Just keep reading: 10 fiction books and 6 memoirs to read in 2023
I started last year with simple desire: Just keep reading. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t that simple.
While I’ve always loved reading, it’s not always easy. Most days it’s a choice—a choice to turn off Netflix and pick up a book, to put away my laptop and clear my head from working. Somehow, I made it through a stack of books. I stayed up too late reading and woke up tired. I read four books while quarantining in Uganda with COVID. I read 11 books for my book club that’s become a treasured monthly ritual.
Most of all, I read with my kids. I read Elephant and Piggie, The Boxcar Children, and some character books I could happily never read again. We’ve gotten halfway through Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and it might take us all of 2023 to finish.
Without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2022.
Best fiction of 2022
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
My book club started 2022 with Firekeeper’s Daughter, and it lit me on fire for reading for the year. The story follows Dawnis, a half-white, half-Ojibwe teen who’s recruited as an FBI informant to take down a drug ring on the nearby reservation. I learned a ton about Ojibwe culture and issues Native communities face today. Plus, the thriller element keeps the long book moving at a good pace.
Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi
When I picked up Yolk, I didn’t expect the biting insights to cut right to my soul. The internal monologues in this book, and the dialogues between family members seem so, so real. Jayne Baek is living her twentysomething life in New York City in the shadow of her responsible sister, June. When June falls sick, it’s up to Jayne to step up and confront her inner demons.
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline
While most WWII books take place in France or England, Eternal takes us into fascist Italy, where the war threatens to destroy the futures three young people imagined for themselves. Best friends Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro fall into a love triangle as the war pulls them and their families in opposite directions.
The Historians by Cecilia Ekbäck
The Historians gives a peek into another corner of Europe during WWII—neutral Sweden. The protagonist Laura picks of the pieces of an investigation after her friend’s murder and finds herself tangled in a web of conspiracies as Sweden’s neutrality starts to unravel.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
The Island of Sea Women follows the last of the haenyeo, diving fisherwomen who lead a matriarchal society on the Korean island of Jeju. Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja grow up with all the hope and joy of best friends taking their place in the world. As their island passes from Japanese control to WWII to the Korean War, they lead their families through heartbreak at the cost of their friendship.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
This follow-up to Homegoing is completely different, covering an African family's migration to America and the challenges they faced. Beautiful, provoking, and wise, this book proves that Yaa Gyasi can write anything.
Best new releases of 2022
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gamus
While this book is technically historical fiction, it feels incredibly modern. Elizabeth Zott is a woman born into the wrong era, but the misogynist scientific world of the 1960’s desperately needs her wit, candor, and smarts—and so do we. Lessons in Chemistry is a must-read with a unique voice and refreshing storytelling style (one of the main characters is a dog!). Voted the best debut novel of 2022 in the Goodreads Choice Awards, the book deserves every accolade.
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
I’m a huge fan of Celeste Ng’s other work and I was excited for another novel. Our Missing Hearts takes place in a not-too-distant dystopian future where Asian-Americans are deemed dangerous, censorship is rampant, and children are separated from their parents. Twelve-year-old Bird is at the center of this as he tries to piece together what happened to his poet mother who disappears—and what his role will be in this world. I found myself wishing that this book had more—more plot details, more backstory—but the structure is effective in evoking the erasure element at the center of the narrative.
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Portrait of a Thief covers four Chinese-American college students, recruited by a secret Chinese benefactor to steal valuable Chinese artifacts from museums around the world. While it’s a heist story, it’s more character study than action. The book examines cultural ownership, cultural identity, and immigrant family relationships.
The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
You’re dropped in the middle of a mystery when Nell Young, a young and fledgling cartographer, learns of her estranged father’s death. Nell starts a fast-paced journey to discover who is chasing a seemingly ordinary map her father was safeguarding. With a story full of literal twists and turns, The Cartographers delivers an imaginative tale with strong character growth.
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Some history is painful to look at, but it’s even more damaging to look the other way. Perkins-Valdez illuminates a dark period in America’s history through the eyes of Civil Townsend, a nurse in 1970’s Alabama and two of her young patients. Take My Hand is a cautionary tale that needs to be retold.
Best memoir and nonfiction books of 2022
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
When this book was recommended to me, I didn’t expect to fall in love. The story is the author's reflections on growing up with a Korean mother in America, the love language of food they share, and Zauner's task of caring for her mother through cancer. After finishing Crying in H Mart, my two big questions were "How is this person a talented musician AND can write like this?" and "How can this possibly be her first book?
No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler
This short book drives a gut punch from the first page. How is a young person who’s dying supposed to go on living when then they don’t? Part spiritual, part medical memoir, and 100% human, No Cure for Being Human asks all the questions we’re too afraid to ask.
Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford
Living in Indianapolis, it’s been impossible to avoid this book this year. But I’m so glad I read it. We see every side of middle America in Somebody’s Daughter: poverty and racism, young love and heartbreak, first-generation college students, and family impacts of the justice system. I’m curious to see what comes from Ford after this striking memoir.
Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey
I’ve long been a fan of Philip Yancey, so I was excited to read this memoir about his early life. Where the Light Fell covers his life from his impoverished childhood through his Bible college years and early marriage. Raised by a fervent, fundamentalist mother after his father’s death, Yancey navigates the dysfunctional love of his family and community. The book reads as a prequel to many of the social divides plaguing America today, and a love letter to grace in the face of circumstances.
Think Again by Adam Grant
As social and political divides seem deeper and wider, here’s a book that helps bridge the divide. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant digs into why it’s so hard to change our minds as adults and how we can prompt others—and ourselves—to think again. Think Again makes a quick ebook or audio listen.
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Born a Crime is certainly not a new book, but one I really enjoyed this year. Noah educates readers on apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa through his retelling of his childhood as a biracial child and his relationship with his indomitable mother. Noah’s hilarious storytelling will have you laughing in hysterics at one moment and soberingly gripping your book in the next, wondering at racism’s ugly persistence in the modern era.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I first read Half Broke Horses in 2021, which sets the stage for the family dynamics of The Glass Castle with an earlier generation. The Glass Castle follows Jeannette’s childhood travelling from town to town with her chaotic and free-range family. Some of their adventures seem too wild to be true! It’s an incredible story of how a child can love their parents completely while also having their hearts broken by them.
I’ve got my eye on Hang the Moon, Walls’ newest book expected out in March.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you plan to buy any of these books, I recommend purchasing directly from the publisher (a much larger portion goes to the authors!) or from Bookshop.org, an ecommerce store that orders and ships directly from your local indie bookstore.