I read at least 54 books, both fiction and nonfiction, in 2022. I’m not great at keeping an exact count, mostly because I consider many of the books “work”—for research and for reviews—and don’t add them to my Goodreads page. The only stars I assign on Goodreads are five stars because I find it too difficult to dole out the lesser numbers. (After the fabulousness of five stars, how can I determine why a book rates four or three? And honestly, I wouldn’t give a book one or two stars because I don’t finish books I don’t like.)
Here are the eleven novels (all but two written by women) I read in 2022 (not all were published in 2022) that received five stars from me. They are not in the order I read them (but may be in the order that I love them and still think about them).
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. I rarely buy a book (especially in hardcover) before I’ve read a library copy. I made an exception here because I’d heard such glowing things about it, and because I found out our town finally got an independent bookstore and said bookstore had this novel in stock and I wanted to support said bookstore. I loved it. (The book, but also the store. Five stars to Bound to Happen Books, too.) I had a hard time putting the novel down to do the routine things of the day. Yet I also tried to stretch out reading it because I didn’t want this compelling multi-generational, history-laden story of a Black family to end.
Still Life by Sarah Winman. I loved this book so much for its wonderful story of love and beauty that I bought it as a gift for a friend. I also loved how Winman ignored the tropes of most of today’s love-in-the-time-of war stories to create something more authentic. Ulysses Temper, a soldier in Italy during World War II meets an art historian named Evelyn Skinner, and their lives unfold over the next forty years. (There’s also a talking parrot.) I will someday buy a copy of this book for myself.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. I’m a fan of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, and I ended up purchasing this book after I read the library copy. Lovely and heartbreaking, the story opens with a chance encounter in a Canadian forest between a young Englishman and a shadowy figure named Gaspery Roberts. It reminded me a bit of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, one of my favorite novels.
The Magician by Colm Tóibín. I picked this up on a whim from the New Books shelf at the library. I’ve read some of Tóibín’s other novels (The Master, Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary, and Nora Webster) but I didn’t really expect to be interested in a story about Thomas Mann. I was very wrong. I really admired how deftly Tóibín made Mann’s life relevant to contemporary issues.
There There by Tommy Orange. It took me a long time to get around to reading this bestselling Pulitzer finalist about Native Americans coming together at a pow-wow in Oakland. And it took me a long time to read this book because I would get such a strong sense of foreboding that I had to set it aside for weeks at a time before I could read more. So beautifully written and so very heart-wrenching.
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang. Also so beautifully written—a story about what happens to a young woman kidnapped in China in the late nineteenth century and sold into sexual slavery in San Francisco—with an ending that will gut you.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine. Set mostly in Depression-era Denver, the novel centers on Luz Lopez, who earns money reading tea leaves, coming to terms with her family’s past as she tries to carve out a good present and future for herself. Her brother, a snake charmer, is a great supporting character.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. I don’t usually read suspense, but since this was about all the complications that ensure when a novelist steals the plot from one of his student’s work in progress, I couldn’t resist. Korelitz is so, so good at building suspense while making everything very plausible and adding a touch of dark humor.
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont. In the 1920s, popular mystery writer Agatha Christie went missing. De Gramont’s novel imagines what led her to walk away from her family and how she was eventually found. The author manages an homage to Christie’s style without resorting to blatant pastiche.
Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark. I picked this up because I was intrigued to find that the main characters are elderly women. I found myself quickly drawn into the story of the meaning of friendship, family, and doing good in the world. It was a real bright spot in my 2022 reading.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to what is by now certainly a classic of American literature. A spare, deeply moving story of orphaned sisters struggling to stay together while they grow up.
Next up, the list of my favorite nonfiction books of 2022.