Editor’s note: This was a big year for books. As the 2022 comes to an end, we asked books writers for their favorite titles from the past 12 months.
OK, so the book I spent the most time with this year is the one that I’m trying to write, and the absolute best book by someone else that I read this year was Matt Bell’s “Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel In Three Drafts,” which I recommend to anyone who, like me, is happily struggling with a fiction project.
Because I was on leave for six months this year, I didn’t read as many brand-new books as I normally do. But here are three that thrilled and inspired me in 2022.
By Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, $29)
I didn’t think I liked reading dystopian novels — and then I read Ng’s latest, an absolutely devastating tale of a long-separated mother and her young son, living during an authoritarian regime in which citizens are required to “espouse American values.” Heartbreaking, beautifully written and unforgettable — and ultimately a celebration of the power of poetry and storytelling.
By Hernan Diaz (Riverhead Books, $28)
I spent way too much time while on leave distracted by this book, which has the cleverest structure I’ve seen in some time. Its first is a seemingly conventional, Edith Wharton-ish novel of an old-money New Yorker, set in the late 19th century; then it’s followed by three entirely different narratives that reflect, refract, and illuminate the first, in ways entirely unexpected. Read it now, before the HBO limited series starring Kate Winslet comes out, and let its surprises envelope you.
By Tom Perrotta (Scribner, $27)
In this sequel to his 1998 novel-turned-movie “Election,” the warmhearted Perrotta performs a literary miracle: he brings back a character we last saw as a striving teen, and makes her both entirely believable and deeply sympathetic. Now in her 40s, Tracy is still striving, still bitter, still believing that the world isn’t giving her what she deserves. But Perotta lets his love for her, and all his characters, shine through. I loved hearing Tracy’s voice again, and found myself rooting hard for her to finally win. (And yes, Reese Witherspoon is set to play her again.)
— Moira Macdonald
By Zoe Thorogood (Image Comics, $12.99)
Promising young cartoonist Zoe Thorogood has the best night of her life at a comics convention when one of her heroes offhandedly (maybe jokingly?) refers to her as “the future of comics.” Soon after, Thorogood begins to slide into a deep depression that imperils her art and her life. Thorogood’s graphic memoir about her journey with depression is also a masterful formalist investigation of comics storytelling and a meta-exploration of memoir narratives. She’s a funny, wise and self-aware narrator — and yes, she just may be the future of comics.
By A.M. Homes (Viking, $28)
Very few novels feel as timely as A.M. Homes’ “The Unfolding.” The story begins in languid Franzenesque fashion, with a wealthy white American family fracturing into disparate narratives at John McCain’s ill-fated election night party in 2008, but Homes slyly uses her characters to investigate our current political landscape. If you’ve spent the past two years trying to figure out how seemingly ordinary Americans transformed from patriotic citizens to Congress-storming insurrectionists, Homes’ dazzling portrait of American unrest offers as close to a coherent answer as possible.
By Jon Mooallem (Random House, $28)
From his thoughtful journalism to his substantive celebrity profiles to his compelling historical narratives, Bainbridge Island’s Jon Mooaellem has proven time and again to be one of the finest writers of nonfiction in Washington state. “Serious Face,” Mooallem’s latest, collects 13 pieces about subjects ranging from wildfires to bird breeding to hospice care to the difficulty of interviewing screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in the middle of pandemic-era lockdowns. Though topics vary wildly from piece to piece, Mooallem’s clear eyes and his generous heart for his subjects are the unifying theme here.
— Paul Constant
By Jennette McCurdy (Simon & Schuster, $27.99)
Jennette McCurdy’s touching yet humorous memoir is undoubtedly the book that broke the internet, or more accurately, disrupted the publishing and pop culture world in 2022. Selling out both online and in stores within 24 hours of its release, the sales numbers, combined with the book’s controversial title and content — McCurdy exposes the toxic relationship she had with her mother and the nefarious behind-the-scenes ongoings of one of Nickelodeon’s top TV show creators — made “I’m Glad My Mom Died” impossible to escape in the media. I was drawn to the book for all those reasons, but also because (I’m showing my age here) I grew up watching McCurdy in her breakout role as Sam on “iCarly.” Fully living up to the hype, “I’m Glad My Mom Died” stayed with me long after the final page. It’s simultaneously uncomfortable and un-put-downable; whether you’re a longtime fan of McCurdy or just discovering who she is, this is not a book to miss.
By Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf, $28)
Every once in a while, a book comes along and engulfs you before you even know what hit you. That happened to me with Gabrielle Zevin’s “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.” Stuck in a reading funk, I picked up the novel — a story about two lifelong friends who launch a video game company together — to simply nerd out a little bit. But it turned out to be much more profound than I anticipated, touching on intimacy, love, loss, fame, failure, and the push and push of long-lasting relationships that must learn to grow together or ultimately fall apart. In many ways, it reminded me of another one of my favorite books, “A Little Life,” but a lot less intense and more digestible.
By Rick Emerson (BenBella Books, $26.95)
I know we’re on the topic of best books from 2022, but I want to step into the time machine for a minute: an adolescent girl (spoiler alert, it’s me) is browsing the nonfiction section of the public library when she stumbles across a book titled “Go Ask Alice.” Its author is anonymous and, through diary entries, tells the tale of a teenage girl’s descent into the land of drugs. “Go Ask Alice” resonated with me, and it was a book I returned to repeatedly throughout my life. But then, this year, upon discovering Rick Emerson’s “Unmask Alice,” my world was rocked upside down. “Go Ask Alice” is not, in fact, the memoir of a teenage drug addict and, instead, a fictional work written by a woman named Beatrice Sparks, who had a considerable hand in the onset of the satanic panic. But I’ll let Emerson explain the rest …
— Jordan Snowden
By Chelsea Martin (Soft Skull, $26)
Joey, an art student in San Francisco, is assigned to make a self-portrait. For reasons unknown even to her, she decides she will remake a film she has never seen, Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.” Despite the clearly promising intellectual conception of this project, Joey can’t quite get a grip on it. She is met with daily distractions from a life she has tried to distance herself from, from a family that occupies a world of chaos, addiction and poverty unimaginable to most of her affluent classmates. “Tell Me I’m An Artist” is something of a Rorschach test. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a book about art-making, impostor syndrome, mother-daughter relationships, college life or generational poverty. Of course, it is all of these things at once because life’s problems rarely occur on a single plane. To me, this is the great contemporary American novel about class. Martin’s debut captures the often unconsidered ways that class will shape a life you’ve convinced yourself in charge of. “Tell Me” also does that magic thing that only the greatest of fiction can do: It makes you think that maybe art can save you.
By Lucy Ives (Graywolf Press, $18)
The framing narrative of “Life is Everywhere” is this: It’s November 2014 and Erin Adamo, a grad student studying English, is locked out of her New York City apartment, so she retreats to the library of her university. In her bag are two of her own unfinished novels, a monograph written by a professor embroiled in a sex scandal with a student (duh), the academic writing of another professor and a power bill in the name of her philandering husband. These distinct works (sans bill) become the conceptually brilliant polyphonic novel that gradually reveals the life of the protagonist through her autofiction, her notes, and many digressions. Lucy Ives is a literary shape-shifter. She also wrote my favorite book about academia, “Loudermilk,” which also contains (to a lesser extent) a Russian nesting doll of narratives all written by Ives. What I love about her work is the way that her narratives both crowd each other out and assemble themselves into a jigsaw whole.
— Emma Levy
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