Year-end retrospectives can include any number of angles and focuses, and one of mine must include books read. In November, I completed my first semester of my MFA in Fiction. A large part of the program involves reading, and I’ve joked that grad school is a great excuse for spending time doing one of my favorite activities. Indeed, it gave me the opportunity to read a number of excellent books this year, including many I otherwise would not have encountered. Here are the top 10 books I read in 2022. Perhaps you’ll find a new or old favorite in this list as well.
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain
Curious about why a sad song could make her feel more alive than an upbeat one, the author of the bestselling Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking embarked on an exploration of how “a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain.” As a deeply-feeling, observant, and imaginative soul, I lean toward such a bittersweet tendency and have often wondered about my own emotional responses to music, nature, and beauty. Cain’s research helped me to understand and appreciate myself and my world in a deeper way.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
This book takes readers on a journey through the past, present, and future, and throughout Constantinople, Idaho, and an interstellar spaceship. It’s hard to summarize the book or give a succinct answer as to what it is about. Yet despite the seemingly disparate parts and unrelated characters, it all works—exquisitely. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a delight to read.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
A poor moneylender’s daughter who becomes the object of a Staryk lord’s desire for silver in this icy fantasy full of magic. I loved everything about this book, from the snow-covered settings to the way the women in the book determine their own worth and fight against their foes. Hooked on the author’s rich characterization and worldbuilding, I followed it up by reading her earlier book Uprooted, which has a similarly wrought world but not the degree of depth of Spinning Silver. I’ll be dipping into her Scholomance series in the coming months.
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
A mysterious girl shows up outside Joanna’s cabin claiming to have come from the stars. Little Ursa is bruised and barefooted, and as Joanna and her reclusive neighbor struggle to find the truth of her traceless identity, old secrets and scars in each of their lives begin to emerge. A tender, well-told story.
Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young
Taking place on a fictional island in the Pacific Northwest, this book is described as “A deeply atmospheric story about ancestral magic, an unsolved murder, and a second chance at true love.” The audiobook is well worth a listen, with a cast of narrators who take turns telling their version of what happened the night that Emery Blackwood’s best friend was found dead and her teenage love accused of murdering the girl. Full of feeling and well-developed characters.
The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
While Peng Shepherd’s books as individuals don’t necessarily rank in my favorite books of the year, discovering her as an author ranks high. Drawing from nuggets in the nooks and crannies of the world, such as mapmaking and a public art project, she crafts worlds and stories that are complex and sweeping, with depth, empathy, and vision. The Cartographers takes a little-known detail that cartographers used to incorporate into their maps as an invitation to create a literary map of her own making. The Book of M is uncanny in how it portrays a world gone mad after the appearance of a destructive global mystery (and it came out before the COVID-19 pandemic). The Future Library, set in Norway, is high on my TBR list for 2023.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
I first heard this book described as a love story like no other–in that the relationship between the two protagonists is hardly romantic, but rather a friendship as deep as one between lovers. The book documents Sam and Sadie’s friendship as it ebbs and flows through the decades, always stitched together through their love of playing and designing video games.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
In 2022, I studied a technique of character portraits in words, a study of a fictional person through the lens of a first-person narrator’s observations. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the unnamed narrator tells of his encounters with his neighbor Holly Golightly, and the ways she proves irresistible even if distant, to the people she encounters. I enjoyed this portrait-in-words for the story itself, as well as for observing Capote’s craft. (Several other books I read in 2022 and late 2021 that use this technique are Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.)
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
A coming-of-age story of a teenager who gets a summer job babysitting, only to find out that her employer is a psychologist who’s housing a rock star and his superstar wife for rehab at his home. I enjoyed Mary Jane’s first-person narration and the way she evolved over the summer as her surprise new friends showed her what it looked like to fall but rise again.
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
As much as I enjoy and have been impacted by books about the writing life (Bird by Bird, anyone?), I appreciated the practical step-by-step approach featured in this book. The parenthetical part of the subtitle is, Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere, and that says it all. Writing a novel takes countless hours, and I welcome any advice that helps me to spend that time well.
Those are the top 10 books I read in 2022. You can see my entire list of 42 books on Goodreads.
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