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Best books of 2023

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Avid reader Amy Winter is back to discuss her top reads of 2023, for those like us, always on the look out for some reading inspiration.

We're always on the look out for recommendations, so let us know your best books of the year too...

Take it away, Amy!

You already know that I think the best writers are readers. Books are great, stories are magic, blah blah blah…

Now, I’m not calling myself a great writer by saying this, but I am an avid reader (no surprises there). I’m not as avid as I’d like to be, given the constant distractions that comes with the contemporary age (Reels, because I like to be out of touch like a proper grown up) and running a home (how can two people create so much laundry?!).

When the longlist for The Booker Prize was announced recently (an important marker in any bookish person’s calendar), it made me think about the stories I’ve enjoyed this year, and I wanted to share them.

The books about I’m about to talk about weren’t all published this year, but since I read them this year, I feel that it’s only fair to include them on my list of favourites for 2023.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top five reads of 2023 so far:

Yellowface – Rebecca F Kuang

The hype is real for this book, and I know why. It’s a powerhouse of a novel, offering a scathing takedown of the contemporary, capitalist publishing industry (ironic, yes, and that’s the point).

It’s a super easy read with characters that are complex and flawed enough to be believable. They make you want to tear your hair out, at times be sick, and avoid people like them in real life at all costs, all whilst knowing that we’re all equally as rubbish in the real world.

Somehow Yellowface manages to be a thriller whilst talking about the writing process, and that’s a feat I greatly admire. It’s original, witty, and fun, making it the perfect book to get anyone out of a reading slump or into novels.

This book raises so many questions about its own construction, authorship and pertinence, which honestly means it’s been executed to perfection.

I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into Kuang’s highly acclaimed dark academia fantasy Babel: An Arcane History. What can’t this girl do?

Shy – Max Porter

Max Porter is the literary love of my life (I’m sure I’ve written that somewhere on the internet before…). Before it came out, I’d been excited about this book for about two years, and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.

Shy explores Porter’s favourite themes: masculinity, childhood, memory, and trauma. Telling the story of troubled teenager growing up in Last Chance, a home for 'very disturbed young men' Porter uses his piercing, lyrical linguistic style to expose hypocrisies and call out wrongdoing.

Weaving multiple timelines together to ask big questions of the past and the future, Shy is visceral, moving and, in true Porter fashion, absolutely magic.

This book was everything I wanted it to be and more.

To Paradise – Hanya Yanagihara

There’s nothing else to say about Yanagihara’s work except that she consistently produces masterpieces. You’ll have heard of A Little Life, and To Paradise is the most recent tale to come from her brilliant mind.

To Paradise is essentially three books in one, each of which hypothesises about alternative Americas in the past, present and future. The story begins in 1883, moves to 1993 and finishes with a speculative, dystopian depiction of 2093.

The same character names are used throughout, giving the book cohesion and a natural flow, and it’s actually not too difficult to switch your mental picture to each new iteration of the same person. I genuinely don’t know how Yanagihara accomplishes such ambitious experiments in her writing.

Again, this book poses a lot of questions to the reader, confronting us with ugly truths that most of us would prefer to keep hidden. And the ultimate question Yanagihara asks? What is paradise, truly? Who does it serve?

Thankfully, To Paradise is significantly less soul destroying than A Little Life, and whilst it’s a difficult read, I think it appeals to a wider audience. You should read it and let me know what you think (I should probably mention that it’s over 700 pages, so buckle up).

Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

Unlike To Paradise, Small Things Like These is a mere 116 pages. And it’s brilliant.

How a novella manages to take down an entire culture whilst holding compassion and disdain in the one hand is beyond me, but this does.

Not a single word is wasted by Keegan, so I won’t write too much either. Read it and be changed.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow - everyone’s favourite 2022 novel.

This is a book about love, friendship and the things that make us tick. It’s rich with nerdy references whilst appealing to a mass market, and is perfectly paced to keep you hooked the whole way through. I couldn’t put it down.

Following protagonists Sadie and Sam from their childhood spent in a hospital to adults with the usual adult struggles, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow interrogates identity, meaning making and the creative process. It’s reminiscent of Normal People (which I love) and the John Green favourites of years gone by, but miles better.

I have a feeling this story will be beloved by many for years and years to come. And it’s only recently come out in paperback, so you should grab yourself a copy asap - you’re in for a treat.

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