Top reads and other bookish things of 2023

The literary world crossed over into the mainstream a handful of times this year. 

Several memoirs made headlines, from the quick-selling Prince Harry’s to the long-awaited Britney Spears’, to the bombshell in Jada Pinkett Smith’s that she and Will Smith have been separated for years. 

Drew Barrymore was ousted as the host of the National Book Awards, and replaced by LeVar Burton,  because of her decision to resume taping of her show during the writers’ strike.

And, speaking of the big screen, the strike may have halted production of several of our favorite TV shows – but several newcomers this year, mini-series and films alike, finally made it to the big screen thanks to their published forefathers. 

Whether it took over your social media feed, or made a celebrity book club, these are the books that perhaps crossed the paths of even casual or non-readers this year. 

Books that made the rounds this year

Image: HarperCollins Publishers

"Yellowface," by R.F. Kuang 

Summary: A psychological thriller about a woman who steals a rising author’s unpublished manuscript after a freak accident. 

How it made the rounds: GoodRead users voted it the best fiction this year, and it was a finalist in Barnes and Noble’s list of the best books of the year. It’s also among the staff picks in NPR’s book concierge and was chosen in July as Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick. 

"The Covenant of Water," by Abraham Verghese

Image: Grove Atlantic

Summary: A generational tale from South India’s Malabar Coast about a family that suffers from a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning.

How it made the rounds: It spent five weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list when it was published in May, and was an Oprah book club pick. She even devoted a 6-part mini podcast series to it (likely due to its length – it’s over 700 pages, another one of the book’s talking points). It has 4.5 stars with nearly 90,000 ratings on Goodreads and was nominated in the app’s awards for best historical fiction. It’s also in NPR’s "seriously great writing" category in its book concierge

"Chain-Gang All Stars," by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah 

Image: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Penguin Random House)

Summary: Two top women gladiators fight for their freedom within a depraved private prison system not so far-removed from America’s own.

How it made the rounds: It was on The National Book Awards’ longlist and is among the New York Times’ top 10 books of the year. It was nominated for two Goodreads awards: Best Science Fiction and Best Debut Novel. It’s in NPR’s book concierge’s "seriously great writing" category, and was a Jenna Hager book club pick. 

"The Woman In Me," by Britney Spears

Image: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)

Summary: The long-awaited memoir from embattled pop icon Britney Spears. 

How it made the rounds: Aside from making news headlines as the first time hearing from the singer since the end of her conservatorship, it spent six weeks on the NYT Best Seller list and won the vote for Goodreads’ Best Memoir and Autobiography. 

RELATED: Prince Harry’s 'Spare' sets world record for fastest-selling non-fiction book

"Fourth Wing," by Rebecca Yarros

Image: Red Tower Books (Entangled Publishing)

Summary: Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders.

How it made the rounds: "Fourth Wing" has spent 31 weeks on the NYT Best Seller list since it was published in May, and the second book in the Empyrean series ("Iron Flame") has been on the list for a month since its more recent release in October. A third book is pending. These so-called "Romantasy" books have surely crossed your book feed – "Fourth Wing" has a 4.63 rating on Goodreads with more than 843,000 readers. "Fourth Wing" won the app’s award for Best Romantasy. 

Books on the big screen

Several book adaptations hit the streaming apps and theater screens this year. Several more have been announced, but, with the writer and actor strikes, are still in production without announced release dates. 

But here’s what you can catch up on in the meantime that was new this year: 

"Daisy Jones and the Six" 

(L-R) Taylor Jenkins Reid, Will Graham, Sebastian Chacon, Nabiyah Be, Josh Whitehouse, Scott Neustadter, Sam Claflin, Lauren Neustadter and Brad Mendelsohn of 'Daisy Jones & the Six' pose for a portrait at SxSW Film Festival on March 11, 2023

Summary: Chronicles the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup. The book spent 12 weeks on the NYT Best Sellers List, with a resurgence after the show’s debut in March 2023. 

Where to watch: The 10 episodes starring Riley Keough, Sam Claflin, and Camila Morrone are available now, streaming on Amazon Prime.

"Red, White and Royal Blue" 

Summary: What happens when America's First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales? The book with its eye-popping cover colors was released in 2019 and spent months on the NYT Best Seller list. 

Where to watch: The movie starring Taylor Zakhar-Perez and Nicholas Galitzine is available to stream now on Amazon Prime. 

"The Other Black Girl" 

Summary: Tension unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Where to watch: The 10-episode series starring Sinclair Daniel and Ashleigh Murray is streaming now on Hulu. 

"Lessons in Chemistry" 

Brie Larson on Friday, November 17, 2023 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images)

Summary: A chemist’s career in the 1960s takes a detour when she becomes the star of a beloved TV cooking show. The book has been on the best seller list for 82 weeks and was a favorite last year among Barnes and Noble and Goodreads voters.

Where to watch: The eight-episode limited series starring Brie Larson is available to stream now on Apple TV +. 

"Killers of the Flower Moon"

Tantoo Cardinal, Janae Collins, Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, Director Martin Scorsese, Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cara Jade Myers and Jillian Dion attend the "Killers Of The Flower Moon" photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival at

Summary: A twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history. David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction about the Osage Nation has been on the best seller’s list for 105 weeks.  

Where to watch: The film of the same name, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is still playing in select theaters nationwide and is available to rent or purchase on select streaming platforms. It’s an Apple Original Film, and Apple TV+ has been teasing for weeks that it’s "coming soon." 

"All the Light We Cannot See" 

Summary: The paths of a blind French girl and a German boy collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and was a National Book Award finalist. 

Where to watch: The four-episode limited series starring Mark Ruffalo and Hugh Laurie is available to stream now on Netflix. 

"The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes" 

View of American actor Rachel Zegler (in costume as 'Lucy Gray Baird') and English actor Tom Blyth (as 'Coriolanus Snow') in a scene from the film 'The Hunger Games: the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' (directed by Francis Lawrence), 2022. (Photo by

Summary: An origin story in "The Hunger Games" series, set 64 years before the story of Katniss Everdeen. 

Where to watch: The film starring Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth is still in theaters nationwide and will reportedly be available to purchase on-demand on Dec. 19, 2023. 

"It Ends With Us" (2024)

Blake Lively and Brandon Sklenar are seen on the set of "It Ends With Us" on May 18, 2023 in Hoboken, New Jersey.. (Photo by Nancy Rivera/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Summary: This series follows Lily Bloom as she grapples with the realization that her too-good-to-be-true relationship with Ryle Kinkaid may be just that. One of author Colleen Hoover’s many mega hits, it’s been a best seller for 110 weeks since its publication in 2016. 

Where to watch: The movie starring Blake Lively and Justin Baldoni hits theaters Feb. 9, 2024. 

RELATED: Author James Patterson gives $500 bonuses to hundreds of independent bookstore employees

Misc. book notes

David Grann at the premiere of "Killers of the Flower Moon" held at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on September 27, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Variety via Getty Images)

Speaking of author David Grann, if nonfiction is more your speed, his latest is also a notable release of the year. 

He won the inaugural Barnes & Noble’s Author of the Year award, and his newest book has spent 32 weeks on the best seller list. It’s also an NPR staff pick and it won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best History and Biography. 

It's called "The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder," and is said to be a page-turning story of shipwreck, survival, and savagery, culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth. 

Looking for your next read? Find it here with these 2023 round-up resources: 

Or perhaps one of my favorite five reads this year will pique your interest: 

  • "Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi," Shannon Chakraborty: Book one in a relatable lady pirate’s historical adventure trilogy.
  • "Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm," Laura Warrell: A Boston jazz musician’s circle of troubles with a cast of women.
  • "The Bandit Queens," Parini Shroff: Boasts a fun, strong cast of female characters from a small Indian village, inspired by the "sauciness" of "The Golden Girls."
  • "When We Were Sisters," Fatimah Asghar: Lyrical coming-of-age story for three orphaned Muslim American sisters.
  • "Black Butterflies," Priscilla Morris: A transporting survival story after the 1992 Siege of Sarajevo.

This story was reported from Detroit.