As the year draws to a close, we at Kunzum have been sharing notes about the books that released this year—the ones that made an impact, the ones that made us stay up all night, the ones that we’re going to revisit in 2023, and also the ones that we had to labour through. We’re not just bibliophiles, we’re also professional book readers—a pleasant side-effect of being booksellers at Kunzum. The job of sharing book recommendations with our vast community of patrons, who are avid and discerning readers with diverse tastes, is a tough one. Stan Lee once famously wrote in Spiderman (not as Uncle Ben, but as a closing narration in the 1962 Amazing Fantasy #15), “With great power, there must also come — great responsibility.” And so, after intense deliberation and introspection, we decided to share our top three picks each with you.
Given our varying taste in literature, this list features everything from young-adult fiction to travelogues, self-help books, literary fiction, children’s books, genre-defying non-fiction, and poetry collections. If you’ve read any of these books, drop your reviews in the comments. If you haven’t, you know where to find them!
Kunzum Staff Picks
Sumeet Keswani: Head of Content, Kunzum
Kopi Dulu: Caffeine-Fuelled Travels Through Indonesia by Mark Eveleigh
Over the last 25 years, Mark Eveleigh has explored hundreds of islands in Indonesia on short trips for magazine stories. But the travel writer wanted to make a systematic exploration. This thought put him on a 15,000-kilometre journey—by rail, road, on foot, and under sail—across 50 islands. The result: this definitive book on Indonesian islands, communities, and ecosystems. It covers everything from headhunting tribes to elusive orangutans, fiery volcanoes, ritualistic sacrifices, uninhabited isles, legendary surf spots, and so much more. I loved it not only for its comprehensiveness but also for Eveleigh’s wit, spontaneity, bravado, and unwavering journalistic ethics.
Superpowers on the Shore by Sejal Mehta
This book opened my eyes to the magical diversity of marine life that hides in plain sight—in tide pools that emerge on the shore during low tide. I’m a beach person with an open-water scuba diving certification, so my exposure to marine life is above-average, and yet, this book managed to surprise me with its insights on penis-fencing flatworms, home-swapping hermit crabs, colonising barnacles, and much more waiting to be found on the most workaday beach—on foot and without so much as a snorkel. It has changed my seaside holidays forever, transforming every beach stroll into a marine-life safari!
Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer
Everyone advised Andrew Sean Greer not to write a sequel to his Pulitzer-winning Less. But the story of Arthur Less lingered in his head and insisted to be written. Less is Lost puts everyone’s favourite hapless protagonist on another whirlwind literary tour—this time across America. And he is yet again escaping some harsh realities: the death of a lover, a financial crisis, and uncomfortable questions around his romance with the narrator, Freddy Pelu. While the book deals with some of the same themes as its predecessor, the quirky characters Less meets on his adventures and the spontaneity of his misadventures keep the book fresh and entertaining at every turn.
Paridhi Badgotri: Content Writer, Kunzum
The Bellboy by Anees Salim
On one of my now–routine raids of Kunzum’s bookshelves, I saw the dream-like cover of The Bellboy, and it instantly intrigued me. Set in a hotel where people come to die, the novel narrates Latif’s coming-of-age story as a bellboy. The novel’s preoccupation with death comes with a wry humour, and it challenges our inability to come to terms with the inevitable end of life that everyone must face.
The Education of Yuri by Jerry Pinto
Another bildungsroman that I loved this year was Jerry Pinto‘s The Education of Yuri. The way this novel explores the complexities of friendship was eye-opening for me. Themes like vulnerability, shame, desire, and guilt are examined with a warmth that is comforting and reassuring.
Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
After reading Vuong’s stunning prose in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, I was tempted to read his latest poetry collection, Time Is a Mother. Vuong’s poems embody grief’s inexhaustibility but also exhibit a determination to survive it. With a language that’s all his own, Vuong offers compassion in the face of violence.
Sahil Sihag: Community Manager, Kunzum Gurgaon
The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My decision to pick up a non-fiction science book was made much easier by the fact that it was written in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s suspenseful, investigative-thriller style. The Song of the Cell illuminates the structure and functions of cells, our genetic building blocks, and the ways in which we have altered them—to heal. The latest in his ‘Life Quartet’ series, the book is another successful attempt to make science a historical retelling of progress rather than a complicated explanation of the latest mind-blowing discoveries.
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The new psychological drama by Graeme Macrae Burnet made it to the long-list for the Booker Prize 2022, but it caught my eye largely due to its hypnotic cover. The story, which takes place in 1965 London, is told by a certain writer called GMB who stumbles upon case studies of Collins Braithwaite, an infamous therapist who was a pioneer of the 1960s anti-psychiatry movement, and journals of an unnamed woman who was convinced that Collins pushed her sister to commit suicide. The outcome is a mind-bending and wickedly funny story that will be compulsively read by anyone who picks it up.
In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition by Aanchal Malhotra
I already owned a signed copy of Aanchal Malhotra‘s first book, Remnants of a Separation, and then Kunzum gave me the chance to acquire a signed copy of her latest book, In The Language of Remembering. The book carries forward the Partition narrative of her debut by interviewing third-generation and fourth-generation survivors. The conversations tackle the individual relevance of the events of 1947 and the extent to which they affect the lives of those whose grandparents, or great-grandparents, lived through the Partition.
Khushi Arora: Community Manager, Kunzum Vasant Vihar
Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters
I dived into this one as an audiobook to accompany me on my evening jogs, but it got so good that I had to pick up a physical copy and finish it in one sitting. With a geeky and swoon-worthy friends-to-lovers story, this book by Julian Winters celebrates love in all its forms.
TJ Powar Has Something To Prove by Jesmeen Kaur Deo
It’s not every day that one comes across a YA book commenting on facial and body hair while also featuring a sassy Sikh girl. While I had my doubts about how this bold take would pan out, Jesmeen Kaur Deo pulled it off nicely, though some moments in the book, I’ll admit, were debatable.
Must Love Books by Shauna Robinson
For someone who dreams of landing a job in a publishing house some day, a book centred around an overworked and underpaid editorial assistant with a touch of romance was enough of a hook. I enjoyed Shauna Robinson’s publishing insiders and her observations about what it means to be a woman of colour in the industry.
Medha Kumar: Community Manager, Kunzum Greater Kailash
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
Like many others, I wanted to never think, talk, or dream about the pandemic ever again. This book, however, made me confront that absurd time in the most acute yet cathartic way. Elizabeth Strout understands human psyche and behaviour in a way that is almost scary, but I am grateful for it!
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
This book blew me away—with its ambition, scale, perspective, and astounding craft. I found ample evidence of Mandel’s mastery in the fluidity of the narrative, despite the absurdity of the plot. It’s so human, so incredibly immersive, and entirely unpretentious in its manner. Equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting, this is fiction that helps me make sense of the world i.e. my favourite kind of fiction.
Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane
I wait hungrily for each McFarlane release, and this one proved to be worth the anticipation. With each novel, she seems to get better at exploring the nuances of interpersonal dynamics between her characters. McFarlane’s astute psychological observations often leave me floored. The best thing about this book (and most of her others) is the humour. The prose is laugh-out-loud funny without compromising on the painful details and tensions the book explores. McFarlane is my go-to recommendation, and with every new release, she reminds me why.
Deepti Tandon: Community Manager, Kunzum Jorbagh
Patchwork by Matt de la Pena and Corina Luyken
This contemplative poetry picture book is an ode to the complexity and uniqueness of every child. With an empowering message for readers of all ages, creators Matt de la Pena and Corina Luyken are sure to instil a love of poetry in you and make you shed a few tears along the way.
Life Force by Tony Robbins
This one is a tour de force in maximising your energy and improving the quality of your relationships through lifestyle design. It helps you make breakthroughs in building a bulletproof immune system, by enabling you to stop living from a place of fear and old habits. The only hurdle you face: how receptive you can be to its ideas.
The Song at the Heart of the River by Ishani Naidu and Kalyani Ganapathy
This is a warm illustrated story that personifies a river and its relationship with the earth and its people. Suitable for ages six to 12, this book has the power to integrate the science of moderation in your children’s lives from a very young age.