The best books of 2023, according to global tastemakers

From top left clockwise: Alexa Chung, Chioma Nnadi, Mitski, Law Roach, Sheynnis Palacios, and Ari Aster share their favorite read of 2023.

From top left clockwise: Alexa Chung, Chioma Nnadi, Mitski, Law Roach, Sheynnis Palacios, and Ari Aster share their favorite read of 2023.Illustration: Gabrielle Smith/CNN; Photos: Getty Images; Adobe Stock; Courtesy the publishersCNN — 

It has been a busy year for bookworms. In 2023, literary heavyweights Bret Easton Ellis, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Attwood and Zadie Smith returned to the scene and published new work, in some cases, for the first time in over a decade. In the summer, authors such as Eliza Clark, Pip Finkemeyer and Rachel Connolly helped usher in an epidemic of ‘Sad Girl’ literature — the melancholic millennial female experience often categorized by trauma and dysfunction.

New voices entered the mix, or at least there was new recognition for storied writers. Norwegian author Jon Fosse won the Nobel Prize for the first time in October, praised by judges for “giving voice to the unsayable.” This year, we also lost industry legends Martin AmisCormac McCarthy and Louise Glück, who were among the authors that died in the last 12 months.

Pop culture and literature have never felt closer, too, than in 2023. Vulnerable celebrity memoirs from Pamela Anderson, Eliot Page and Julia Fox were among some of the most talked-about releases of the year. However, 2023 was bookended by two highly anticipated autobiographies in particular: In January, “Spare,” Prince Harry’s salacious tell-all memoir of life as a British royal was published, and Britney Spears’ breakdown of her strict, 13-year-long conservatorship “The Woman in Me,” was released in October.

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But what should rise to the top of your to-read list? To help navigate the world of words we’ve asked a handful of 2023’s most relevant musicians, authors, fashion editors, photographers and cultural tastemakers what they’ve been reading in their downtime. From director and filmmaker Ari Aster to Miss Universe 2023 winner, Sheynnis Palacio, there is a recommendation for everyone, courtesy of those who helped shape the year in some way.

Mitski, musician and songwriter

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Berkley

“I bought “The September House” blind, without knowing anything about its author. I love haunted house stories, and the book cover had a picture of a spooky-looking house (with a turret!) so of course I bought it. It turned out to be the author Carissa Orlando’s debut novel, and it’s a unique and refreshing take on the genre. It draws you in with a pleasantly wry sense of humor, then it gradually turns terrifying in completely unexpected ways. For the first third of the book, I was excitedly thinking of everyone to whom I’d recommend it. Then by about halfway through when it started getting really scary, I thought, “Well…Maybe I can’t recommend it to everyone.””

Chioma Nnadi, head of British Vogue

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Knopf

“”I’m so jealous, I just wish I could read that book again as if it were my first time,” said a friend as we were checking out at my local bookshop this past summer. The novel in question — “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin — is one that several friends had recommended to me. They know I’m a sucker for a good love story and anything vaguely coming-of-age, and ‘Tomorrow’ brings together both so delightfully with the lives of Sadie and Sam, two video game designers who meet as kids and are reunited almost a decade later as students at MIT and Harvard.

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I am by no means a gaming enthusiast, and yet I found myself totally engrossed in their world. When I did finish the book a couple of weeks later, it was hard to let the characters go. In fact I remember turning to someone on the subway who was reading “Tomorrow” and telling them how jealous I was of them.”

Ari Aster, director and screenwriter

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Vintage

“”Monica,” Dan Clowes’ magnificent “nine variations on aloneness”, is the densest, most elegiac and most discomfiting of the great cartoonist’s books. Here is the thrilling eclecticism of “Eightball,” which bounced between hyper-literate character pieces and sophisticated literary homages and gleefully stupid black comedy (“The Happy Fisherman!”) but so is the more restrained, melancholy Dan of the last couple decades.

Monica herself is one of Clowes’ richest characters, and while her younger self often resembles other brash women in Dan’s work, the portrait he builds here is the most complex and ambitious thing he’s ever done, functioning as both intimate character study and vast tapestry.

And then there’s the coup of its genre-liberated and deceptively warm last chapter and its final gesture, which I won’t spoil except to say that it feels like something that could have sprung on any of his earlier comics, but never with the gut punch that he achieves here. This is Dan Clowes’ magnum opus, and a masterpiece.

Alexa Chung, model, designer and presenter

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William Morrow and Company

“I read it in Italy. It has quite a hardcore cover, you have explain to people why you’re reading a book called “Yellowface.” I got some funny looks. But I loved reading (this book) because I’m part Asian. Also (not long after) “The Summer I turned Pretty” came on TV, which my friends all watched. I’m so happy that there are these mixed raced babes that people are like, ‘Oh, we love that person.’ That didn’t exist when I was growing up.”

R. F. Kuang, author

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Harper Collins

“I found Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Virgin Suicides” very off-putting when I read it in college. I felt I never got a good grasp on the girls. What was going on in their minds? Why did we never get closer to that final why? Then for chance and circumstance — I enjoyed a re-read of Eugenides’ “Middlesex,” and then I enjoyed Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” which had me flipping through a friend’s copy of Coppola’s “Archive,” which included exchanges between Coppola and Eugenides on “The Virgin Suicides.” I read Eugenides’ foreword to the 30th anniversary special edition, and realized that the impossibility of knowing from the outside was always the point. How fortunate we are to get to come back to texts when we’re a little older, less judgmental, and ready to meet the author on his own terms.”

Law Roach, stylist

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Simon & Schuster

“”Down the Drain” reaffirms to me that Julia Fox is THAT GIRL. There’s nothing more powerful than a woman that does what she wants and doesn’t care what the world thinks. The struggles Julia talks about in her book give you a better understanding of why she is the way she is. Just like clothes, my favorite books are ones that make me feel something — whether it’s a good feeling or a bad one, I don’t care, I just want to feel.

There is so much heart and soul behind Julia’s vulnerability and you can feel that when you read this book. And the way she tells her story — it is beautiful. We all have a past, but to take the hardships and make it into a forward facing career is something only the Julia Fox’s of the world can do.”

Sheynnis Palacio, Miss Universe 2023

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Viking

“In my line of business (being Miss Universe), eyeliner is more than an item in a makeup kit — it’s part of an artistic palette. This simple tool gives us the power to command a room, to make a personality statement, and to change our entire look on a whim. As Zahra Hankir shows, none of this is new or even modern, but has been part of a legacy of powerful women for millennia.

Her fascinating look at the history of kohl, kajal, sormeh, and other historic variations of iconic black eyeliner focuses on the parallels and differences between its use and meaning, from Nefertiti in Egypt to (the) Woman, Life, Freedom (protest movement) in Iran, and how it evolved along the way.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Anchor

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Bonnier Books

“I choose this book, for the same reason I wrote the foreword: because the witness here was one of the very best war and foreign affairs correspondents there was.

Charles Wheeler not only joined World War Two, he reported on it, and on all the 20th century conflicts thereafter. His fascinating story is also a masterclass on how to be a journalist. Quite simply, he believed, like I do, that our job is to be the eyes and ears for people at home. He believed, like I do, that there is an objective truth to be reached through following empirical evidence. His war reporting was extraordinary, but so was his clear-eyed, empathetic and indignant coverage of the 1960s American civil rights movement.

Finally, like me, Wheeler was a bit of a rebel, sometimes sitting aloft a moral high horse. And he believed, like I do, that dissent is not disloyalty, either to country or workplace.”

Es Devlin, artist and stage designer

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Crown Publishing Group

“I recommend this book to anyone interested in the impact that current and future advances in AI and quantum computing may have on pretty much everything we currently experience. One of the most moving moments in the book is Suleyman’s description of ‘Move 37’ in the now legendary 2016 match of the ancient Chinese game of ‘Go’ between the Google Deepmind algorithm Alpha Go and the world’s Number One ‘Go’ master, Lee Sedol. This was the move that was new to the 5,500 year history of the game and so baffling to the world’s most skilled player, that he left the room in shock and went on to lose the match to the machine. Mustafa Suleyman was part of the team that developed the algorithm and describes this seminal advance in AI like the discovery of a new species, or the first sight of a new world.

His description is so vivid and emotional that we begin to feel the true vastness of the imminent wave of change that is upon us.”

Bettina Korek, CEO of the Serpentine Galleries

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Harper Collins

“A book that really stuck with me this year was Kara Gnodde’s debut novel “The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything,” a chronicle of two siblings — Art and Mimi — whose differentiated outlooks on life, love and logic explore the timeless conundrum of head versus heart. Art favors mathematical determination via algorithms and evidence, whereas Mimi is driven by happenstance and romance; or as Kara writes: ‘Art’s sister believed in truth, Art believed in facts.’

It’s a moving page turner, and https://fokuslahlagi.com I enjoyed the book’s formal experimentation. Gnodde mixes fiction and non-fiction in ways that mirror the duelling worldviews of its protagonists. Before writing the book, the author studied up on abstract mathematical concepts at the heart of enduring riddles of computer science, just to dive deeper into a quantitative mindset as a writer.”

Marilyn Minter, photographer

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Random House

“My favorite book published in 2023 is “The Guest by Emma Cline. I like books about sybarites. It answers the question, How do you know when a drug addict is lying? Their lips are moving.”

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