The Best Books to Gift for the Holidays in 2023

Books make great gifts, but which ones to pick? We’ve rounded up some of 2023’s most talked-about reads.

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Best Books 2023 - Ann Patchett Tom Lake
Harper

The Best Books of 2023 to Gift this Holiday Season

Tom Lake

by Ann Patchett

If novels take about three years to go from idea to final product, we’re just about due for a tidal wave of fiction inspired by and set during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns. One of the buzziest and loveliest comes from Ann Patchett, who is among modern literature’s great chroniclers of familial drama. This wistful novel follows a woman hunkering down with her grown daughters at the family orchard during the early days of the pandemic, and flashes back to her youthful romance when she starred in a summer production of Our Town.

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Best Books 2023 - Abraham Verghese Covenant of Water
Grove Atlantic

The Covenant of Water

by Abraham Verghese

Anyone who loves a compulsively readable novel that will last through the holidays will enjoy this epic family chronicle, one of Oprah’s Book Club selections for this year. Sprawling multi-generational sagas are kind of Verghese’s thing: he won accolades for his first novel, 2009’s Cutting for Stone, the tragic story of a pair of identical twin surgeons in Ethiopia. This latest effort, which clocks in at more than 700 pages, spans the history of a family living at the southern tip of India and the mysterious medical condition that plagues them over generations. (On top of writing bestsellers, Verghese is a long-time physician.)

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Best Books 2023 - The Mystery Guest
Penguin Random House

The Mystery Guest

by Nita Prose

Last year, mystery readers fell in love with Molly Gray, the quirky, socially awkward hotel-housekeeper heroine of Toronto-based Nita Prose’s surprise 2022 hit novel The Maid. (Florence Pugh is scheduled to play her in an upcoming film adaptation.) In this sequel, Molly is back, solving yet another murder at the Regency Grand—this time that of a mystery author who drops dead in the hotel’s tea room.

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Best Books 2023 - MUCH ADO ABOUT NADA by Uzma Jalaluddin
Penguin Random House

Much Ado About Nada

by Uzma Jalaluddin

Canadian Uzma Jalaluddin reimagines classic rom-coms—Pride and Prejudice, You’ve Got Mail—with modern settings (usually Toronto’s suburbs) and edgy Muslim heroines. Much Ado is a witty retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that’s as warm and cozy as a mug of tea. In Jalaluddin’s version, the main character, Nada, is almost 30 and still living at home, with a floundering career and a heart full of regret for her lost love—who just happens to re-enter her life as the novel begins.

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Best Books 2023 - THE FRAUD by Zadie Smith
PENGUIN BOOKS

The Fraud

by Zadie Smith

Fans have been itching for a new Zadie Smith novel for almost seven years—and the wait was worth it. In her new book, historical fiction set against the backdrop of real events, she abandons her usual contemporary London setting and zips back more than a century to 1873, following the notorious case of a lower-class butcher from Australia who claimed to be heir to an abundant London estate. Smith tells her story from the point of view of a housekeeper (and secret abolitionist) and swirls issues of class, race and privilege into the legal drama.

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THE WAGER: A TALE OF SHIPWRECK, MUTINY AND MURDERby David Grann
Doubleday

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder

by David Grann

David Grann writes history books so vivid, adventurous and compelling that they seem more cinematic than literary. Just ask Martin Scorsese, who is set to direct a film adaptation of this book, and whose adaptation of Grann’s 2017 book, Killers of the Flower Moon, came out this fall. Grann’s latest page-turner is a swashbuckling true story about the doomed Wager, an 18th-century British warship whose sailors engage in a vicious and violent power struggle after a catastrophic shipwreck off the coast of Chile.

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ROUGE by Mona Awad
SIMON & SCHUSTER

Rouge

by Mona Awad

Awad is Canadian fiction’s wizard of weird, spinning macabre feminist satires. Her latest novel is an all-too-timely spoof of the beauty industry. It’s about a young woman who returns home after her mother’s death and discovers her mom’s ghoulish obsession with beauty rituals, as well as a pair of red stilettos that lead her to a cultish spa. This is pure spooky fun, with hints of Death Becomes Her.

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Fire Weather
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast

by John Vaillant

In a year when wildfires swept both our coasts and filled the country with smoke and devastation, Vaillant’s book could not be more relevant. In a thrilling, can’t-put-down narrative, he reconstructs the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, which devastated the town, caused an estimated $10 billion in damage and served as a forecast for the intensifying wildfire seasons that followed. He amplifies that story with lots of in-depth reporting about the causes of wildfires and how human activity has stoked the flames.

Read inspiring stories about community, resilience and coast-to-coast support after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire.

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QUIETLY HOSTILE by Samantha Irby
Vintage

Quietly Hostile

by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby loves the Dave Matthews Band. And Trader Joe’s. And Justin Bieber. And in her tart, always relatable, pop-culture-sprinkled essay collection, she acerbically explains why she loves these things, all the while delivering a steady stream of belly laughs. Irby, who’s written for shows like Shrill and the recent Sex and the City revival, And Just Like That, luxuriates in her awkwardness, describing the cringe-inducing mundanities of everyday life—bodily functions, how to look cool in front of teens, etc.—with withering self-awareness. (Hot tip: this would be a great choice for an audiobook; the narrator is Irby herself).

Want more of the best books of 2023? Check out this review of Eleanor Catton’s latest novel, Birnam Wood.

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Yellowface
HarperCollins

Yellowface

by R.F. Kuang

Kuang’s novel opens with one of the most horrifyingly funny scenes in modern fiction: Juniper Hayward, a struggling writer, watches her frenemy, the wildly successful Athena Lu, choke to death during a late-night pancake-eating contest. Before she knows it, Juniper has passed off Athena’s manuscript—about Chinese labourers in the First World War—as her own, misrepresenting her identity to pass as Asian and become a publishing phenomenon. It’s a deliciously twisty satire about jealousy, deception and cultural appropriation.

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Really Good Actually
HarperCollins

Really Good, Actually

by Monica Heisey

Monica Heisey is one of the funniest Canadians most people have never heard of: her resumé includes writing stints on Schitt’s Creek, the Baroness Von Sketch Show and Workin’ Moms. Heisey’s first novel is the semi-autobiographical tale of a woman who gets married and divorced before she turns 30—an experience Heisey knows first-hand. It’s a messy millennial comedy worthy of Girls or Broad City, with enough gasp-for-air jokes to populate a Netflix stand-up special.

Here are 75 hilarious quotes from Schitt’s Creek to live by.

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PAGEBOY by Elliot Page
Flatiron Books

Pageboy 

by Elliot Page

The Canadian actor and activist is achingly vulnerable in his memoir, a heady mix of dishy celebrity tell-all, intimate personal history and rousing cri de cœur for LGBTQ+ rights. Page, who came out as gay in 2014 and as trans in 2020, describes the challenges of enduring a closeted life in Hollywood—secret relationships, sexual harassment from executives, body dysmorphia and depression—while expounding on the joys and challenges of his rocky road of transitioning.

Read comedian Debra McGraths story about what her trans daughter taught her.

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Class
Atria / One Signal Publishers

Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger and Higher Education

by Stephanie Land

Land’s bestselling debut memoir, Maid (which was endorsed by Barack Obama), described her harrowing experience of poverty and menial labour as a house cleaner. (It was adapted into a Netflix miniseries in 2021.) In this follow-up, she shows how just hard it is to escape that cycle. In the book, she describes her frustrated attempts to navigate a university career while trying to clothe and feed her young daughter. It’s equal parts brutal and inspiring, as Land sheds light on the costs, both literal and metaphorical, of education and upward mobility.

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KING: A LIFE by Jonathan Eig
arrar, Straus and Giroux

King: A Life

by Jonathan Eig

This one’s for the history buffs: Eig’s biography is as impressive and significant as the man himself. (Eig has a solid track record: his last book was a 600-plus-page bio of Muhammad Ali.) This is Martin Luther King, warts and all; it’s a scrupulously detailed and balanced portrait of his vulnerability and strength, his flaws and heroism and his monumental role in the history of American civil rights—a subject that’s as urgent today as it was in King’s era.

Read some inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

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Finding Larkspur
Douglas & McIntyre

Finding Larkspur: A Return to Village Life  

by Dan Needles

In 1988, playwright Dan Needles moved his family from Toronto to Larkspur Farm, a 40-acre plot near Collingwood, Ont. There, they raised livestock and grew crops, largely shielded from technology, traffic and other trappings of big-city life. His book is a warm and fascinating history of modern Canadian villages—where most of the population lived until recent decades—that doubles as a folksy diary of his own rural life and the quirky neighbours who enrich it.

Now that you know the best books of 2023, check out our great Canadian gift guide for gifts under $50.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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