Updated: Jan 1
I hesitate to say "best" because that's all subjective, but here's the books I remember most from this year. A caveat: some of them may be 2021 releases. I read them in 2022.
I only occasionally read non-fiction, and when I do, it's usually history, politics, sociology. This book was none of those things, and probably isn't strictly classified as non-fiction even though it describes events that did occur. The New York Times describes it as "part memoir, part literary true crime." Whatever you call it, Tell Me Everything by Erika Krouse is my Favorite True Story of 2022.
It begins: "I became a private investigator because of my face. It's an ordinary-looking face, but if I ask 'How are you?' sometimes people start crying. 'I'm getting a divorce,' they say 'He ended our marriage by text.' Or 'I was just diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease.' Or a man grips a packet of peas in the frozen foods aisle, and asks, 'How do you cook these? My wife died last month'." With a beginning like that, it was impossible not to keep reading. And though it was about a very difficult subject (a culture of rape covered up at a university, all for the sake of football), it's about more than that. It was also about a woman finding a higher purpose for a very specific and unusual skill—persuading people to tell her "everything."
The debut novels in 2022 were very strong so I'm going to cheat a little. I can't pick one, so I'm going to categorize them differently.
By far, my Favorite Literary Novel was Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley.
Like Tell Me Everything, it describes events that actually happened but in this book, it was fictionalized. Written by Oakland's former poet laureate, it tackles issues and events that most of us would rather believe couldn't occur. Sadly, they did. But as salacious as the details of the story are, what was most impressive was how intelligently the writer (who was only 17 when she wrote it) handled it. She focused on the main character's interior—how she felt, what motivated her, how she saw the world. And it was kind of staggering how much insight she brought. I can tell you one thing, Leila Mottley is an old soul. Not to mention one of the most lyrical "new writers" I've ever read.
Hands down, my Favorite Mystery/Thriller of 2022 was Blacktop Wasteland by SA Cosby
This guy ... lemme tell you. His plots are absorbing, but by far what makes him to all-around standout author of the year is his portrayal of people living on the fringes. The rural poor and working class, many of them misfits, making bad choices because good ones don't often present themselves. Behind all the breakneck speed action and colorful characters is an intimate knowledge of a world and people most of America have never met, and may not even know exist. And it isn't just that he writes about them, it's the way he does it—without judgment, and with a keen understanding of who they are. His work has undoubtedly set a new standard. I'm excited to read more of it.
Hmm. How to classify this one. It's literary for sure, but also magical realism. So let's go with that. My Favorite Magical Realism novel of 2022 is Hell of a Book by Jason Mott.
I love it when writers are not bound by anything other than their own imagination. When they produce something that defies comparison. Hell of a Book was that for me. I LOVED it. I started out reading it the way most of us start a book, trying to situate ourselves, and figure out what it's asking of us—will it be humorous? Poignant? Shocking? This one was all of those things, and very early on, demanded that I abandon all effort to categorize it as this, rather than that. It feels like THE book. You know that one an author produces that is a culmination of all the lessons they've learned about themselves and the world and their creativity. I finished it as an ARC and immediately bought it for my library at home. Definitely a keeper. And ... unsurprisingly, it won the National Book Award (2021).
Last, but definitely not least. This was my Favorite Debut Novel of 2022—Post-Traumatic by Chantal Johnson.
In this one we meet Vivian, a high-functioning woman living with post-traumatic stress from a childhood that was marked by unpredictable, unreliable and abusive adults, and only one thing was certain: no one was going to protect her. No surprise then that Vivian is an anxious, unhappy young woman, who struggles with various self-destructive impulses, including persisting in having a relationship with her thoroughly dysfunctional family. I'll be honest, you will definitely not like this book if internal monologue favored over external action isn't your thing. But it's my sweet spot in reading. What people do isn't nearly as interesting to me as understanding why they do it. This book offered that in spades, giving us insights into Vivian that even she didn't have. Stellar work. I hope this isn't a sudden and never-to-be-repeated flash of genius. I'd love to see more from Chantal V. Johnson.
So that's my Top 5 of 2022. Books that stuck with me and resonated for reasons I can't always eloquently explain. 2023's books are around the corner. Can't wait!
Happy Reading, and Happy New Year!