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Books are displayed for sale in Doylestown, Pennsylvania
A customer browses the Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, Pa. File photo by Hannah Beier/Reuters

Here's a dozen books from 2023 you should read, critics say

As the year comes to a close, we're sitting down with book critics to discuss some of the best books released in 2023. NPR's Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan and New York Times books editor Gilbert Cruz share their favorite fiction and nonfiction picks with Jeffrey Brown.

"Absolution" by Alice McDermott

Absolution - Alice McDermot
The main character is a newlywed, a young wife who is pulled into this group of women who are doing charitable works in Vietnam while their husbands are busy doing something else. And without being heavy-handed, McDermott manages to make a connection between the insistent charity of these women and early American intervention in Vietnam.

– Maureen Corrigan

"The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store" by James McBride

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store - James McBride
I think [James McBride] is one of our most nuanced but clear-eyed writers about race. This is set in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, around 1925, in a historically immigrant Jewish neighborhood and African American. And I'll stop there. It's amazing.

– Maureen Corrigan

"The Bee Sting" by Paul Murray

The Bee Sting - Paul Murray
It is a book about four family members who formerly were riding high on the hog and the 2008 financial crisis is hitting Ireland, it's hitting them in their little town… It's a book about sort of the unknowability of people that you love. You can live with someone for a very long time and still not get to know them because you can never truly know a person. It's funny. It's sad. It's tragic. It's a lot of things.

– Gilbert Cruz

"North Woods" by Daniel Mason

North Woods - Daniel Mason
Rather than focus on any individual character, this plot of land and this house in western Massachusetts is the main character. It takes you through three centuries and it gives you all these different characters. Through these characters, Daniel Mason writes through several different genres and several different types of literary styles. It's constantly surprising and it's just a delight to read.

– Gilbert Cruz

"The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder" by David Grann

The Wager - David Grann
It's about a shipwreck, a mutiny, survival on a rocky island. A bunch of British sailors are on a ship called the Wager. That ship breaks apart in a storm in 1741 off the coast of Patagonia. And for a while, they survive on this island. And then a group of the sailors patches together a rickety vessel and sails 2,500 miles to Brazil.

– Maureen Corrigan

"How to Say Babylon" by Safiya Sinclair

How to Say Babylon - Safiya Sinclair
It tells that kind of familiar story about breaking out of a repressive childhood context into a wider world. In her case, she grew up in a strict Rastafarian household. She's a lovely writer. She's a poet. And her nature descriptions of Jamaica, along with everything else, are really stunning.

– Maureen Corrigan

"Master Slave Husband Wife" by Ilyon Woo

Master Slave Husband Wife - Ilyon Woo
It is about a couple in 1848… They are an enslaved couple… they decide to make a run for it to leave Georgia and try to escape to the North… It's very tense. It's amazingly researched. That's just the first part of the story… It's a love story that reads like a novel. It's quite an amazing book.

– Gilbert Cruz

"Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World" by John Vaillant

Fire Weather - John Valiant
It's ostensibly about the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, which took place in Canada… It is a place that popped up and has made great wealth for people based on extraction of oil from the ground. That extraction has led to climate change and that climate change has led to a giant wildfire that resulted in the evacuation of almost 100,000 people in 2016… It mixes a beat-by-beat account of a wildfire with the history of oil extraction and climate change.

– Gilbert Cruz

"Beware the Woman" by Megan Abbott

Beware the Woman - Megan Abbott
We're living in a time that's very much like the '30s. Our fiction, especially our literary fiction, is very much centered on social issues and social problems. I thought it was interesting, though, this year that some novels that I wouldn't have expected to see social issues crop up in, especially reproductive rights. All of a sudden, those novels veered into an abortion rights plot… So we're very much socially conscious in our art these days.

– Maureen Corrigan

And more personal favorites…

Maureen Corrigan recommended "Tom Lake" by Ann Patchett and Gilbert Cruz suggested "Fourth Wing" and "Iron Flame" by Rebecca Yarros.

Tom Lake - Ann Patchett Fourth Wing - Rebecca Yarros Iron Flame - Rebecca Yarros
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