Favorite Books of 2022

Hello again!

Like I mentioned in my previous post, this has not been a good reading year for me; I only read about 50 books, which I realize isn’t exactly nothing, but it’s the least I’ve read since 2015, apparently. So I did not expect to be able to come up with a top 10, but I actually did so quite easily; apparently I managed to read quite a few bangers before I became illiterate partway through the year. So let’s get straight into it…

10. Broken Harbor by Tana French

I only started reading Tana French last year; I read the first three books in her Dublin Murder Squad series in 2021, and I read the next three this year. This was the highlight for me by a mile, and may actually be my favorite in the series overtaking The Likeness. I honestly didn’t expect a whole lot from this premise or choice of narrator, but the atmosphere in this book is eerie and terrifying and the mystery left me guessing until the end; I really adored it.

9. The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

Chelsea can rejoice; this was the year I finally started reading her favorite series. All I can is “started,” unfortunately; I had every intention in the world of continuing this series immediately after I finished the first book, but I think I read this in June which is about when I started struggling with reading, so unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards for me to keep going, but I’m hoping I can return to it in the new year. But anyway, back to The Game of Kings: rumors of Dorothy Dunnett’s dense prose have not been exaggerated, but this tale of 1500s Scottish political intrigue is so intricately crafted that it’s such a rewarding and stimulating read, and oddly gripping once you really get into it.

8. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Finalmente ho letto un libro da Elena Ferrante. I still haven’t read her Neapolitan Novels quartet, which I fully intend to, but this ended up being a great place to start with her. This is one of the most oppressive, claustrophobic books I’ve read; it made me want to crawl out of my skin, which I suppose is a compliment because I loved it and never wanted it to end. I thought the character work was astonishingly good for such a short novel, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s able to do in her longer works.

7. Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber

This was my Project Book for the year: it’s a 1000-page long essay collection that has an essay on every single Shakespeare play. I received it as a gift for my birthday so I started reading it in April, reading one essay a week, so I didn’t finish until the fall. This is the one thing that managed to keep me hooked even when I couldn’t concentrate on reading anything else. If you’re new here, I really like Shakespeare, and this was a great way to continue to engage with his works without performing them on Zoom every week as I had been doing for a couple of years previously. I found myself disagreeing with Garber on occasion, but that just made things more interesting, and more often than not, I really resonated with her insights, and there were a couple of passages that left me breathless with the way they reframed a simple element of a play that I hadn’t considered before.

6. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

It’s pretty much a rule of thumb by now that if I read an Emily St. John Mandel book, it’ll make my favorites of the year list. Sea of Tranquility is a sort of companion novel to The Glass Hotel, which is my favorite book of hers, so I adored all of the Glass Hotel tie-ins, but I also really loved what this book was doing as its own project. I think I read this in a single sitting, it was just that engrossing and immersive, and I thought Mandel really succeeded in accomplishing a lot in such a short space. Something about her writing style is pure magic.

5. Either/Or by Elif Batuman

The Idiot is probably one of my top ten favorite books published in the last decade, so its sequel Either/Or had a lot to live up to, and it really succeeded. I loved getting to spend more time with Selin, who has one of my favorite narrative voices probably ever, and I found the continuation of her narrative arc to be so effortlessly natural and satisfactory. I’m usually very anti-sequel on principle, especially with works like this which were originally conceived as stand-alones, but in this case, I felt fortunate that Batuman allowed us to read the next chapter of Selin’s journey.

4. Nightshift by Kiare Ladner

My favorite book of 2022 that was published in 2022 was this hidden gem that I’d love for more people to read: Nightshift chronicles the obsession that a young woman living in London develops with one of her coworkers. This book was both brutal and tender and its ruminations on female sexuality were some of the most insightful that I’ve read. In an oversaturated sea of disaster woman novels, this is one that I’d really encourage everyone to reach for.

3. The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

First and only male author on the list; I guess men deserve some rights. I watched the film adaptation of The Power of the Dog earlier this year and loved it so much that I felt compelled to pick up the book — kind of out of character since I’ve never seen a whole lot of appeal in westerns, but something about this story really got under my skin. The book cleared the high bar the film set; it deepens both the sense of creeping dread and the examination of power and masculinity and queerness. I really believe this is one of the lost masterpieces of 20th century American literature.

2. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

I’d been interested in reading Iris Murdoch for ages and I ended up being so glad that a bookclub finally gave me the push I needed to do so. I adored this. A common (understandable) bookclub complaint was that at around 500 densely-packed pages, this was too long, but I found myself in the minority in feeling like I could have spent another hundred pages with this narrator. This book was just so brilliantly crafted, so perfectly structured, that I felt the length suited this character with an over-inflated ego to a T. This book was both hysterical and sad and all of the Shakespeare references just made it even more of a delight. Just one of the most pleasant reading experiences I’ve had in a while. 2023 needs to be the year I read more Murdoch.

1. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I guess my reading year peaked before it even began; this was the first book I read in 2022 and it also happened to be the best. I hadn’t had the most auspicious start to my Sarah Waters journey — I’d already read The Night Watch and The Little Stranger, both of which I thought were fine but I loved neither, so I am very grateful that I decided third time might be a charm with Fingersmith. Even though it’s around 600 pages, and nothing about it really screams page-turner, I absolutely tore through this: the twists were unexpected and delightful and the setting and characters both came to life for me like nothing else has all year. The film adaptation, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, is also exceptional, but if you haven’t seen it already I’d really encourage you to read the book first. It’s worth it, I promise.

What was everyone’s favorite book they read in 2022? Also feel free to link me to your own best of 2022 blog posts! I will read them and reply to comments soon, either this afternoon or tomorrow. Hope everyone has a great New Year!


Most Disappointing Books of 2022

So… hi!

Been MIA for half a year, sorry about that. If you follow me on Twitter you will know that I am still very alive, but due to a number of circumstances, my year was absolute hell, and that sort of manifested in a total inability for me to concentrate on reading and writing. I really hope to be back more regularly in 2023 but I’m also not making any official resolutions to that end because I am trying to not give myself a hard time for not feeling up to any of this when it’s ultimately meant to be a hobby, not something that adds more stress to my life. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter if you are interested in hearing me be annoying about movies multiple times a day.

But I couldn’t let the year end without honoring this tradition, so I will be doing my two annual end of year blog posts. So without further ado… my most disappointing reads of 2022, out of the ~50 or so books I read:

5. Learwife by J.R. Thorpe

I think I read this in January of 2022 which feels like several lifetimes ago… but anyway, it definitely still deserves a mention here. King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play by a landslide but one that I find particularly challenging to take out of its original context, so I’m always interested to see how authors are going to tackle it in retellings, and the answer here was ultimately just: not well. For a project that endeavors to answer the age-old question about what happened to Lear’s wife, this book didn’t seem particularly interested in the source material, altering a number of details that are kind of critical to the text and not doing anything interesting to expand on the characters and themes present in the original. I also found the writing overwrought and all of the narrative beats incredibly predictable; I just didn’t enjoy spending time with this at all.

4. The Magician by Colm Tóibín

It had been a while since I read a book and thought ‘now what was the point of that?’ but that’s where The Magician left me. Essentially a fictional biography of the life of Thomas Mann, The Magician is a thorough excavation of Mann’s life that spares no details but leaves so much to be desired in the way of intrigue and forward-momentum. I found this novel to be lifeless and plodding and so lacking in narrative substance that I couldn’t help but to wonder, over and over, why Tóibín (who’s published both fiction and nonfiction) opted to write this as a fictional story instead of devoting this effort to an actual biography of Mann. I like Tóibín’s writing on a sentence-by-sentence level and have generally enjoyed him very much in the past, but this project was a miss for me.

3. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
(cannot remember the translation I read; it wasn’t the one pictured here)

I read The Magician paired with Death in Venice for a bookclub and I pretty much disliked them both equally. This was my first foray into Mann and I honestly doubt I’ll be returning in a hurry—while I did enjoy our bookclub talk on this novella’s themes, Mann’s actual writing and sentence structure was just a giant headache for me that I didn’t find nearly rewarding enough to be worth the effort.

2. The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

I’ve long been a Riley Sager apologist, typically holding the opinion that you can’t take his books too seriously, you should just try to sit back and enjoy the ride (I really enjoyed the much-maligned Survive the Night; I hear all the criticisms but at the end of the day I tore through it). The House Across the Lake was another matter entirely. This book wasn’t even entertaining, to start with, and to me that’s the biggest sin that Sager could commit; I can forgive a lot of nonsense in this genre if a story’s compelling enough, but this was a chore to get through. And then I found the main twist so stupid it almost defies comprehension, so, absolute shit reading experience from start to finish.

1. Sentence by Daniel Genis

In Sentence, Daniel Genis recounts the decade he spent in prison for armed robbery, centering his experience as an “over-educated” white man in US prison system, and treating the experiences of queer and non-white incarcerated people with downright distain. This whole book left such a bad taste in my mouth, which was only exacerbated by this author harassing me over my review nonstop for days on Goodreads, going as far as to insult the profile pictures of several of my friends, claiming they all have the same “ugly glasses”? Anyway. Good riddance to this book, which I will never speak on again after I post this.

So let me know what your worst reads of 2022 were, if you have a full blog post about it that I should check out (I haven’t looked at my WordPress reader in months and I find the prospect a little overwhelming at the minute if I am honest), or tell me something you’ve been up to while I’ve been gone. I will be back in the next day or two with my best books of 2022, which is a list that I’m actually very excited to share, because despite my mediocre year of reading overall, there were some absolute highlights that I’m looking forward to talking about.