With the new year comes new goals, new hopes, new dreams. For many, “read more books” is near the top of resolution lists, which is both commendable and conventional in this day and age. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to set your tasks and technology aside to dive into a book. Whether you spent New Year’s Eve finishing your Goodreads Reading Goal (I finished my “Daisy Jones & The Six” reread just before midnight) or you’re only now getting back into the habit, I’m sure there’s a book out there that will engross you if given the chance. I’ve compiled a list of books that I believe will do the trick for kick-starting your 2023 reading goal.
Who’s afraid of the big bad book?
I am, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I am not only intimidated by 800-whoppers — I’m terrified of them. I was incredibly close to rigging my book club’s January selection when people voted for “Anna Karenina,” and, for a brief time, loathed my friends who recommended “The Priory of the Orange Tree” to me. Though both the aforementioned works ended up pleasantly surprising me, no, dear reader, I’m not recommending you start out the year carrying a boulder around in your bag.
Starting off 2023 with a short, fast-paced book will not only launch you ahead in your race of reading, but will give you the motivational satisfaction of quickly finishing a book and encourage you to pick up another. Madeline Miller’s “Galatea” is only 20 pages long — yes, you read that right — and will have you eager to follow it up with her full-length novels “Circe” and “Song of Achilles.” As is shared in her afterword, “Galatea” is Miller’s “response to Ovid’s version of the Pygmalion myth in the Metamorphoses.” Galatea is a marble sculpture of Pygmalion’s that comes to life after his pleading to the Greek God Venus, and Miller’s short (and I mean short) story centers Galatea and her position as a fetishized, oppressed being. Miller’s Galatea is intelligent, witty and fierce. Before the first few pages are up, you’re rooting for her and for Pygmalion’s downfall. “Galatea” is a small testament to Miller’s writing prowess, which teems with electricity and emotion.
A more substantial (but still short) recommendation is Michelle Hart’s “We Do What We Do in the Dark,” a 222-page read that will have you simultaneously intrigued, disgusted and devastated. The story follows Mallory, a freshman in college who has recently come out and accepted her sexuality as a lesbian. She meets a (married) professor at her college — who is only referred to as “the woman” throughout the novel — and the two have an on-and-off affair. Though their relationship is the driving force of the story, a secondary plotline concerning the death of Mallory’s mother is also critical to the novel. Mallory’s life is constantly evolving, wavering in its complexity as we move throughout time, flashing back to the past and forward to the future as Mallory wrestles with her grief and her identity.
For those who want to laugh but don’t want to cringe
It’s a tricky line to toe, but Jill Gutowitz has figured it out. Her debut work “Girls Can Kiss Now” is a collection of essays that chronicle her life as she discovers and explores her Queerness, dissects pop culture, unpacks her past relationships and makes you laugh out loud along the way. I listened to her essays, and I’m glad — I’ll always rally for listening to personal works and memoirs over reading because of how much more intimate they feel. Hearing Gutowitz share her stories and memories out loud made her feel like an older sister: someone who simultaneously provides solid advice while also making you gasp and giggle. Besides the fact that Gutowitz’s pen is praiseworthy, the structure of the book makes it a great work to start the year off with. The division of the work into easily digestible essays quickens its pace and will have you feeling accomplished sooner rather than later.
Ali Wong’s memoir “Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life” is another book that lands on the funny side of the line. Similar to Gutowitz, Wong divides her memoir into sections, or letters to her daughters. Wong shares details — both hilarious and outrageous — about her life as a comedian, but also speaks to her experiences growing up in San Francisco and as a college student abroad. Though I remember the laughs from my time reading, I also remember feeling sentimental listening to Wong craft a book for her daughters first and foremost.
To my lighthearted readers who crave emotional turmoil
Also known as my favorite genre — and no one does it better than Carmen Maria Machado and Celeste Ng. Their respective works “In the Dream House” and “Everything I Never Told You” are modern classics in the making (and my favorite reads of 2022).
“In the Dream House” is an unconventional memoir that focuses specifically on an abusive relationship of Machado’s. Each section of the book, which vary in length though never in gravity, glimmers like vignettes; the memoir is painfully beautiful, staunchly severe. It is devastating and it is completely absorbing. I read it all in one sitting, though it can be read in chunks and pieces. Depending on your approach, “In the Dream House” can be read quickly or slowly, allowing you to dedicate as much time as you can without fear of forgetting what happened or interrupting its flow. I would recommend researching the trigger warnings, but would still encourage any interested reader to pick it up and stay updated on Machado’s next releases
“Everything I Never Told You” is one of Ng’s numerous beloved books of mine, and one you shouldn’t miss. I was brutally honest in my Goodreads review when I said that I simultaneously pitied, disliked and adored the characters; that I empathized with and condemned them. The story is about a Chinese American family who has just lost a child. Lydia is dead (it’s one of the first things you read, I swear), and the family is desperate to understand why. In their attempts to understand her death and in their diverse manners of mourning, her parents and her siblings struggle to stay connected. Race and gender (and the intersections among them) are two other crucial aspects of the work, which Ng paints candidly on the page.
Romance recommendations deserving of their praise
Though I might be a self-proclaimed romantic, I rarely enjoy reading about it — but this is exactly why you should trust me. With the help of friends, I was able to weed through romances until I found the very best.
“Better Than the Movies” by Lynn Painter is a book you’ll fly through, though the romance is meant for a younger audience. Nonetheless, “Better Than the Movies” was just as cute and swoon-worthy as other acclaimed romance favorites like Emily Henry’s “Book Lovers,” and it made me feel like a teenager again. Liz Buxbaum and Wes Bennet are neighbors who drive each other crazy, but decide to team up when Liz’s childhood crush comes back to town. It has the frenemies-to-lovers and the fake-dating scenario tropes, which complement each other perfectly and make for an exciting read. Though the story has been told before, Painter’s writing elevates the narrative and makes it seem more original than ordinary.
Finally, “On a Sunbeam” by Tillie Walden is an intergalactic romance you need on your shelf. Walden’s graphic novels are all beautifully crafted and exceptionally designed in their own right, but “On a Sunbeam” is my favorite work of hers thus far. Mia’s story occurs in outer space as she takes to the cosmos to find her long-lost love. Her story is told both in the present as she travels around space with her team and in the past at the boarding school where she met her first love. The artwork, which mainly consists of neutral colors and shades of blue, seems just as impossible as the story — Walden’s art is so stunning and elegant, it’s hard to believe your eyes.
And with that, let the reading commence! To readers old and new, I wish you the best year of reading yet.
Daily Arts Writer Lillian Pearce can be reached at email@example.com