My Best Books of 2023

This year I read a total of 33 books. This included fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoirs, short stories, self-help books and plays. I have narrowed down my five favourites, and I hope I can persuade you to pick up at least one of these fantastic books. If you do, let me know what you think! 

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder 

I’m a simple woman with simple tastes. I read a book about people living their everyday lives with their everyday problems, and I fall in love. It may sound easy, but the truth is it takes a really special writer to take the life of a normal person and show the reader how beautiful normal can be. Broder addresses eating disorders, religious beliefs, queerness and the concept of the self so uniquely and startlingly in this story, that it felt like I was reading for the first time. I have not read another book quite like it.  

Rachel, the protagonist, is strange and anxious, hateful and loving, and spends these pages becoming a more forgiving and hopeful person, despite her heartbreaks and rejections. This is a book about choosing yourself and I loved it immensely. Truth be told, Rachel is a pretty unlikeable protagonist for most of this book. She is rude, self-destructive and often ignorant, but who of us hasn’t been? Her disillusionment and discontentedness is familiar to us all, and perhaps it’s tacky, but I love to read about a horrible character’s journey to becoming a happy character, or at least a slightly better character. I vividly remember reading this book, curled up on a couch as my family and I travelled around Tasmania. Milk Fed is a wonderful travel companion. 

Just Kids by Patti Smith 

Despite not knowing much about Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe, I decided to read this memoir because I knew it depicted the music scene of 1970’s New York, a world that has always interested me. The story follows Patti Smith’s early pre-fame life, particularly her partnership and friendship with fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti and Robert, both artists in their own right who found fame later on in their lives, were drawn to each other as young adults and shared an extremely important connection during this time. The two struggled together with homelessness, financial hardships, the cultivation of their art and their self discoveries. Through their escapades, they met and entered the social circle of countless celebrities, like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsberg, and Vali Myers, among many others.  

What I loved most about this story was the depiction of the rock’n’roll social scene, and the way that community and connection was made between artists, some famous and some not, in the way that doesn’t seem to exist as strongly in this century. Where can world renowned musicians and struggling artists intermingle as casually at Patti and Robert did at Max’s and the Chelsea Hotel? Maybe there are still places that exist like that today, but I’m just unaware of them. Personally, I think that reading about artists’ lives before the fame is much more interesting than reading about how famous they are. I found this memoir so much more relatable and enjoyable, knowing that Patti would eventually find fame, but having to first work through the self-doubt, the struggle for inspiration and the real-world troubles that everyone has to face.  

I read this book in a small town in Victoria called Apollo’s Bay. Whether I was getting dinner at the Chinese restaurant, curled up in my AirBnb bed or at the beach, I read this book feverishly and I encourage you to do the same. 

The Waves by Virginia Woolf 

The abstract poetic form of this novel confused me at first, but once I could understand what was happening, I really enjoyed it. This is the story of six friends and their lives from childhood to old age, told through their spiritual and philosophical inner monologue and broken up by intricate descriptions of the ocean and nature. It was beautiful from start to finish. I found myself becoming very attached to the characters and how different they all were to each other, while still maintaining their special and intimate friendship throughout.  

This book shows six different depictions of grief, success, depression and inner peace. It’s a difficult read, but worth it if you put in the work and are familiar with Woolf’s style. Another book I read while travelling Tasmania with my family (sorry, I read a lot when I travel), sitting in front of the fire while everyone disappeared around 3pm for their afternoon naps and phone time. 

The Idiot by Elif Batuman 

This is the first book that my book club and I read, and it was one I had been wanting to read for a while. The Idiot follows protagonist Selin, a Turkish American eighteen-year-old woman, through her first year at Harvard, where she signed up for a wide variety of language classes. But as time passes, she is continuously disappointed. She was hoping to understand language better, to understand the meaning of words and novels but the professors teach language without the passion that she is looking for. It’s after this disappointment that Selin falls in love with her classmate, Ivan, and it is the progression of this relationship that becomes the surface level plot of the novel.  

The whole book is really about Selin’s relationship with language. Though she doesn’t learn much from her classes, she learns about the intricacies of language indirectly through her exchanges with her multicultural friends, through her travels across Europe, and through teaching English to kids in small Hungarian villages, all of which are things that she does in pursuit of Ivan. The two gradually move apart and Selin is crushed.  

At the end of the story, Selin proclaims that she has learnt nothing from language, or at least not what she wanted to learn. She drops all of her language classes and chooses another pathway. This is why the novel is called The Idiot. The reader can see that Selin has learnt a lot in her first year, but it wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t as beautiful as she hoped it would be. The man she loved didn’t love her back, and so she gave up on language completely. She has become the idiot, because she is unhappy with all that she has learnt in her first year at college.  

This book was my suggestion in my book club and though we all had differing opinions, I loved being able to discuss a book thoroughly with a group of people who knew exactly what I was talking about. 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 

This book has been on my list for such a long time. I always put it off because I was never ready for the heavy content I knew it contained, but I am glad I finally read it. First things first, there are a few racist and homophobic lines in this book but I don’t want to completely dismiss it because of this. It’s difficult to distinguish how good a book can be when it lacks so much in themes of equality, and while The Bell Jar did a lot for feminism and mental health at the time of its publication, it’s well and truly a victim of the times when it comes to everything else.  

What I did like though was the protagonist’s witty, independent voice, and the fact that she wasn’t particularly likeable most of the time. She is a relatable and stubborn character, and it is interesting to watch as she changes and grows throughout the book. She goes from a young woman full of promise and opportunities to a ‘mad’ woman living in an asylum and receiving shock treatments, and ends with the protagonist possibly being given the chance to rejoin the world, as whatever she chooses to be. What shocked me most was learning that Sylvia Plath committed suicide less than a month after the publication of this book, despite the hopeful ending she gave her protagonist. Knowing this fact cast the entire story in a shadow, making even the lighter and more hopeful parts unsettling. I read this book in a period of three or four days, most of which I spent on my couch. Sylvia Plath has a way of writing that makes her hard to put down. 

Jacinta Rossetto
Jacinta Rossetto

Jacinta Rossetto is a writer, artist and editor studying Creative Writing at QUT. Her passion project is a little something called Dawn Street Zine, a zine that she writes, designs, produces and scouts content for. Her favourite genres to write in are gothic fiction, literary fiction and romance fiction.

Articles: 14

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