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Here are the novels, memoirs and other books to look out for in 2023

Lead image for Arts 2023 look-ahead story for books
(Getty Images)

From bestselling novelists to local memoirists, here’s what we’ll be reading in the new year

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The New Year means a clean slate in more ways than one. There are the usual resolutions: Go to the gym more, save more money and, perhaps, read more books. Sound familiar?

For those attempting to keep the latter resolution, there will be plenty of books that, in my opinion, will keep us on track in 2023.

Like many others, I was blown away in 2021 by Patricia Engel’s “Infinite Country,” which mixed Andean folklore and contemporary issues to tell the tale of a family’s journey in Colombia and living in the U.S. as undocumented immigrants. Out in January, “The Faraway World” looks to be a globetrotting collection of 10 short stories that tackle similar issues with the tenderness readers have come to expect from the bestselling author. Another story collection I’ll be picking up is “The People Who Report More Stress” (Feb. 7) by Alejandro Varela. His debut novel, “The Town of Babylon,” about growing up queer in the suburbs, was nominated for the National Book Award and was as unexpected favorite of mine in 2022.

February sees the return of bestselling novelist Rebecca Makkai, five years since the release of her understandably acclaimed bestseller “The Great Believers.” And just like that book, “I Have Some Questions for You” jumps back-and-forth through time to unravel a mystery at its core, in this case the mysterious murder of the protagonist’s roommate while she was attending boarding school in 1995. Also out in February is “Stealing” from Pulitzer Prize finalist and Cherokee Nation citizen Margaret Verble. Set in the 1950s, the novel explores the Indian Child Welfare Act and the U.S.’ troubling history of separating Native children and placing them in abusive boarding schools.

March sees the release of Women’s Prize-shortlisted author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s epic second novel, “Dust Child,” which she has been working on for over seven years. The multigenerational story follows three American and Vietnamese families from the 1960s to the present day, interweaving in unexpected and traumatic ways along the journey. Quế Mai will also be stopping by San Diego on March 21 for a ticketed lunchtime event organized by Wariwck’s.

Finally, in May, we already have a new book from R.F. Kuang. Her 2022 novel, the literary epic “Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution,” was a brilliant mix of magical realism and historical fiction. Not even a year later and she’s already switching gears with “Yellowface,” a novel about a privileged White writer who steals her former classmate’s manuscript after her death and releases it under an Asian-sounding fake name and personality. Out in May, the novel should appeal to fans of Susie Yang’s “White Ivy” and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s “The Plot.”

Several locals will also have books coming out in the new year. February will see the release of Jac Jemc’s historical novel, “Empty Theatre,” a fictional take on two real-life 19th century royals. The paragraph-long subtitle of the book alone (seriously, it’s too long to print here) should be indicative of the satirical, albeit tender, tone of the novel, which focuses on cousins King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria, who share a romanticized love of beauty and rebellion despite societal expectations that they act prim and proper. Jemc has an appearance scheduled for Feb. 21 at The Book Catapult.

Susan Meissner
(Stephanie Carbajal)

Speaking of historical fiction, local Susan Meissner is a master of the genre and “Only the Beautiful” (out April 18) is set in 1930s California and explores our country’s brief but troubling fascination with eugenics via the story of Helen, who attempts to find out what happened to her friend after finding out she has been sent away to a home for unwed mothers. Meissner is scheduled to appear at Warwick’s on April 20.

When it comes to poetry, I’m particularly excited about “Blush & Blink” by local Ana Carette. I’ve been a fan of Carette’s since seeing her read over five years ago in a shop in Hillcrest. Her words impassively traverse the thin lines between confessional and confident, empowered and enraptured, and deal with everything from romantic dalliances to growing up Catholic. Published by local bookstore and publisher, Lang Books, it’s scheduled to come out this month and will be available at the Lang space on El Cajon Boulevard, as well as Verbatim Books and Libélula Books & Co.

When it comes to memoirs, San Diego Writers Festival board member Laura Cathcart Robbins will be releasing “Stash: My Life in Hiding” in early March. The host of the podcast “The Only One in the Room,” Robbins gives a candid recounting of her struggles with addiction and alcoholism, as well as her own internalized racism, while living a life of privilege in SoCal. It’s frank, often cringey, but brutally honest in the ways only the best memoirs can be. She’s scheduled to appear at Warwick’s on April 12.

Another memoir I’m excited about, and one that is suitable for kids, is “Just Jerry: How Drawing Shaped My Life” by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney. The illustrator of over 100 children’s books, he was known for his masterful interpretations of classic fables, often inserting Black characters and setting the plots in places like Africa. He, unfortunately, passed away in 2021. “Just Jerry” was his final project. Out this month, it’s a lovingly rendered life story of words and illustrations about a kid growing up in Philadelphia, finding solace in picking up a pencil and drawing everything he saw, only to become one of the most revered illustrators of his generation.

Combs is a freelance writer.


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