[Every year I post my favorite reads from the previous year on New Year’s Day. For those who don’t know, I started a reading blog this year, which allowed me to expand my ‘best of’ efforts quite a bit! The post below was originally posted on my reading blog on January 1, 2023.]
I’ve read a lot of truly wonderful books this year, and in an effort to spread the love to as many of them as possible, I’ve greatly expanded my ‘best of’ efforts this year:
- Top Reads, January – June 2022
- Top Reads, July – December 2022
- Bookish Superlatives, Part I
- Bookish Superlatives, Part II
But humans have ten fingers and ten toes and so we like our tens. So, I’ve decided to do the near impossible: a ranked list of my favorite ten books of the year. (How hard was it? I had fourteen books this year that I rated at 95 or above in my rating system.)
And so, counting down from number ten …
10. Marrying the Ketchups, Jennifer Close (2022)
This is a really wonderful book about family and the ties that bind. Over the course of three weeks in late 2016, three things happen to shake one surburban Chicago family: the death of the family patriarch, the Cubs winning the World Series, and the election of Donald Trump. Each of these events trickles down into the lives of the three cousins at the heart of this novel, who all find themselves back at the old family restaurant figuring out what comes next. The protagonists are far from perfect, but are all the more human for it. This book captures the anxieties and tensions of our present moment so well, with heart and a lot of humour. (Contemporary, Families, 2020s, Chicago, Political Polarization)
9. Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau (2022)
This is a wonderful coming of age story set in the upper middle class of Baltimore in the mid-1970s. It is both delightfully specific in its setting and universal in its themes of learning how to differentiate one’s own values from one’s parents’ ideas about the world. The protagonist, Mary Jane, gets a summer job nannying for a family that does not resemble her own WASPy background at all, and in the process learns that the world is a more complicated place than her parents want her to believe.
8. Home, Marilynne Robinson (2008)
This was sitting on my shelf for a long time and I’m so glad I finally got around to picking it up. This follows the stories of Jack, the newly returned to town, estranged son of a midwestern pastor, and Glory, his sister who moved home to care for their father. The events of this story occur simultaneously to those of the main plot of Gilead, for which Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. As wonderful as Gilead is, to me this felt like an even richer story, filled with even more depth and grace.
7.The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi (2022)
The novel begins with its hero Jamie losing his marketing job and resorting to doing food deliveries in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But his life takes a turn when he’s recruited to work for a mysterious non-profit dedicated to learning about and protecting a species of giant, dragon-like creatures on a parallel Earth. There is adventure, danger, and lots of banter — just a super fun story, well told.
6. Husband Material, Alexis Hall (2022)
Set two years after the events of Boyfriend Material (2020), this sequel follows Lucien and Oliver as they continue to navigate their relationship and insecurities, while juggling the changing dynamics and relationship statuses of their friend group. While the first book was primarily about Lucien’s ‘swing up’ arc, we find him here in a much healthier and mature place — a fact that never ceases to surprise him. For his part, Oliver is still in the process of questioning the assumptions of his ‘polite’ upbringing, but remains unsure of where exactly he’ll settle about it all. All of this gives the important conversations in the book an air of credibility; they are in fact reminiscent of the real conversations I have with my friends about queer culture, ‘the community’, heteronormativity, and ‘rainbow capitalism.’ Add in Lucien’s hilarious and newly self-aware narrative voice, and you’ve got a truly fantastic book.
5. First Time for Everything, Henry Fry (2022)
This is a profound and empathetic, but also at times very satirical, examination of contemporary queer and urban life. When we meet our hero, Danny, he’s sleepwalking through life, but when in short order he experiences shocks in his relationship, his living situation, and his work, he begins to experience panic attacks and is forced to wake up and finally figure out what it is he really wants out of life — not what his parents want, not what his urbane straight friends or the gay subculture tell him he should want, but what he wants. I loved this book for its kindhearted critique of contemporary life, its humour, and its charming — if very imperfect — lead.
4.The Incandescent Threads, Richard Zimler (2022)
This novel tells the story of two cousins, their once-large family’s sole survivors of the Holocaust. Through the eyes of their loved ones, we witness the very different lives they build for themselves ‘after’ what can never be truly left behind. One lives as a free spirit in Montreal, while the other, a tailor in New York City, becomes increasingly drawn into the family’s Kabbalist heritage, but each secretly wonders if the other has found the true path of holiness and joy. I can’t say enough about this book.
3. A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Becky Chambers (2022)
I loved the first book in this solarpunk duology, 2021’s A Psalm for the Wild-Built, to the extent that the fact that it wasn’t on my best of 2021 list is shocking to me, and seems like an legitimate accident rather than reflective of a change of heart since then. It was nothing short of magical, and its sequel this year was just as great. Set on a post-dystopian moon where people have set aside destructive technologies and learned to live well with nature, these books follow a simple tea monk — who travels from town to town offering tea and a listening ear — who encounters an emissary from the community of robots, who long ago gained sentience, broke from their human overlords, and retreated into the wilderness. These are simultaneously philosophical and joyous, quiet and insightful, and realistic and hopeful books. I don’t have words for how good they are.
2. Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel (2022)
This is the most recent read to make my list, and I’m so glad I was able to sneak it in. This is the pandemic book I didn’t know I wanted or needed. It follows the lives of characters across time and space, all of whom are touched by pandemics and a strange sensory experience of being in two places at once. It’s at once a great character study, a reflection on pandemics and our human responses to them, and a great, time-bending, science fiction story. I loved it!
1. Don’t Cry for Me, Daniel Black (2022)
According to this book’s preface, it was intended to be a fictional account of what the author wished his dad had been able to write to him before his death. It is a beautiful, deeply empathetic epistolary novel about a hard life, the Great Migration, Black fatherhood, love, social change, and the things that matter most. I loved this book and read it in a single afternoon.