Top 10 Favorite Fiction Books of 2023: Literary Fiction, Romance, and General Fiction

It's not quite the end of the year, but it's getting close, which means that we're well into list season. While I'm hoping to get a few more books in before the end of the year, I figured I'd put this list out early in case you need last minute gift ideas for the people in your life. Your local bookstore is a great place to pick up gifts when you're out of the shipping window! 

I've done way more reading this year than I have in recent memory (almost the whole time I've been tracking my reading) While more details on that will be in my stats post in about a week, I'm currently working on finishing my 120th book of the year, which is wild to think about considering I haven't made it to 50 books in recent years. That's given me plenty of books to assemble this list from (which might be why this isn't a true list of ten), and there are still a few books I can't believe didn't make it as I'm editing this post. There were so many great releases this year! All of these books were fantastic reading experiences in the moment and stuck with me as the year has gone on. 

If you read my blog often, you'll know that I'm huge on fully realized, fascinating characters first and foremost, and that's a major theme throughout the list. There are some fantastic character studies here. I'm also totally okay with no plot just vibes, so be ware of that if you need lots of action – not that these books don't have that, they all have a real sense of forward motion, but the plot is not my priority. There's also a good mix of very long/very literary, super short with an emotional punch, a romance selection, and a story about two characters on the run. But, if you share my taste in books, I hope you spot a few of your own favorites on this list and get inspired to pick up some new books too.

Look out for many more end of year posts coming soon! I have a ton planned including a version of this post for nonfiction reads very soon because I also read a lot of nonfiction this year, a reflection on my reading and writing this year, a post with all the stats and reading data, goal reflections and 2024 goals, and also a post about my writing journey in 2023! If any of these sound like posts you want to read, add the blog to your RSS feed, bookmark our page, and follow on Instagram at @readingwritingandme. Also, if you want to read my full reviews of these book, click the title; to visit the Goodreads page, click the author's name.

 1. Wellness 

by Nathan Hill

This might be the first really long book I've loved since I was a little kid. So often, books in the 500 or 600 page range are full of excess information and scenes that could've been cut. This is not the case with Wellness. It expertly uses the space to weave a complex tale of Jack and Elizabeth's marriage adding in moments from their childhood and young adulthood to explain the disconnects in their communication. Through seeing the full scope of both of their lives, the reader is given the unique ability to understand their marriage better than either of the characters involved, who are only operating with the versions of the story the other wants to tell.
This is a masterclass on how to build rich, detailed, compelling characters. It's a hard book to fully encapsulate what makes it so fascinating or to adequately write about it, but trust me that it's a spectacular experience.  

2. Death Valley 

by Melissa Broder 

Melissa Broder, on the other hand, has written a very short novel that is just as spectacular with her signature flair for blunt, overly honest leads. It focuses on a narrator who has gone out to the desert to focus on her writing and grieve her father at a random Best Western outside of LA. There's interesting surrealist aspects, but they never leave the realm of feeling like a product of a brain trying to process trauma and go completely supernatural like Broder's first book. In a condensed time frame with a small cast, Broder does an immense amount of work with this novel. 

Read this for the incredible voice, thoughtful, poignant moments couched in dry humor, and a fantastic tapestry of language. 

3. The Rachel Incident 

by Caroline O'Donoghue

Irish literature has been a huge trend in the book world for a few years running now, and this adds to the wonderful catalogue. While taking a distinctly different approach to Sally Rooney, this book is a natural choice for those who enjoy Rooney's work as it focuses on a friend duo at the end of their college career navigating the ever intensify pressures of adult life together. The intensity of the connections and weight of every action falls like heavy dominos. There's a beautiful nuance to the friendships and relationships formed, and for anyone feeling a little lost in life, this is an excellent salve.

For an immersive story that tackles big questions in quiet, intimate ways, you can't go wrong with The Rachel Incident.

4. Maame 

by Jessica George 

As much as I've enjoyed Irish fiction, I also love stories set in England, and Maame checks that box. In another twenties/figuring your life out story, Maddie has struggled to start her own life by twenty-five – to find a romantic partner, a stable career, or even solid friendships. This is largely because she's been caring for her father with Parkinson's disease. When her mother suddenly comes into the picture returning from Africa and Maddie dips her toe into the dating world, Maddie's life changes in some major ways. I really connected with Maddie and the writing of this novel, and it's one that's stuck with me.

Pick this one up for smart writing, a reminder that it's never too late to take hold of your story, and great pacing. 

5. Pineapple Street 

by Jenny Jackson

Jenny Jackson is a name that pops up in book acknowledgements a lot because she's a major editor in the publishing world (she wrote the forward letter for The Rachel Incident ARC, actually). So it's no wonder that Jackson has a keen talent herself. They always say reading with a critical eye is the best way to develop your writing abilities. This is a novel about the Stocktons, a wealthy family in Brooklyn. The book is told from three points of view within the family, all younger women. There's plenty of family drama to sink your teeth into, and if you're a fan of dysfunctional family stories, you'll be hooked from the first page. 

Read this if you're curious about New York City socialites, like multi-POV stories, or want to fall into an immersive world.

6. If I Survive You 

by Jonathan Escoffery

I'd been meaning to read this book for a while because the cover always catches my eye in every bookstore I visit, but this fall, I finally got around to it. I was reminded of the book when I found out the TAs for the English class I was taking were in the same program as Escoffery, and then the Booker Prize list came out. 

This is another deeply compelling family portrait that dabbles in a variety of modes of storytelling. Each chapter or section is, in a way, it's own standalone story, but they are intrinsically linked to one another as each story provides important context for the others. There are frequent changes in points of view with the father and both his sons featured as well as a cousin that are the boys' age. While most of the story takes place in Florida, this format also allows insight into the parents' life in Jamaica before coming to the United States. There's also a mixture of points of view, notably second person is utilized quite a bit, though not for every section of the book. I usually don't like second person, but it was quite effective in the sections it was used and felt deeply intentional. Each character's voice is hyper specific. This creates a very interesting situation in presenting a character in one light and then allowing you to explore that character's internal motivations and history in-depth later in the book. Regardless of whether you agree with the actions these characters take, you most definitely empathize with everyone involved even when they have conflicting influence.

This is a great book for those who want to see an innovative approach to writing fiction and enjoy immersive, unique character voices.

7. Book Lovers 

by Emily Henry 

Here's my nod to the romance world. I haven't been head over heels for an Emily Henry book before, but Book Lovers changed that. I immediately fell for the icy, determined literary agent who learns to let her guard down for the steely editor she thinks she hates. It's a ton of tropes that I've never been a huge fan of, but a part of me immediately saw myself in Nora, and Henry delivered a romance that actually felt believable to me. I know that's not a qualification for enjoying romance everyone, but, for me, it definitely helps elevate a story when my logical brain can buy in. I can't explain this one other than to say it was a perfect storm of random things that checked the boxes for me.

Pick up this book if you're looking for a story to melt your cynical heart, like romance that has a large cast and detailed world, or love books about the major players of the literary world.

8. Pizza Girl 

by Jean Kyoung Frazier 

This is the first book I loved this year. I absolutely devoured it. 2023 completed my transformation from being a YA reader to fully reading literary fiction/general fiction. I think Pizza Girl proved to be a great bridge and cemented that I did really enjoy literary fiction and made it feel more accessible. It's about a young woman who's grieving her father and pregnant with her first child, though she's trying to deny that's happening. She works at a pizza shop as a delivery girl, and she develops an infatuation with one of the customers as a form of escapism. This is a super emotional read and might have been the only book I read this year that got me to cry. 

Given that it's barely 200 pages, this is a great choice if you're scrambling to hit your reading goal by the end of the year.

9. The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise 

by Coleen Oakley 

If you're looking for something on the lighter, sillier, more action packed side that still has plenty of heart and emotional resonance, The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise is a perfect choice. Sometimes you want a laugh and something fun to read, and this fulfilled that perfectly while also having the vivid characters and sense of importance that most often gets attributed to darker, heavier stories. This delivers wacky in a grounded way. 

Louise is an out-there elderly lady. She's strong willed and eccentric, and her kids have decided that despite her independent streak, she needs someone around the house with her. Enter Tanner who suffered an accident that got her dropped from her soccer scholarship, so she's depressed and back home looking for work. She's not thrilled about living with Louise, but her parents don't give her much of a choice. Despite clashing at first, the two learn a lot from each other and also go on the run. 

This is the perfect choice if you like heist or action stories that aren't actually scary, books that make you laugh out loud, and fulfilling character growth.

10. Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting 

by Clare Pooley

This is another one of my funnier reads this year, and it features another eccentric old lady. Clare Pooley's voice jumps off the page and absolutely makes this book. It's all about a group of London commuters that break that fourth wall of silent acquaintances and become enmeshed in each other's lives, all centered around our main character, Iona Iverson. It effortlessly pulls off multiple points of view and ultimately evolves into quite the complex story about the importance of community and a compelling character study. 

Pick this up if you've always wondered what it would be like to talk to a stranger on the train, like British books, or are looking for some inspiration to honor your true self.

11. The Happy Couple

by Naoise Dolan

We're bringing another Irish author onto the list for a special bonus 11th book because I can't get The Happy Couple out of my head after reading it a few weeks ago. I devoured this book in one day, and it is pretty short, so it would also be a great candidate for a last minute reading goal finisher. The Happy Couple also executes one of my recent favorite literary elements in the sense that it tells one linear story and then fills in the backstory behind the event through multiple points of view so that the reader can see the whole big picture and also intimately understand the critical knowledge gaps in the characters' interactions with one another (others like this off the top of my head include Wellness and The Bee Sting). 
Celine and Luke are getting married, or they're planning on it. Mostly centering on the engagement party and subsequent wedding, Dolan dives into the pasts and motivation of Celine, a concert pianist, and Luke, a guy with a normal corporate job. We learn about Luke's past entanglement with his best friend and about Celine's ex-girlfriend who resurfaces in her life. Other friends and family members of the couple also get moments to share their insights on whether they should get married creating almost a detective story out of a literary fiction novel that makes it super engaging.

Read this book if you are Millennial/Gen Z and like fast paced literary fiction.

12. On Beauty

by Zadie Smith

Okay, last one, I promise! I realized right before I clicked publish that I forgot to add On Beauty to this list, and even though the book came out in 2005, it felt incomplete not to mention it because it's a book that really captured my heart this year. It's about two families where the fathers are both professors and delivers an intimate portrait of both families' lives. The writing is just incredible, and my paperback copy is a full rainbow of highlighted lines. This is one of my favorite reads this year on the sentence level.
Dive into the back catalog for this book if you enjoy beautiful prose, complex ideas, and detailed, complicated characters.


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