Editor’s note: For the first Advisory edition of the year, Anushree Kaushal is back with the immensely popular splainer reading challenge for 2023 featuring books across all kinds of genres. We’re already a week into the year—must get to it right away! You can reach out to Anushree at email@example.com to keep yourself accountable or just to say hi:)
Happy new year, my bookish friends. Welcome to 2023! I hope it is filled with your favourite things, including books that you come to love and adore. To kick off this reading year, I have created yet another challenge for you (and me!) to explore new literary pastures and perhaps read more mindfully. While I’ve tried to be expansive and inclusive, I’ve also attempted to keep the prompts as open as possible, because I know that ultimately, you should only be reading what your heart truly desires.
Below, you will find 24 prompts—two for each month—and a couple of recommendations for each category. The books I have listed here are mostly newish, some even coming out in 2023, although you also will find backlist titles that I’ve loved. Let’s not linger any longer and dive right into it.
A book on activism: ‘Year of the Tiger: An Activist's Life’ by Alice Wong, on disability rights, and ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer, about environmental activism, science and indigenous wisdom.
A happy and comforting book: ‘A Psalm for the Wild Built’ by Becky Chambers and ‘Legends & Lattes’ by Travis Baldree, a sci-fi and a fantasy respectively, have both been heralded by readers as capable of filling you up with warmth, joy and a renewed sense of hope.
A book featuring an animal as a pivotal character: ‘Remarkably Bright Creatures’ by Shelby Van Pelt, about an octopus! And ‘The Kaiju Preservation Society’ by John Scalzi, about the fictional kaiju! Also ‘An Immense World’ by Ed Yong, a delightful non-fiction about animal senses and our world.
Complete a series: I am very close to finishing the ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ series by one of my favourite authors, Tana French. I will also be hungrily devouring the rest of the ‘Slough House’ books by Mick Herron to catch up with my favourite group of ne’er-do-wells.
Read an in-depth review, and maybe even write one: Essentially a free spot! I love reading reviews of books that I have loved, or those that I am particularly looking forward to. For instance, here’s Mick Herron talking about a book of John le Carré’s letters in the Washington Post.
A graphic novel/non-fiction about nature: ‘Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands’ by Kate Beaton, about the oil rush in Canada and its impact on both people and the environment, and ‘Spill Zone’ by Scott Westerfeld, a fictional take on a mysterious spill that turns an area into a Chernobyl-like place.
A book based on your best friend’s recommendation: A bestie recently loved and couldn’t stop talking about ‘The Memory Police’ by Yōko Ogawa; she, and a number of other friends, have also spoken non-stop about ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid, so I guess it’s time.
A fictional account of a real-life event: ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell about Renaissance Italy royalty and ‘Cursed Bread’ by Sophie Mackintosh, about mysterious bread that poisoned a French village. Sign me up.
A cookbook based on a relatively niche cuisine or dish for you: Cookbooks usually end up flying under my radar, but two that recently caught my eye are ‘Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from My Indonesian Kitchen’ by Lara Lee and ‘Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka’ by Cynthia Shanmugalingam.
Read your favourite author’s recommended book: An all-time fave Kate Atkinson recommended ‘Middlemarch’ by George Eliot, so I guess that’s one time I’ll be tackling in 2023.
A memoir or non-fiction about *feeling* something: ‘Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole’ by Susan Cain and ‘In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss’ by Amy Bloom. Both sound like they will break my heart.
A horror book: ‘Silver Nitrate’ by Silvia Moreno Garcia, a 2023 book by one of the most prolific contemporary authors, and ‘Hidden Pictures’ by Jason Rekulak, which I’ve been dying to read for some time now.
A romance set in the world of sports: ‘Man of Her Match’ by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal—a fun, well-written romance set in the world of cricket in India! And ‘The Cheat Sheet’ by Sarah Adams, about American football.
A book about languages and words: ‘Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language’ by Amanda Montell, about the language of inequality, and ‘Babel’ by RF Kuang, an adult fantasy about the power of language in both suppression and freedom.
A book that uses various media: ‘Night Film’ by Marisha Pessl, which uses photos, illustrations, website pages, even an app towards the end to tell its story, and ‘The Supernatural Enhancements’ by Edgar Cantero, which is told through “journal entries, scrawled notes, recovered security footage, letters [. . .], audio recordings, complicated ciphers, and even advertisements.”
A book to treat yourself: I’m personally thinking of coffee table books with glossy photos and odd sizes that feel like a rarity. ‘Spiritus Mundi: Writings Borne from the Occult’ by Elizabeth Kim by Elizabeth Kim (ed), and ‘Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers’ by Bob Eckstein are both self-explanatory and on two wildly different topics that fascinate me.
A long read: This is for when you are in a reading slump and cannot bring yourself to pick up a full book. Go look for a long essay (or any article, really) and read that instead! I’d specifically recommend ‘The Queen of Crime-solving’ in the Guardian and ‘I Remember the Bookstore’ on Longreads.
A book about the changing nature of work: The transformation of our work lives was sudden and surprising due to the pandemic, and I find it fascinating to read about how work may change further, or how writers envision it. I want to read ‘Severance’ by Ling Ma and ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (tr.) to learn more.
A science concept simplified: I’d go for the urgent ‘The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial’ by David Lipsky, and the masterful ‘The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human’ by the extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Poetry: My opinion on this matter is next to useless, but ‘Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head: Poems’ by Warsan Shire and ‘Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years’ by Joy Harjo seem to be getting love from all corners of the world, so I’d say they’re safe bets.