiction, and fantasy, although the second half is a bit…harder than I was expecting from the first half.

  14. ThatGirl*

    My faves this year:

    A Living Remedy – Nicole Chung
    Burn it Down – Maureen Ryan
    Moby Dyke – Krista Burton

    My Name is Iris – Brando Skyhorse
    How to Sell a Haunted House – Grady Hendrix
    The Boys – Katie Hafner
    Sea of Tranquility – Emily St John Mandel
    Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus

    1. Buttercup*

      I read How to Sell a Haunted House, and I both gasped and then cackled when I got to this line: “When I went to BU,” he said, “the first thing I did was join a radical puppet collective.”

  15. Lauren19*

    Thank you! Read through all of this with the intention of buying books as gifts . . . and found a few for myself along the way :).

  16. Kit C.*

    A previous list suggested Hench. In a similar vein about villainy, I’d like to suggest Starter Villain by John Scalzi! 1. spy cats! 2. tongue-in-cheek 3. action, but not body horror. 4. very competent staff

    The book is pretty short and a fun ride. Comes with NSFW language and commentary on corporations/billionaires and labor.

    1. Nerdling*

      Bonus points if you like audiobooks, because that version is narrated by Wil Wheaton. It’s very enjoyable.

  17. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    I’m so glad you’ve read Heartburn, Alison! For obvious reasons I always think of your family when Bernstein comes up in conversation.

  18. LaFramboise*

    Allison, I love reading your lists because there is very little overlap with my reading, so I really appreciate the exposure to someone else’s point of view. Especially when some printed reviews don’t come with recommendations or have concise synopses so are hard to decide as to whether I want to commit time to them. Thanks for these, many new titles to consider!

  19. i like hound dogs*

    I am also a lifelong book lover, and I loves these recommendations! I also share your love for the sweet spot between literary and page-turner. I’ve read and enjoyed many of the books on your list; here are a few faves of mine from this year:

    Body Grammar by Jules Ohman (A woman reluctantly becomes a model; beautifully written)
    I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai (literary novel about a writer investigating a true crime)
    Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman (rambunctious Irish family, the grandmother is caught shoplifting, extremely funny)
    The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donaghue (Also Irish; a college student and her gay best friend live together; one of them has an affair with a professor)
    Big Swiss by Jen Beagin (I was initially put off by the weird cover, but this is so so good and funny. A woman working as a transcriber becomes infatuated with one of the patients she hears in the sessions she’s transcribing, then meets her at a dog park. I think this is gonna become an HBO series eventually and I’m very excited for that.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Makkai’s The Great Believers is one of my all-time favorite books so I was excited to read I Have Some Questions For You but I couldn’t get into it! Maybe I will try it again.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        I haven’t read The Great Believers yet, but … looking at my recommendations, I Have Some Questions for You was my least favorite of the five. I mostly appreciated the overlap between literary fiction and true crime!

  20. A person*

    Wow! I don’t think I’ve read that many books in my entire life let alone a year! I’m impressed.

  21. LemonDrops*

    The “Every Heart a Doorway” series is a very quirky, imaginative adventure, with humor and sobriety in equal mixes. I hope you read them all!

  22. PhyllisB*

    Alison, I’ve been meaning to ask you if you ever read Whisper Network and if so, did you like it?
    A couple of years ago I won it in a Goodreads drawing, and they sent me THREE COPIES of it. I emailed you and offered you a copy, but you said you already had it.
    I started it but it didn’t really grab me, so I put it aside. (It made me think a bit of the movie 9 to 5. I liked the movie, but the book just wasn’t entertaining.)
    If you enjoyed it, I’ll give it another go. I might like it better now.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Thanks!! I’ll see if I can locate the other book. I suppose one day I’ll give Whisper Network another try after I’ve read more of my overwhelming TBR stash.

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