A year of reading. To be honest, it has looked pretty different from how I envisioned it at the beginning of 2022. One of my goals for the year was to read more, and while this sounds ridiculously vague, I also knew it boiled down to one thing: TIME. I wanted to find ways to commit more time to reading.
Was I successful in this? In some ways yes, and in some ways no. I read less books than I had hoped to get to, although it was still a couple more than last year.
There were definitely some setbacks to my reading this year. I read a lot more “meh” books. And while there were definitely some books I put down, there were also probably several more that I powered through when I should have abandoned them.
On the plus side though, I did find some quiet literary fiction I loved. I felt my love for it come back a bit last year, but this year there were several books that made me feel like the reader I used to be. And now, with the way the pandemic knocked everything sideways including people’s reading lives, I get to pair the books I started reading more of then (romance, narrative non-fiction) with the quieter books I’ve always loved.
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There’s a book for every mood, is really the lesson here I think.
So here are are my favorite reads of 2022. And to be honest, they were difficult to decide on. For the most part, there was very little margin between my five-star and four-and-a-half star books.
Ask me on a different day and this list could look completely different. While there are certain books that would most definitely remain, there are some books that might be swapped out. Would I include This Time Tomorrow instead of Trespasses? Funny You Should Ask instead of Ask Again, Yes? It’s hard to draw a line at 10 books, but as I’m typing this at the end of December, this list is where I have ended up.
10 Favorite Books of 2022
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
It took me awhile to get to my first five star read of 2022, but when I finally did, it felt like coming home. It’s that quiet literary fiction that I usually love but struggled with last year. In The Swimmers I also especially appreciated the subject matter, since I’m an amateur swimmer. Reading about the people you see at the pool but rarely talk to but also feel a bond with felt so familiar. This book was unlike anything I had ever read before. The first half focuses on a group of swimmers who have to grapple with what to do when a crack appears at the bottom of their pool. The second half then follows one of those swimmers, Alice, as she struggles with dementia. This book was quiet and sparse, and the prose is unique but also fully approachable. I was starting to worry about my reading life when I picked this up in early spring of 2022, and I was so glad when I found it and loved it so very much.
Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
When I first picked up this book I didn’t expect that it was going to end up on my favorites list. I knew I would enjoy it; I mean, it’s a Kerry Winfrey rom-com. But besides being just a delight to read, this book contains so much more too. Teddy has been working in a toy shop when her boyfriend, who she is just sure is going to propose, breaks up with her and clearly doesn’t understand why she would be satisfied working at a toy shop. Meanwhile Everett is a children’s television host looking for the next step in his career. Teddy, on a whim, writes a letter to Everett, whose show she has found comforting during her difficult break-up, and they strike up a friendship. Besides just being a warm hug of a book, I really appreciated that this book managed to balance being a rom-com with having a woman searching for some answers in her life, and yet it didn’t make Everett the solution to her life problems. This book is an ultimate comfort read.
I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working by Shauna Niequist
I’ve long enjoyed Shauna Niequist’s books, but I think this one was by far my favorite. I read it on our trip to Scandinavia this summer and could hardly put it down on our train between Bergen and Oslo. Niequist used to write a lot about home and community, but this book reflects on what happens when her community kind of falls apart and her extended family goes into crisis. The resulting decision she and her husband made? Move to New York to pursue new dreams. This book was all about how the move helped to heal them and reexamine their old ways of thinking about life. This book was also part love-letter to New York, and even though I had just been there on a whirlwind trip, reading this book made me want to go back. This book was a quick read with short chapters, and at times it felt like I was highlighting the entire book with quotes I wanted to remember.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
I really loved this book about two dysfunctional families who live next door to each other. They are, of course, dysfunctional in their own ways, and when tragedy strikes, their lives diverge. But the two kids, Kate and Peter, had been best friends and eventually that bond brings the families back together in unexpected ways. This book was solid all the way through, but the ending really pushed it into five-star territory for me. It is full of grace and forgiveness and is all about looking around at your life and recognizing the goodness, and how even tragedy can bring you into something redemptive and beautiful.
The River by Peter Heller
Wynn and Jack are having the adventure of a lifetime canoeing together down a river. But when they spot smoke in the distance, they realize their trip is suddenly going to take a turn for the worse. What’s more is that they meet a couple on the river that brings trouble. This book is a wild wide full of wilderness adventure; but it’s also a deep reflection on friendship and nature. And the ending? Oh man. I’m still not sure I’m completely over it. I definitely want to pick up the sequel (The Guide) soon, but I loved this book so much I had to just let it sit in my brain on its own for awhile.
I read this book as an audiobook, but I loved it so much I still really want to get a physical copy of it so I can re-read it and underline the parts that I loved. (Although it was also a fantastic audiobook experience.) Here, John Green reflects on all kinds of human phenomenon as well as how we, as humans, reflect on the earth. There are essays about everything from sunsets to Piggly Wiggly to Super Mario Kart to velociraptors. Some of it is funny, some of it is deeply meaningful, all of it is thoroughly enjoyable. I found this book extremely comforting, even in its considering of tragic events and things like the pandemic. But this book made me feel less alone in so many things that I feel.
You Have a Friend in 10A: Stories by Maggie Shipstead
I think I’ve made the call that Maggie Shipstead is my favorite living writer. I’ve read every one of her books and there has never been one that I am disappointed in. Her novel Great Circle was easily in my top three reads from last year. Shipstead has that way of writing where you just want to keep reading her sentences because every single one feels like a gem, and you want to go wherever it is going. These stories include everything from cowboys to colonists to Olympic athletes. There honestly wasn’t a single weak story in this bunch (although I definitely had some favorites) and I am definitely anxiously awaiting for news of when another Maggie Shipstead book might come out.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
This is probably THE book I saw the most on social media this year. And while so often books won’t live up to the hype, this one did for me. Elizabeth Zott is a chemist in 1950s California, trying to make a scientific name for herself while dealing with constant misogyny. Then she meets Calvin, and although she has no interest in marriage, she has truly met a kindred spirit and it changes the course of her life. This is a book where truly tragic stuff happens, but it manages to never be entirely heavy. And while it’s not at all a romance or even as fluffy of a book as it’s cover makes it out to be, it is still a lot of fun. What I truly loved about this book is that it managed to balance both feminist rage with whimsical optimism, and I’m not sure I’ve ever ready anything that does that quite so well.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
I listened to Firekeeper’s Daughter as an audiobook and GOODNESS am I glad I did because it is truly fantastic in that format. Daunis Fontaine finds herself torn between her two worlds: her mother’s world as a white woman and her father’s family on their Ojibwe reservation in northern Michigan. Lately, her life has been full of tragedy: her uncle died from a drug overdose and her grandmother is in the hospital. Then things get even worse when her best friend is killed and Daunis finds herself wrapped up in a meth investigation with local FBI agents. But what does it actually mean to protect her community? This book is fast-paced but also thought-provoking, and I learned so much about Ojibwe culture. It’s just all fantastic. (Although definitely look up content warnings for this one if you’re worried. I did fine as a pretty sensitive reader though.)
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
This is a quiet book I read in November, but man has it stuck with me since then. It’s set in 1970s Northern Ireland, during The Troubles, which is a subject I’ve loved reading about ever since Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing. Here, Cushla lives with her alcoholic mother, teaches school, and fills in at the family bar. She’s also a Catholic, and this proves to be a problem when she begins an affair with a married Protestant man several years older than she is. Meanwhile, she’s also trying to help the family of one of her students who have come under attack in various ways from the community. This is a slow burn of a book, but it burns hot at the end, and I still find myself thinking about these characters and their situations from time to time.