The Books I Loved in 2022
Joy, Satisfaction, and Tenderness In this Year's Favorite Books
Now that we are near the end of 2022, it is time to share with everyone my favorite books that I have read over the past year. As of this posting, I have read 40 books since the beginning of January, and the selections I present here are books that are new to me and were not necessarily released in the last 12 months. (I have only one book left that I am currently reading through December, and I will not be done with it until 2023.)
The criteria for choosing my favorite books are that they are well written, have an intriguing story that feeds my curiosity, are memorable, and have a strong dose of whimsy—which means that there has to be something about the story that is truly unique, poetic, or profound that elevates it. I love books in which authors take big risks in their narratives and have the confidence and prowess to pull them off.
So here now are my selections for my favorite works of fiction in 2022:
At the top of the heap are two books that would likely top the list of any year. They are both so good and engrossing that I could not decide which one is better. It does not help that they are COMPLETELY different from each other.
FAVORITE BOOK OF 2022: A Tie Between The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Project Hail Mary
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
I found this book at my local library. The story begins when an eight-year-old girl discovers something unique about herself on her birthday. Her mom makes her a lemon cake, and the flavor she experiences is not the sweet and fluffy delight that was intended. Instead, she tastes something unpleasant, and in this case, it is the interior sorrow and frustration of the person who made it. She begins to understand that she can distinguish these kinds of emotions in all foods, but her journey of discovering this natural ability is fraught with confusion and dismay. Not to give anything away, but on top of what she is going through, there is a separate, perplexing mystery that drives much of the narrative through the rest of the book.
From a technical standpoint, what struck me most about this novel was the self-assurance of the writing. This story is as graceful as it is complex, and the writing hits every note and nuance with fullness and understated elegance. What I will remember most about it was the deep tenderness that was conveyed between the characters. Mundane moments in a small family’s daily life are lifted into lofty, poetic, and heart-swelling heights. This book and its sweet tenderness slayed me, and I was not ready. Sigh.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
My friend and fellow avid reader Andrew recommended this book, and I cannot thank him enough for having such impeccable taste.
I cannot remember a time when a book made me feel as joyful as this one. This book is diabolical in the sense that along with being a super-geeky, outer space, end-of-the-world, science fiction adventure and having a dual comedic and dramatic arc, it is a richly beautiful story about friendship. And MY GOODNESS what a deeply satisfying, mind-boggling, fun, and glorious story it is! This book is a stellar achievement in being all things to all people while not compromising a shred of its integrity.
I could not put it down, and I adored both of the main characters. I will not give you any plot points because I cannot in good conscience give anything away. I went in barely knowing anything about it, and it totally knocked my socks off! It stressed me out, made me laugh out loud, grossed me out, made me smile, and made me want to reach out to all of my closest friends. If this book was a person, I would hug it and love on it so hard. This novel is special and rare.
HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR FICTION
I would HIGHLY recommend any of the following books:
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
On an otherwise ordinary day, an alarmingly unusual sequence of events unfolds and brings the lives of multiple strangers together in a most peculiar way. This book kept me guessing, and it has a few memorable characters. Compassion might be a good word to apply to this book—by showing how it can bloom in unlikely places.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
Witty, irreverent, funny, and endearing, the “Guncle” in this book, or the gay uncle as it were, nervously takes in his young niece and nephew during the summer after their mother dies. He surprises himself with the capacity for love he never knew he could give to these kids. He does not baby them and heaps on a whole lot of honesty and tough, but tender, love. There are traces of each of the Golden Girls in this gay uncle, and I love him for it.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Set in a sleepy little town on the banks of the Puget Sound in Washington state, there is an impossibly sad mystery that haunts and grounds this novel’s story, but even more noteworthy is how this mystery is resolved through an unlikely pairing. Two of the main characters in this book are an elderly woman who works as a janitor at the local aquarium and a giant Pacific octopus. You read that right—A GIANT PACIFIC OCTOPUS! Inexplicably, a friendship grows between these two characters, and truths are eventually revealed. I cannot give away anything more. This was another find at my library, and when I read that an octopus was involved, I snatched it up right away. This book is written well—simultaneously warmhearted and cold-blooded in all the best ways.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
This book is not easy to read, but it is nonetheless compelling. Set in South Korea, the fireworks begin when a housewife suddenly decides to become a strict vegetarian. What disturbingly happens as a result and the heart-shattering currents that run deep underneath give this book heft and power. At a certain point near the end of the novel, it fully reveals a central piece to the puzzle of the story, and the effect is sobering and immensely sad. Some books are good because they make the reader feel something real, and this one certainly did.
Bonus Recommendation: The Maid by Nita Prose
Quiet by Susan Cain
This book takes a deep dive into what it is like to be introverted. It resonated with me because I have been introverted all of my life. Despite being a performer and an active artist engaged with the world, I can spend many hours and days by myself. I thrive on the peacefulness and opportunities for contemplation that being alone affords me. This book put into words a lot of what I have always felt about myself, and it made me feel seen. A book that can do that is one worth reading and sharing.
HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR NONFICTION
The Incomplete Book of Running by Peter Sagal
If you are a fan of Peter Sagal, the host of the weekly game show on NPR called “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me” (as I am), then you will enjoy this book. Peter Sagal writes just like he talks on his show. You get the clearheaded wittiness, but as an added bonus, you also read about how running helped him cope with depression and the aftermath of his divorce from the mother of his children. Sagal is vulnerable and open-hearted in this funny memoir. I am an even bigger fan of his after having read it.
How to Make Work Not Suck by Carina Maggar and Illustrations by Simon Landrein
If you work in an office or have a designated workspace, you should keep this adorable book on hand somewhere nearby for quick reference. While the colorful and beautifully odd illustrations alone will make you smile and chuckle, this book is full of wisdom and insights about, well, how to make work not suck. It covers a broad range of work-related scenarios, and it does so with a tinge of sarcasm. This is another book that gave me joy as I read it, and I suppose that’s the whole point—to find joy, or something like it, in what you do for a living.
Bonus Recommendation: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I hope you try out any of these books and enjoy them as I have. One of my favorite things in the world (besides cuddling with my cat, ice cream, Ricola cough drops —original flavor only—playing piano, riding my bicycle, my partner’s glorious garden, and my mom’s Filipino cooking) is finding a fantastically wonderful book to read.
2022 has had some absolute gems. I hope to unearth more next year.
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