The Best Books Of 2023

Your timeline is likely drowning in a tsunami of Best Of Lists at the moment but if there’s any TBR list to pay attention to this year, it’s this one. We’ve recruited our most bookish UPROXX staffers and contributors to jot down their picks for the 2023 titles that deserve a place on your shelf and, as always, they answered with an eclectic roster of fantasy epics, sci-fi adventures, true-crime retellings, travel photobooks, and more. There’s truly something for every kind of bookworm on this list (which is presented in no particular order) with familiar bestsellers and hidden gems ranking right next to each other. Bookmark them for when your holiday vacation begins or just add them to your Kindle now.

Simon & Schuster

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus

Stories about men being swallowed by whales are nothing new, going all the way back to the biblical Jonah, but Whalefall: A Novel by Daniel Kraus is a stunning new take on a very old idea. The novel is a scientifically accurate representation of the nightmarish reality of being slowly digested by the world’s largest mammal, but it’s also an emotional journey through its protagonist’s life as he tries to face his past in order to make it to the future. Whalefall centers around Jay Gardiner, whose rough-and-tumble father was a diver who died by suicide the previous year. In an attempt to make things “right” before he goes off to college, Jay wants to try to recover his father’s body from the deadly waters off the coast of Monastery Beach, but nothing goes as planned and he ends up deep in the belly of the beast — literally. The book mixes pure existential dread with the fight for survival, making it an especially compelling read when the world feels soul-crushingly unbearable. It took the threat of immediate death for Jay to really want to live, and that’s a feeling that’s all too relatable. — Danielle Ryan

Buy Here

Tariq Trotter Book
One World Publishing

The Upcycled Self: A Memoir on the Art of Becoming Who We Are by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter

As good as Black Thought has been for as long as he has, there was always a sense of disconnect between his skills as an MC and his reception among hip-hop fans (who insist, against all evidence to the contrary, that skills are paramount to personality). I was never able to put my finger on why until I read this insightful, personal memoir; Tariq Trotter is a unique, colorful individual, and it’s a shame he took so long to show us the man behind the mic. Let’s hope he continues to do so in the future.

Buy Here

Harold Steven Wright
Simon & Schuster

Harold by Steven Wright

Harold is a stream-of-consciousness spin through the forming mind of a highly imaginative grade-schooler. As with the start of any universe, explosions happen everywhere as curiosity rules the day. Matters existential and irrelevant are pondered as we’re brought to remember the super-powered capacity of our brains when we were more focused on figuring things out than on weathering the storms of existence. It is the exact kind of proudly irreverent and sneakily brilliant work you’d expect from legendary comedian Steven Wright in his first novel. Check out our interview with him for more on the book. — Jason Tabrys

Buy Here

Bright Young Women
Simon & Schuster

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Jessica Knoll (author of Luckiest Girl Alive, adapted by Netflix and starring Mila Kunis) generally specializes in books that should come with a trigger warning, and here, she grinds her heels into the true crime genre. This book travels back to the 1970s and begins on the night that a serial killer attacks a sorority home before going on to charm the press and pull the wool over law enforcement’s eyes. Knoll wields her own ink-filled knife upon the situation, and it’s clear that this is a story about a real-life murderer whose name rhymes with “Med Mundy,” but his actual name does not appear in print. Why? Because Knoll realizes that he would have wanted it that way, and this book will not indulge his cravings for attention. Whew. — Kimberly Ricci

Buy Here

Chain Gang All Stars
Penguin Random House

Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

The future that author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah imagines in his latest book, Chain Gang All Stars is a perverse dystopia that, sadly, feels all too possible. An allegory of America’s moral decay via our unique vices – consumerism, mass incarceration, and systemic racism — Adjei-Brenyah’s sci-fi masterpiece tells the story of a prisoner named Loretta Thurwar made famous thanks to televised gladiator games that pit her against rival inmates in a bloody (but always entertaining) fight to the death. By opting into the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment (CAPE) program, Thurwar and her fellow prisoners – known as Links – have the opportunity to earn their freedom, if they can survive three years on the circuit. Their Pay-Per-View-style deathmatches are interspersed with episodic reality footage of their teams – or Chains – carrying out their daily routines in a kind of Big-Brother-meets-The-Hunger-Games-esque hellscape that turns suffering into social currency and penal punishment into watercooler fodder. As wild as its premise sounds on paper, Adjei-Brenyah grounds his nightmarish vision in unavoidable truths and footnoted history, quieting doubts that we’d ever let things get this bad. It’s a doomed Queer love story with a kind of lyrical brutality you can’t look away from – no matter how much you might want to. — Jessica Toomer

Buy Here

The Enchanters
Penguin Random House

The Enchanters by James Ellroy

I’m happy to say I read more books than usual in 2023 but not that many from 2023. I’m still looking forward to reading my most-anticipated book of the year, my friend Matt Singer’s Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever but I’ve been saving it for Christmas break. I thought I had a winner in Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, but that came out last year. I guess by default my favorite 2023 book would be James Ellroy’s The Enchanters, a hallucinatory retelling of the events surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s death from the perspective of Hollywood fixer Freddy Otash. As Ellroy novels go, I’d put it in the good-not-great category and it’s a bad place to start if you’ve never read him before. But he’s still the one writer whose books I read the week they’re published for a reason. He’s built his own alternate Los Angeles out of yesterday’s headlines and telegraphic prose stripped to its ugly essence. — Keith Phipps

Buy Here


Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments by Joe Posnanski

On the popular baseball podcast The Poscast, there’s a running joke in which co-host Joe Posnanski highlights the absurdity of writing a book called Why We Love Baseball just two years after publishing the 800-page The Baseball 100. Is there really more to say about the national pastime? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” In his latest New York Times bestseller, Posnanski counts down the 50 greatest moments in baseball history, telling the stories we know and love from fresh angles, while sharing untold stories about baseball’s more esoteric figures. With Posnanski’s informed, accessible tone, reading Why We Love Baseball feels akin to sitting down on a bar stool next to the most informed baseball fan you’ll ever meet—and staying until they kick you out. — Noah Gittell

Buy Here

Penguin Random House

Wellness by Nathan Hill

Alright, so plenty of criticism has been lobbed at this book for arguably being “too long.” That’s impossible to ignore because an argument could be made that this book deserves both a shorter and unabridged version in the manner of Stephen King’s The Stand, only with vastly different subject matter. Ultimately, author Nathan Hill has delivered a layered American epic with a damn fine book inside — whip-smart, charming, funny, and devastating all at once. There’s also a good chance that most adults age 30 or older will see shades of themselves in this story about how people make life-altering decisions to cement their identities at very young-adult ages, long before their true identity fully forms. Fast forward several accomplishments and phases, and blammo, suddenly it’s rediscovery time. Don’t worry, the naval gazing in this book is fully worth the revelations that finally surface. — Kimberly Ricci

Buy Here

Thank You Please Come Again
Bitter Southerner

Thank You Please Come Again: How Gas Stations Feed & Fuel the American South by Kate Medley

For years whenever people have asked me about the best meals I’ve ever had, I’d often mentioned meals I’ve gotten from gas stations in the South, especially south Louisiana. So when I learned a few months ago that photojournalist Kate Medley was putting together a book of photography featuring gas stations in the South that serve food, I pre-ordered it immediately. That book — Thank You Please Come Again: How Gas Stations Feed & Fuel the American South — finally arrived recently and boy what an absolute treat it is. Available exclusively via The Bitter Southerner’s online store, the book features nearly 200 photos Medley has taken over the course of her career and travels, as well as a beautiful essay by Kiese Laymon. It’s my favorite photography/art book purchase of 2023. — Brett Michael Dykes

Buy Here

The Fourth Wing
Red Tower Books

The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

If you scrolled your way onto Tik-Tok this year then you no doubt stumbled upon Rebecca Yarros’ fantasy epic, The Fourth Wing. A kitchen-sink medley of genre tropes this entry in Yarros’ planned five-book series checks all the boxes for New Adult Romance fans and yet, even its something-for-everyone premise can’t fully explain its rise in the best-seller ranks. Set in a world where dragons are real and mere humans are tasked with riding them, the book follows a young woman named Violet Sorrengail whose chronic illness destined her for the life of a Scribe until her mother – a war general without those pesky maternal instincts – orders her to enroll in the Riders Quadrant where she’ll be tasked with surviving a series of brutal trials in order to earn her wings. If this deadly bootcamp stint weren’t dangerous enough, Violet’s name and her obvious weaknesses make her a target for sadistic cadets and revenge-driven wing leaders determined to see her fail at any cost. While no element of her premise is particularly original, Yarros’ prose – breezy and spellbinding in equal measure – effortlessly builds a world filled with enough action, forbidden romance, and moral stakes to make it an instant page-turner. — Jessica Toomer

Buy Here

Rubin book

The Creative Act: A Way Of Being by Rick Rubin

This is the book that just about every person I know read this year. And it is quite good. In many ways, it feels like Rubin’s response to all the people who arched their eyebrows when they heard him tell Anderson Cooper he doesn’t play instruments or get behind the soundboards:

The idea that Rubin’s superpower is his confidence in his own taste is really the nut of this book. But to his credit, he shares freely the idea of how to form that same level of confidence when creating. As such, I find the book to be quite inspiring. Morever, the audible version — with Rubin reading in his sonorous, resonant voice — fits the meditative tone of the text perfectly and makes an excellent companion on the car or at the gym. — Steve Bramucci

Buy Here

Colors of Film
Quarto Books

Colors of Film: The Story of Cinema in 50 Palettes by Charles Bramesco

Modern-day film criticism is hyper-focused on plot, politics, and whether there are enough sex scenes, so it’s refreshing to find a writer who sees film primarily as a visual art. Charles Bramesco is one of those critics, and his latest book, Colors of Film: The Story of Cinema in 50 Palettes, reminds you to look first and think second. Both a trenchant work of critical analysis and a dazzling coffee table book, Colors of Film winds its way through film history, stopping to note each time a use of color was innovated. Douglas Sirk, Jacques Demy, and Dario Argento all get their due, but there are also chapters on Tron: Legacy and, perhaps most startlingly, Saw II. Colors of Film invites you to gaze at the view and, in doing so, shows you a new, beautiful film canon. — Noah Gittell

Buy Here