Having teased the listing season last week, before heading out for a family Thanksgiving trip, it seems fitting to kick it all off for real here on a chilly Sunday morning, while I sip my coffee and wait for the rest of the world to wake up. And given the early hour, it also seems fitting to start my annual “Best Of” series with “Books,” because I can write and post that one quietly, without having to refer to or link various video and audio sources as part of the process. I’m thoughtful that way.
As a bit of a refresher or background (depending on your exposure to my website), in January of 2019, I closed out all of my social media accounts and made an active commitment to read more books of substance, and less ephemeral drivel, than had been the case in then-recent years. I was most pleasantly surprised to see what an effective gambit that had been when I did my Best Books reports in 2020 and 2021, and that sense of pleasure and accomplishment continues this year. Objectively speaking, my life has felt far less stressed after I departed from the hateful and untrustworthy online worlds that our evil greed-head billionaire caste have built to make us all stupid in the name of share-holder equity. And I do truly believe that one of the best ways to fight the stupid (and the stupids) is to read great books filled with great ideas crafted by great writers.
As much as I enjoy the tactile sensation of receiving great ideas from “real” physical books, I must note with some chagrin that most of my 2022 reading took place with a Kindle in my hand. Which, if I’m fair about it, has actually been a good thing, because as much as I dislike and distrust a lot of the commercial big data operations, I have to admit that Amazon’s book algorithms are about the only ones that actually seem to get what I like, and make reasonably accurate recommendations as to what else I might then like next. No movie or music algorithm has managed to “get” me yet (No, Spotify, I will never, ever, ever like Van Morrison, no matter how many times you recommend him to me!), but Kindle somehow does, which I suppose is a good thing, and I have come to trust it more.
It has certainly re-shaped my reading in interesting ways, first and foremost by the fact that the vast majority of books I’ve read in 2022 were written by women, recommended to me by Amazon in what’s an apparently self-reinforcing feedback loop. While I’m not willing or able to craft some “male writing” vs “female writing” stereotypes that might explain why I’m choosing more of the latter over the former, I do have to say that I often note subtle differences in tone, tenor, and approach when I find myself reading books (especially novels) written by men of late. And I can also state categorically that I have had far more cases of starting and then abandoning books written by men in 2022 than has been the case for the female authors I’ve read. I put that all out there in the “for what it’s worth” department, not sure what to make of it, if anything, but interested in the phenomenon in any event.
I’ll also note before getting to the list that as I type this report, I find myself in one of my occasional periods of “Readers Block,” where I just don’t have anything compelling me in real time, right now, to pick up a book. This happens to me every so often, usually after months and months of voluminous consumption. I keep looking for something new to re-ignite my read module, but everything’s making me feel “ennhhhhh” right now. Which is fine, I guess. If I’m reading a book just because I feel like I should be reading a book, then reading has moved from act of pleasure to act of obligation. That said, I’ll need to find something to interest me before the year-end holidays, since we’ve got a lot of air travel coming up, and I will need good books to make that time pass less than painfully.
Okay, with those notes noted, here’s the list of my Top 40 Best Books of 2022, parsed into four categories (1) New English language novels, (2) New English language shorts, or collections thereof, (3) Novels from abroad which saw their first English translations in 2022, and (4) Non-fiction works of all stripes.
If that list of 40 books is too unwieldy, I have marked a total of ten titles/authors in bold at the tops of the sub-lists below. These are the books that I would most highly commend to you as the very, very best of 2022, in my experience; the remainder of the books in each list are alphabetical by author surname. Perhaps some of these works will move you too. Or perhaps some other literary thing will have rocked your world rigorously enough that you’d like to share a recommendation in the comments. Happy to hear from you, in either case!
BEST ENGLISH LANGUAGE NOVELS OF 2022:
- Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin
- Trust, Hernan Diaz
- Lapvona, Ottessa Moshfegh
- The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
- Mouth to Mouth, Antoine Wilson
- Checkout 19, Claire-Louise Bennett
- Disorientation, Elaine Hsieh Chou
- Hurricane Girl, Marcy Dermansky
- Anthem, Noah Hawley
- Pure Colour, Sheila Heti
- An Island, Karen Jennings
- Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel
- Very Cold People, Sarah Manguso
- The Fell, Sarah Moss
- How High We Go in the Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu
- Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
- The Immortal King Rao, Vauhini Vara
- The Doloriad, Missouri Williams
- This Might Hurt, Stephanie Wrobel
- City of Orange, David Yoon
BEST ENGLISH LANGUAGE SHORTS AND COLLECTIONS OF 2022:
- Heartbroke, Chelsea Bieker
- The English Understand Wool, Helen DeWitt
- Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, Kim Fu
- Thank You, Mr. Nixon, Gish Jen
- Shit Cassandra Saw, Gwen E. Kirby
BEST NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF 2022:
- Paradais, Fernanda Melchor
- Chilean Poet, Alejandro Zambra
- The Employees, Olga Ravn
- Carnality, Lina Wolff
- Diary of a Void, Emi Yagi
BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF 2022:
- The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman
- The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania and Mutiny in the South Pacific, Brandon Presser
- The Sound of the Machine: My Life in Kraftwerk and Beyond, Karl Bartos
- The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond, Chris Blackwell
- Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds, Thomas Halliday
- Hell’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, A Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier, Susan Jonusus
- River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, Candice Millard
- You Must Get Them All: The Fall on Record, Steve Pringle
- The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning, Ben Raines
- Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records, Jim Ruland