By Eleanor Bowskill, Victoria Bromley, Daisy Ward and Lily Baldanza
For book lovers, the new year means we get to set a fresh Goodreads goal, make bookish New Year’s resolutions and get to look forward to a year of new releases. From Emily Henry’s Happy Place to Naoise Dolan’s The Happy Couple, 2023 is treating us to a lustrous list of new titles we can’t wait to devour. However, whilst we all have our favourite tropes, there are also some problematic and overdone bookish trends we don’t want to see appearing on the shelves this year – we share our do’s and don’ts for the year ahead.
Do: give us all the friends to lovers you have
Every Summer After by Carley Fortune is proof that we need more friends to lovers on our bookshelves. Who doesn’t love the slow burn of childhood friends and teenagers longing for the inevitable first kiss? It’s such a heartwarming feeling when they finally get together. We need these tender and hopeful romantic trends to continue this year.
Do: incorporate more queer representation in romance
Following the popularity of Heartstopper in 2022, the desire to read stories that follow protagonists from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum has become more mainstream, and about time. Yet, in many of the novels that become phenomena and do mention queer relationships, for example The Color Purple and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – there remains the common theme that the protagonist dies or has separated from their partner in the final chapters. This reinforces the idea that queer relationships are somehow inferior, or difficult to find. Whilst representation is a good thing, on the whole, it is still important that queer relationships are shown in a positive light.
Don’t: give us any more inappropriate age gaps
Aria and Ezra in Pretty Little Liars paved the way for the romanticism of inappropriate relationships. In recent years, novels such as My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel have highlighted how controversial these relationships are, but it’s books which promote these problematic pairings which need to go. While Cleo and Frank in Coco Mellor’s debut novel Cleopatra and Frankenstein are twenty years apart, they are both consenting, responsible adults. But, when a character is underage or influenced by an unequal power dynamic, then it is no longer welcome.
Do: diversify your bookshelf
Whilst this one could feel a bit intimidating at the start, it might be the most important point on this list. Although books are often used as a form of escapism from the stresses and heartaches of the mundane world, it is often forgotten that the stories we choose to encounter on the page are often aligned with those we experience in our own lives. As such, the experiences of marginalised communities become neglected in favour of predominantly white and Western literature. If we want to advocate for diversity and educate ourselves, we should recognise that these changes first take place behind the scenes, and on our shelves.
Do: publish more eco-conscious novels
With the hottest summer on record, we can’t deny that climate change is happening, and we need more eco-conscious novels to make us aware of this. With Richard Powers’ Bewilderment taking centre stage as one of Waterstones’ books of the month, we can see that there is a need for more eco-conscious books out there.
Do: buy more books from small presses and indie bookshops
Where and how we source our newest reads lets us know which companies we are helping. Given the overwhelming popularity of charity shopping and support for small businesses, we should aim to approach our book-buying habits with a similar mindset – from amazing independent bookshops to exciting debuts from indie publishers. Of course, the ease of next day delivery is unmatched, but nothing quite beats the warm sensation felt after finding a future bestseller from a much smaller, though just as mighty, team. Plus, indie bookshops make for the perfect Instagram backdrop!
Don’t: normalise the romanticisation of toxic masculinity, unhealthy co-dependent relationships and abusive behaviour
In the past year, the ever-loved contemporary romance novel has seen a surge in popularity quite unlike any other genre. Mostly, this has been a wonderful thing; for a novel to spend consecutive weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, it must’ve engrossed a hoard of first-time readers. Of course, fictionalised characters and emotional scenes can provide individuals with a means to interpret their feelings as normal and universal. Given that books belonging to the romance genre often centre around the sexual endeavours of young adults it is important that our stories uphold the importance of consent to impressionable audiences.
Do: consume more audio and e-books
Snuggling up with a good book is one of life’s simple pleasures. Though we all love the feeling (and smell) of a good book, audio and e-books provide a sense of practicality and are often more cost-effective. Many audiobooks boast multiple narrators, which can transport you to the book's universe. Besides, e-readers give the gift of a whole library at your fingertips, without all the weight of a hardback.