While the new year can be a fantastic reading reset, all the goal-setting can sometimes get overwhelming. I personally love setting new reading goals each year, but I also firmly believe that goals are only as good as the joy and satisfaction they bring you. So I like to get creative with my goal-setting. Instead of making pronouncements like, “I want to read X number of books this year!” I focus on where I want my reading to take me. This month I’m highlighting three fantastic 2023 releases that can act as springboards into new realms of reading and listening. Whether you’re looking to listen to more nonfiction, read about characters of a different age group than you normally do, or try out something speculative, these are three perfect gateways.
If you’re a fiction listener who wants to branch out into nonfiction but aren’t sure where to start, try Nicole Chung’s gorgeous memoir A LIVING REMEDY. Jennifer Kim’s narration is poignant and careful—she reads this thoughtful, heartbreaking, hopeful book with the warmth and intimacy it deserves. It’s a memoir about the death of both of Chung’s parents, and the experience of grieving through the early months of the pandemic. Chung writes about her childhood as the Korean adoptee of white parents, her own decision to have children, and taking care of her mother during her illness—and she doesn’t shy away from the complexity of any of it. She also delves into the broken U.S. healthcare system, examining how it has impacted millions of families like hers. She has a particular talent for blending smart social commentary with deeply poignant personal reflections. Kim captures this blend perfectly. Her tone is mostly quiet—and often suffused with grief—but there’s a sharper edge to her voice in the more political sections. Her narration brings out the best of Chung’s delicate prose. Whether or not you’ve lost a parent, this book is a wise and generous gift.
If you like the idea of reading about teenagers but you’re not into YA, try James Frankie Thomas’s debut novel IDLEWILD. It’s set in high school but it’s definitely not YA. It’s also one of the most propulsive books I’ve read in recent months, and narrator Kristen DiMercurio infuses that breathless momentum into her performance. If you’re wondering just how good both the book itself and the narration are, well—I listened to the entire 12-hour audiobook in one day, start to finish. Told in alternating points of view, the story follows the dramatic ups and downs in the friendship of two queer teenagers, Fay and Nell, during their last two years of high school. DiMercurio works vocal magic, capturing the intensity of their relationship as well as their awkwardness and longing. She uses distinct voices for teenage Nell and Fay as well as for their adult selves, who are looking back on events from 15 years in the future. This isn’t a breezy listen, but it’s worth every minute.
If you’re hoping to wade into the waters of speculative fiction this year, but you don’t want to get in too deep, you might want to pick up C. Pam Zhang’s sophomore novel LAND OF MILK AND HONEY. Zhang’s prose is exquisite, and Eunice Wong’s narration is equally compelling. She reads with a blend of precision and passion that perfectly matches the novel’s themes. In a dystopian future, a smog has settled over the world, killing the majority of animal species and causing widespread famine. A chef takes a mysterious job for a billionaire on a remote mountain high above the smog. As she slowly starts to find pleasure in food and cooking again, she’s forced to confront her boss’s true aims—and her own complicity in his plans. Wong’s performance is full of gravitas; it really drives home the stakes the protagonist is facing. While this novel has plenty of dystopian elements, they’re not overwhelming or confusing; the speculative elements are mostly set dressing. At heart, it’s a character study about a complicated, flawed woman trying to love in a broken world.