Lose 10 pounds! Give up sugar forever!—traditionally, these are the kinds of messages promoted in start-the-year-off-right books. For 2023, new titles instead suggest forgoing drastic changes in favor of attainable improvements and deep inner work.
“A January juice cleanse is not going to solve your problems,” says psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin, founder and CEO of women’s mental-health digital platform Gemma and author of Real Self-Care (Penguin Life, Mar. 2023). “The new year is the perfect time to reflect on commodified self-care.” Lakshmin agrees with the stance other authors are taking on new year’s resolutions and beyond: pay attention to individual needs instead of what societal messaging and marketing tries to sell.
Change your mind, not your body
Fitness, wellness, and body-positivity influencer and coach Chrissy King makes the case that real self-care is rooted in self-love in The Body Liberation Project (Tiny Reparations, Mar. 2023), unpacking how social and racial justice intersect with the fitness, diet, and wellness industry. “Most of our ideas about our bodies are rooted in white supremacy,” King says. She proposes that the energy expended on obsessing over some arbitrary ideal weight, for example, would be better spent on more high-stakes collective causes such as working to eradicate racial injustice.
Sociologist Shanita Hubbard’s Ride or Die, a manifesto for Black women’s well-being that PW’s review called “an authentic and cathartic call for change,” likewise advocates for recognizing destructive messages and pursuing healing in the Black community. Krishan Trotman, v-p and publisher at Legacy Lit, which is releasing the book in November, says Hubbard rejects the concept that a Black woman must have “a willingness to literally kill for her man,” be “silent about her pain,” or function as panacea for conflict or sorrow in her family. “We all know the ride-or-die chick,” Trotman says. “Or we are her, giving our time, money, and lives to others while putting our well-being on the back burner.”
Other forthcoming titles broaden the scope of new year’s resolutions with a little help from philosophy—not mastering Kantian ethics, but rather addressing big questions about moral values, finding the sublime in the everyday, and understanding one’s deeper motivations. Katherine May’s previous books include the 2020 memoir Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, which has sold 107,000 print copies. Her February Riverhead release, Enchantment, takes a similarly holistic view of engagement with vs. time away from the world, reawakening wonder and awe in order to “enter into a more fluid, curious relationship with the world around us,” says Jynne Dilling, deputy publisher at Riverhead.
What Do You Want Out of Life? (Jan. 2023) by University of Minnesota philosophy professor Valerie Tiberius is an “accessible guide,” per PW’s review, to better understanding personal values. Behind quotidian goals “loom larger and more fundamental questions such as: why these resolutions?” says Princeton University Press publisher Rob Tempio, who edited the book. Understanding these deeper motivators enables readers “to choose the right goals and resolutions for ourselves,” he says, so that “we’ll stand a better chance of achieving them—or scrapping some altogether.”
Make peace with the past
Some authors emphasize that future change is rooted in the past, suggesting that this new year can be all about doing the inner work of understanding and healing from trauma, whether it originated in childhood or stems from a romantic relationship or toxic friendship. Tara Schuster (Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, 116,000 print copies sold), says she hopes her new book, Glow in the F*cking Dark (Dial, Feb. 2023), helps readers realize they already possess “agency to change their lives, and the world if they want,” within. “There’s nothing external they need to seek,” she says.
With the guided journal Reclaim & Recover (Page Street, Dec.), certified relationship coach Tara Blair Ball offers strategies to help readers heal from unhealthy relationships. Each of the seven steps—e.g., “Narrating Your Toxic Relationship” and “Softening Emotions”—is accompanied by journal prompts that lead readers in analyzing the relationship and forging through the healing process. The book’s editor, Madeline Greenhalgh, says Ball emphasizes regaining a sense of self and building confidence after exiting a toxic relationship.
Licensed marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon explores how we recreate patterns learned in childhood in our adult relationships in The Origins of You (Feb. 2023). Putnam executive editor Michelle Howry, who edited the title, says that “family patterns affect every relationship in our lives—romantic, platonic, how we show up at work, and how we show up for ourselves.” Because these ways of interacting are so ingrained, Howry notes, such connections are “often invisible to us.”
In Attention Span (Hanover Square, Jan. 2023), Gloria Mark, a professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, asks readers to consider how we’ve “developed new habits, expectations, and cultural practices” because of technological devices. “Electronic devices are meant to extend our capabilities,” Mark says, but the flip side is that keeping up with email, news, social media, and work projects thwarts our capacity to focus and leaves us exhausted instead of productive. The book explores strategies for regaining agency in our complicated relationship with tech, multitasking, and the relentless drive for productivity, and how to make peace with a fast-paced world.
Those seeking a creative outlet for their newfound focus may turn to the Wall Street Journal obituary writer James R. Hagerty, who in Yours Truly (Citadel, Dec.; a “compassionate outing,” per PW’s review) makes the case for writing one’s life story. Answering such questions as “What were you trying to do with your life? Why? And how did it pan out?” he says, is “a way to assess whether you’re on the right track.” His take on new year’s resolutions is in line with those of other forthcoming titles discussed here: “It’s never too late to improve the narrative.”
Liza Monroy’s books include the essay collection Seeing as Your Shoes Are Soon to Be on Fire (Soft Skull).
All print unit sales per NPD BookScan except where noted.
Read more from our Self-Help Books 2023 feature:
Mom vs. the Machine: PW Talks with Jessica Grose
In 'Screaming on the Inside' (Mariner, Dec.), 'New York Times' opinion and parenting newsletter writer Jessica Grose explains the ways in which “morally charged” American cultural narratives and societal messaging hurt mothers.
12 Tips for a Happier You-Year: Self-Help Books for 2023
Here are a dozen goals that won’t expire or exhaust come February.