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Yet Another Book List

Well, it’s once again that time of year when I review all the “best of” lists and realize that I’ve only read a tiny fraction of the books on them. There are just SO MANY great books. I always enjoy reading all the year-end lists, though—whether they come from booksellers and reviewers or from colleagues and friends.

Making your own list is a wonderful way to reflect upon the previous year and consider the cumulative impact that individual titles have had on your thinking. Certainly, this practice for me is less about making a list of “bests” and more about a list of books that have enriched my life, challenged my views, or comforted me with the sheer beauty of their prose.

Interestingly, the books that I reviewed most highly had similar themes. I think these themes reflect the ideas I have been considering over the last year, and these books were one of the ways I found to further reflect upon them.

I feel like my best learning comes from identifying connections among ideas, so it was particularly fulfilling to see how many books seemed to be in conversation with each other on similar topics.

Here are the highlights of my 2022 year with an important caveat that 2022 is not yet complete, and I am in the middle of two amazing novels—Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver and The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell—that I cannot imagine will not make my list of favorites.

A second big caveat—I like to avoid the word “best” in year-end lists. The “best” books are the ones that YOU enjoy reading. While these were among my favorites, they may not be the right match for you. Read what you love, and never apologize for your reading taste!

Love is love is love

Love is love. It’s also complicated, messy, and hard. Many of the books I loved this year explored love in all its forms. Some commonalities of these love stories:

  • Romantic love is one facet of life but not a driver of life choices.  
  • Friendship, familial relationships, and satisfying careers are celebrated.  
  • There are many ways to create loving, meaningful relationships with others.  

Love Marriage by Monica Ali

Twenty-six year-old Yasmin Ghorami is engaged to marry a charming and perfectly suitable doctor, Joe Sangster. Yasmin grew up hearing that her parents’ marriage was a love marriage, a family narrative that shapes her identity and her beliefs about love and partnership. It’s not until Yasmin and Joe’s families meet and wedding planning commences that she realizes the cracks in her carefully constructed views.

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes

When Laurie Sassalyn returns to her Maine hometown to settle the estate of her Great Aunt Dot, she finds a beautifully crafted duck decoy hidden away near the bottom of a cedar chest. Intrigued by what it may reveal about her aunt’s life and loves, she teams up with her best friend and a former boyfriend (the town’s reference librarian!) to uncover its origin. This delightfully uplifting novel is about loving others by fully seeing and celebrating them for who they are.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Don’t let the title or the pink cover fool you. Lessons in Chemistry isn’t a traditional romance. The heroine’s love interest is science, and the happy ending is a world in which women have choices, respect, and (hopefully) a dog as loyal and helpful as Six-Thirty.

Guilt by Association

What does it mean to want to be good when we are often benefactors of practices that exploit our planet and its inhabitants? These are a couple of books that ask: who is complicit? What does restitution mean? Can we live, choose, or think differently for the good of the whole?

The Displacements by Bruce W. Holsinger

A first-ever category 6 hurricane is heading toward the Florida coast, and the Larsen-Hall family will be left in its wake. When their wealth and status are instantly gone, this family must learn to survive in a camp for displaced persons.

Complicities by Stacy D’Erasmo

At face value, the premise of this novel feels too familiar. Suzanne Flaherty leaves her husband after his financial crimes have left families, friends, and neighbors ruined. Suzanne retreats to a small working class coastal town in Massachusetts where she hopes she can rebuild her life. Then, a whale beaches on the beach, and Suzanne becomes somewhat obsessed. She seems to transfer her focus away from her culpability in the destruction of other’s lives onto this literal wreck in front of her. This novel is absorbing, strange, and mythical, and D’Erasmo’s writing about the whale may be some of the most beautiful, jarring prose I’ve read all year.

Revisiting 2020 in books

The year 2020 was a year that we have just begun to collectively process—novelists included. But if you’re going to revisit 2020, consider doing so with storytellers we can wholeheartedly trust to lead us on that journey. I began my year reading The Sentence by Louise Erdrich and read Strout’s Lucy by the Sea in late November, and what beautiful bookends!

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

In Minneapolis at the close of 2019, a small, independent bookstore is being haunted by the spirit of a former customer. The premise may sound a bit odd, but in the hands of Erdrich, this novel is a profound reflection on the original sins of our country and the reckoning that 2020 will bring.

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

The beloved Lucy Barton is back in Strout’s latest novel. Lucy and her ex-husband William leave New York to quarantine together in a cottage in coastal Maine. Strout captures beautifully the uncertainty and disbelief that accompanied the spring of 2020. Equally beautiful is the way that she renders the Quiet, the surprising human connections, and the clarity that resulted during the “great pause.”

Art endures

Does art matter when the world is on fire? These novels, along with many others of my favorites of the year, give a resounding yes. Creative expression has power beyond the artist’s imagination to incite both backlash and positive change.

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

I’m not sure that there’s anything else quite like a Kevin Wilson novel. As in most of his novels, I found myself thinking while reading his latest “I don’t really know where this is going, but I love it.” Frankie and Zeke are bored teenagers living in a small Tennessee town when they create a poster that quickly grows into something bigger than either could have imagined. This is such a loving nod to misfit teenagers everywhere as well as to those who create for the sake of creation alone.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Set in a near future that seems eerily accurate, Our Missing Hearts is the story 12-year-old Bird who is growing up in a “post-Crisis” United States that operates under PACT—the Preservation of American Culture and Traditions. In this world, books are dangerous, education is propaganda, and difference is distrusted. Becoming curious about his mother’s whereabouts, Bird seeks to understand why she left and finds answers in stories, poetry, and (of course) libraries.

There were so many more 5-star books for me this year. Here’s a full list of my favorites from 2022. Wishing you all shelves full of memorable reads in the coming year.

When you read a book, you enter a different world. But the act of reading does more than broaden our world-view; it creates empathy, and nurtures civility.