Favorite Books From 2022
My Favorite Books of 2022
Y’all know I’m a big reader– always have been and always will be. This year, I read nearly 150 books– at the time I’m writing this, 144 books and 54,000 pages! With a holiday vacation coming up, I might even break 55,000 pages by the end of the year. Which is A LOT. The most I’ve ever read in a year. Maybe too much haha. There was no way I could rank my favorites or even pick a top ten. But I do have some stand-out reading experiences from 2022 that I felt were worth sharing here on the blog. I’ve grouped 22 books into a few categories, offered a brief description, and included some of my personal responses. I hope you find something on this list that intrigues you or something you might want to recommend to a friend. Happy reading!
Books about grief & resilience– great writing, compelling characters, all the feels!
Fight Night, by Miriam Toews. Siv, our nine-year-old narrator, is suspended from school for fighting, so she spends her days with her elderly grandmother while her pregnant mother is working to keep their family afloat. It’s equal parts tender and snarky, and so full of heart that I literally hugged it when I finished the last page.
The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka. A woman’s world begins cracking– first the community pool where she swims gets a crack, then her memory begins fragmenting, and she moves to long-term care. The writing is lyrical and poetic. I actually sobbed in some sections remembering my grandmother’s last days living with Alzheimer’s.
Fresh Water for Flowers, by Valerie Perrin (translated from French). Violette Toussaint is the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne, and she considers it a sacred calling to accompany others in their grief– one of the most compelling pictures of chaplaincy I’ve ever read. This book has a little bit of everything: family drama, a love story, an unsolved mystery… but the most compelling parts of the book are the ordinary moments of Violette’s life as she’s holding space for others and receiving the same.
Essential American novels about our current moment– real time-capsule-worthy stuff!
Lucy By The Sea, by Elizabeth Strout. If you’re up for reading a pandemic novel, please pick this one. As the news of the coronavirus is breaking, Lucy leaves New York for Maine. I have loved all the Lucy books– a singular voice and endearing characters– and it was cathartic to process pandemic experiences with her. It made me nostalgic for early lockdown days? I sometimes forget how much we’ve all been through in this pandemic-tide, and seeing it on the page in the hands of a great narrator was lovely.
French Braid, by Anne Tyler. Tyler is the modern master of under-stated family stories! This is a quiet, reflective family story following the Garret tribe in Baltimore— Mercy and Robin, their three children Alice, Lily, and David, and their seven grandchildren over several decades. It’s a character-driven novel, but we don’t spend too much time with individual characters. Rather, the novel functions as a character study about the *whole* family, like looking at a big group photo and studying its details. Families work like French braids: “You think you’re free of them, but you’re never really free; the ripples are crimped in forever.”
The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich is one of our greatest living writers, and this book is a triumph. Her previous novel, The Night Watchman, won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Aspen Words Literary Prize– so how do you follow that up? Well, with a novel that captures a moment in time that, for us, felt “unprecedented” haha. The novel opens on All Saints Day 2019, and closes on All Saints Day 2020; it treats these early pandemic moments with compassion & clarity. Also, there’s a ghost! But it’s not exactly a pandemic novel or a ghost story… It’s about identity and belonging, about the parts of our past that might haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to live.
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver also is one of our greatest living writers– specifically in her attention to social issues. This retelling of Dickens’ David Copperfield is set in late 90s Appalachia and the advent of the opioid crisis. The novel is bleak (content warning: drug use and bad things happening to kids), but the narrator is so compelling and you’re rooting for him from the first line. We must understand our reality if we ever want to change it. Pair this book with Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe for some investigative journalism on the subject.
Books about the life of faith, wrestling with vocation, and finding community
Agatha of Little Neon, by Claire Luchette. A young nun struggles with her vocation when their parish goes broke and their small order is forced to move out. It’s about vocation and discernment and finding our place in the world. It’s about women’s rage (ugh, the patriarchy). It’s about all the ways we’re finding home and belonging.
Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. This little novella packs a POWERFUL punch— a story about compassion, kindness, hospitality, justice, and doing what is right no matter the cost. Set during Christmas in Ireland in 1985, a perfect holiday read.
Search, by Michelle Huneven. What seems like a simple story about a church’s search committee for a new minister, is actually somehow a real page turner! The relationships and power dynamics and organizational politics are so nuanced! I really cared about these people and their complicated decisions. Anyone who’s been on a committee or a group project will relate to this. Plus, the story is asking big questions about mid-life, vocation & career, friendship, community & connection, spirituality & religious practice. I could not stop talking about this book, and pushed it on everyone who would listen.
Books about art and friendship
Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer. A novel-in-letters, based on the real-life friendship of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell. Warm, poignant, reflective– captures the life of faith AND the life of the creative AND the creative life of faith.
The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Lee. After WW2, in a rural French village, two girls wrestle with their imaginations & ambitions, desires & dreams. They begin writing stories together— Fabienne is the true genius, although she cannot read or write, and Agnes is the recorder. When their stories are published, Agnes’s name is the one on the cover, which means she’s seen as the “child prodigy” and sent to finishing school in London (which she hates)… while Fabienne is stuck in their village (which she hates). Their relationship is, at times, beautiful, loving, loyal… but at other times, it’s toxic, manipulative, codependent. It’s fundamentally a story of complicated people in a complicated relationship with each other and it’s a coming-of-age story that highlights the increasingly shrinking borders of womanhood, the limited options available to girls-becoming-women.
Now Is Not The Time To Panic, by Kevin Wilson. It’s a story about two teenagers who make something together one summer and then that thing takes on a life of its own. We catch up with the characters many years later and get to see the way they’re making sense of the whole thing. The questions about art— what it is, what it’s for, why it matters— feel like the engine that pushes the book forward. One of my favorite audiobooks this year!
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. The story of young people coming of age in the 1990s, making video games in their early 20s & 30s—we mostly follow Sam & Sadie, frenemies from the smart-kid-circuit in LA, and then Marx joins their crew (Sam’s roommate at Harvard), and then Ant & Simon (partners in their growing gaming company). This is definitely a story about gamers and the games they make and play, but it’s also much more than that— it is a story of friendship & collaboration, creativity & art, despair & hope, and above all else it is about love (but not in the way you might think).
Classics that truly surprised & delighted me– even after two degrees in literature!
True Grit, by Charles Portis. Maddie’s nerves of steel and Rooster’s adventures are legendary– you’re left lingering with the question, “What is true grit?” Read the book, then watch the film (starring Hailey Steinfeld & Jeff Bridges). You won’t regret it!
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. A multi-generational family saga, interconnected perspectives, strong women, set in San Francisco– loved it all!
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Gorgeous writing from a master– can’t believe I had never read this before. A heroine for the ages!
Salvage The Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. The 2011 National Book Award winner for fiction and an undisputed modern classic. Fifteen-year-old Esch and her brothers Randall, Skeetah, and Junior live in Bois Sauvage, a Mississippi bayou town in the direct path of a hurricane they’ve started calling Katrina. The book is plotted over the 12 days leading up to and just after Hurricane Katrina. Each day is a tightly focused vignette, and the urgency in the narrative builds with every page. It’s such an of-the-moment story and such an ancient / archetypal story at the same time. Plus, beautiful, lyrical language! specific, evocative setting! compelling characters! urgent plot!
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. I read this with a group of fellow classics-lovers from the Novel Pairings podcast community– and this book which seemed, on the surface, to be entirely outside my usual tastes and preferences was actually one of my favorite reading experiences of the year. I can’t believe how much I cared about this rag-tag group of cowboys on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. My biggest literary surprise, and a new all-time favorite for me! Also, this book (and several other former Pulitzer Prize-winners that I read) really helped me name something about my reading taste— I love the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the focus on great writing about American life! I’m working on reading through the backlist of winners. So far, I’ve read 19– at least one from every decade!
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. A compulsively readable adventure story– and even though it dragged in the middle, it was surprisingly fast-paced for 1,000+ pages. Most folks think this is a book about justice (disguised as revenge?)– but, also, is this a book about reforming the justice system? I think so!
Essays that made me feel seen and changed my perspective– I highlighted a quote on every single page of these books!
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman. We all have limited time, and we can’t do it all, but that’s good news! So what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? I’ll for sure be re-reading this book in the new year for re-setting some intentions & values.
Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Death of a Dream, by Scott Erickson. a reflective and empowering discussion of what to do when your life hasn’t turned out the way you thought. Also, follow Scott on Instagram @scottthepainter.
Someone Other Than a Mother, by Erin Lane. Please at least read the table of contents of this book to identify things we should stop saying to/about non-mothers. These essays made me feel incredibly seen and generated some really helpful conversations about untangling womanhood from motherhood.
The Crane Wife, by CJ Hauser. This is “a portrait of the millennial as an adult woman” and I deeply resonated with it. I especially loved the way she used images from pop culture to narrate her life experience– this is exactly how my mind works and how I process my own experiences through stories.
I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet, by Shauna Niequist. I’ve loved Shauna’s work for a long time, so I’m biased, but this is a great book– a poignant, honest, hopeful reflection about being a lifelong learner and starting over in a new city.
The Book of Delights, by Ross Gay. An incredible celebration of joy and delight! Everyone should read this book and keep their own records of delight! I’ve started logging my own experiences with DELIGHT (hoping to share more on my blog next year). Also, Ross Gay’s new book, Inciting Joy, is on my Christmas list hint hint.
This is NOT a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch: the joy of loving something– anything– like your life depends on it, by Tabitha Carvan. I have not stopped thinking about this book! Carvan starts by sharing about her early days of motherhood, where she felt like she had slowly-but-surely lost her sense of self in the grueling season of caring for young children. One night, after the kids were asleep, she and her husband pressed play on BBC's Sherlock, and she shocked herself by becoming totally obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch. At first she felt ashamed of this obsession, but then she began to ask some serious questions about it. She deconstructs the idea of “guilty pleasures'' and explores the ways female desire and fandom isn’t treated as seriously as male desire and fandom. As Carvan explored her obsession, she realized that it wasn’t really about BC at all. It was about finally feeling passionate about something again at a point in her life when she had lost touch with her own identity and sense of self. This is a hilarious, heartfelt memoir about the way fan-obsessions and passions can lead the way to joy. What if we simply decide to follow our interests like we used to—unabashedly, audaciously, shamelessly?
Let me know if you have read any of these books, or if you plan to pick up any of them! I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading lately, and what resonates with you.