Top 5 Books to Start 2023 Right

“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature,” said Maya Angelou. “If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”

In my opinion, everyone should read. It’s a habit that literally changes my life and helps me learn new things — every day. I discovered many books in my library and bookstores worldwide, from the best fiction books to the best nonfiction books. So, how do you know when one book belongs in the top 5 best books of the month? I am an avid reader; you can tell from my book recommendations and to-read list.

To land in my top 5 best books to read before the year starts, you need to stand out — I’ve scoured Times Bestsellers, award-winning books, GoodReads, and critics alike. Even the book-to-movie adaptations coming out in 2023!) Continuing some of these spots snagged the New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, PBS, Time Magazine, etc. And the most profound, life-changing books which changed literature, culture and the world are here.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Page Count: 305 
Goodreads Rating: 
4.47

New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Oprah’s Best Books of the Year & a PEN/Hemingway award winner. Homegoing follows the parallel paths of two sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed — and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of the United States. The book is written by Yaa Gyasi — the bestselling Ghanaian-American author of Transcendent Kingdom. It’s also worth mentioning that I watched Penguin Books’ interview with Yaa and hearing her talk through her writing and creativity hooked me into reading her book.

Yaa Gyasi discusses her new novel, ‘Homegoing’. Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story, too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
  • “Esi learned to split her life into Before the Castle and Now. Before the Castle, she was the daughter of Big Man and his third wife, Maame. Now she was dust. Before the Castle, she was the prettiest girl in the village. Now she was just thin air.”
  • “Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Page Count: 307 
Goodreads Rating
: 3.74

Goodreads Choice Award, Nominee for Best Fiction (2020), and Nominee for Best Debut Novel (2020). Majumdar’s standout debut novel, Jivan, a young Muslim woman, makes a Facebook post that takes a jab at the government’s handling of a train bombing in Bengal. Someone hastens to whisper of it, and Jivan lands in a prison cell, charged with the attack before night finishes falling.

A Burning is a cautionary tale for those who claim politics has no place in their lives, and that includes a great many people. Majumdar ties the private terrors of supposedly inconsequential people to the larger forces pulsing through India and the world. She lays bare issues of gender, religion and class, and keeps you reading when you most want to turn away. This book stayed with me for days — I highly recommend it. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “Whenever I am calling god, her line is busy.”
  • “Her husband threw acid on her but, somehow, she is the one in jail. These things happen when you are a woman.”
  • “Clouds like cotton pulled from a roll are moving under the moon, sometimes hiding it, sometimes revealing it. I feel that the world is so big, full of our dreams, love stories, and grief too.”

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Page Count: 759 
Rating on Goodreads: 4.39

Two words: Hilary Mantel. A goddess with the medieval written world. I absolutely love her blockbuster novel Wolf Hall.

And this evocation of Tudor England dusted with political drama is just as immersive as ever. The book climbed to the top of bestseller lists in the U.S. and U.K. In 900 richly detailed pages, The Mirror & The Light lays out the downfall of Thomas Cromwell, consigliere to King Henry VIII and powerbroker of the Reformation. It’s historical fiction, but dazzlingly literary in its ambitions and dramatic in the cut and thrust of its dialogue. Mantel’s Cromwell is a character for the ages — rough-edged yet introspective, with a mind as sharp as an axe. Her Henry, meanwhile, is an apt reminder that self-pitying men with oversized egos enjoyed power long before the present.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “But if you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?”
  • “What is a woman’s life? Do not think because she is not a man, she does not fight. The bedchamber is her tilting ground, where she shows her colours, and her theatre of war is the sealed room where she gives birth. She knows she may not come alive out of that bloody chamber.”
  • “Is a prince even human? If you add him up, does the total make a man? He is made of shards and broken fragments of the past, of prophecies and of the dreams of his ancestral line. The tides of history break inside him, their current threatens to carry him away. His blood is not his own, but ancient blood.”

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Page Count: 348 
Rating on Goodreads: 4.18 How could I summarise 350 pages into a paragraph? I can’t possibly — not with this book. It was beautiful and raw and real. This is a book about choices and trauma, and how both intertwine to change your life. I began to understand the title early on — our leads lose themselves and each other, vanishing into memory. Not only do they lose half of their relationship, but they also lose half a life together.

Born and raised in mallard, a small African American town two hours outside of New Orleans where the lighter skin is preferred, twin sisters Stella and Desiree escape, making choices that detrimentally affect them and their relationships with others and each other until the very last page. We begin the story in 1968 and come to be changed forevermore. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “That was the problem: you could never love two people the exact same way.”
  • “She hadn’t realized how long it takes to become somebody else, or how lonely it can be living in a world not meant for you.”
  • “She didn’t understand exactly what he meant, but she liked being part of an us. People thought that being one of a kind made you special. No, it just made you lonely. What was special was belonging with someone else.”

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg

Page Count: 278 
Rating on Goodreads: 4.04

“I Hold a Wolf by the Ears” Is conscious meditation and rejection of the absurd.

Time’s Top Fiction of 2020. Longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize. Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, the New York Public Library, Library JournalLit HubElectric Literature, and Tor.com.

I’ll admit the title I had a Wolf by the Ears caught my attention — how niche, rich, and eye-catching. Then, I read this collection of stories. Each of these 10 short tales presents women on the verge of livelihood — of madness, grief, or insanity — facing grief, divorce, motherhood, childhood, etc.

Laura is such a talented writer and she called this “on the border between magic and annihilation.” I just love reading about unhinged women on the edge of madness.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “She told us that evil rarely looked like evil when it arrived. It could look like innovation and progress and prosperity, courage even, but more than anything, it looked, to some, like a solution — a solution to the secret problem they believed had gone too long unaddressed. They felt as though they had been speaking a hidden language among themselves, and then a man or a woman in a suit stood on a stage and addressed cheering masses in that very same language, hidden no longer.”
  • “She was always telling people to shut the fuck up. It was a term of endearment.”
  • “I wondered if God found people like me annoying, those who turned to prayer only when they were neck-deep, that terrible friend we’ve all had.”

Real stories teach real lessons and these are sure to start your year well.

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By Shelby Jones