“The Best Book I Read this Year”

  • December 27, 2022

A look back at our eclectic faves from 2022!

“The Best Book I Read this Year”

Sure, new books are great, but so are not-so-new books, old books, and every kind of book in between. Here are some of our contributors’ personal favorites from this past year. Some you’ve heard of; others, you probably haven’t…

The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees by Grace Pundyk. “I’d read another book about bees and honey and was so disappointed that I thought surely there was a much better book out there somewhere. There was — this one, a wonderful global travelog that inspired me to collect honeys from all over the world and host a sticky-but-fun honey-tasting party.” ~Randy Cepuch

“Pay to the order of ­­­_____” “The best book I read this year was my checkbook — rollicking fiction, perplexing mystery, and so, so many fantasies.” ~Kitty Kelley

Admit This to No One: Stories by Leslie Pietrzyk. “Anyone who has lived in Washington, DC, for more than a day will recognize (and recoil at, rejoice over, and ridicule) every character in this collection of short stories.” ~Cathy Alter

How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998 by Helen Garner. “Helen Garner is one of the most important voices in contemporary Australian literature because she never settles for easy answers to complicated problems. This is a riveting chronicle of the ‘draining attempt to be married’ to a man who sees her success as a threat to his own.” ~Amanda Holmes Duffy

The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family by Joshua Cohen. “There’s a lot going on in this slim novel — it’s a campus story, a comedy about reluctant hosts, and, from the vantage of an academic family in rural New York beset by the Netanyahu clan in the late 1950s, a satire on our contemporary, celebrity-driven politics. Bonus: It’s based somewhat on a true story about Harold Bloom.” ~Michael Maiello

Black Was the Ink by Michelle Coles. “A disgruntled adolescent time travels with an ancestor to learn more about his history.” Or Ambushed!: The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield by Gail Jarrow. “How and why a chief executive of four months is assassinated by a stalker.” ~David Bruce Smith

If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power. “I recently met Carla at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, and I purchased and read her book. It’s an exploration of Islam from the perspectives of a liberal Westerner in conversation with an Indian-educated, London-based sheikh, Akram Nadwi. Never was a moderate position more powerfully expressed, and rarely will an American audience be presented the spirit of islam (small ‘i’) with more sabr (patience) and fahum (understanding). An important book for those who wish to open their minds.” ~Y.S. Fing

Bookish People by Susan Coll. “This is an inside look at the character of — and characters who work at — an independent bookstore. What a relief from all the stressful news of the day! It’s laugh-out-loud funny. The characters are relatable and recognizable. It’s true-to-life fiction by the former events coordinator at the iconic Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest DC.” ~Eugene L. Meyer

The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. “It establishes with compelling facts, once and for all, how truly dangerous our 45th president was.” ~Talmage Boston

Oliver’s Travels by Clifford Garstang. “The novel is about Ollie, a young man and recent graduate trying to make his way in life. Not only does Ollie grapple with underemployment and family dysfunction, he also tries to uncover a secret that seems connected with his early identity, and increasingly, his questions about his sexuality. What I liked most about the novel is that it’s deeply rooted in philosophy and the existential journey.” ~Dorothy Reno

The Change by Kirsten Miller. “This clever, twisty feminist revenge thriller is the book I needed to read this year — and the one I keep recommending to other women.” ~Kristina Wright.

Tyrants on Twitter: Protecting Democracies from Information Warfare by David L. Sloss. “This is about how authoritarian states (namely, Russia and China) use social media to undermine elections in other countries. It’s written by a legal scholar who makes recommendations for how states can protect themselves from this sort of thing — such as by requiring social media companies to verify the country of origin of user accounts so that state-sponsored groups in Russia or China can’t set up fake accounts posing to be U.S. citizens voicing extremist views in order to stoke polarization or undermine Americans’ faith in the legitimacy of elections. (China is doing this a lot lately.)” ~Barb Howe

Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons by Jeremy Denk. “This lovely memoir by a top classical pianist is also an inspiration to aspiring musicians, an accessible guide to the structure of music, and a reminder of the power of humility in our life’s journey. And on a personal note, the author’s New Mexico roots held a special appeal for this reviewer from Albuquerque.” ~Elizabeth J. Moore

The Last Karankawas by Kimberly Garza. “This debut novel takes place in the complex, diverse immigrant and ‘born on the island’ community of Fish Village, Galveston, during devastating Hurricane Ike in 2008. It speaks to our present destabilized moment and this year marked by new disasters in Texas, including the massacre in the author’s hometown, Uvalde.” ~Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Mingo by W. Jeff Barnes. “Because my editor has a very particular set of skills that makes her a nightmare for people like me who refuse to choose just one best book of the year, the best book I read in 2022 is Mingo. Set during the coal wars of the early 1900s, it’s the tale of two brothers who are separated while young and grow up in different lives and develop different values. Barnes, a Richmond-based attorney, spins an engrossing tale that is difficult to put down and equally difficult to forget.” ~Drew Gallagher

Cat Brushing by Jane Campbell. “This is a debut collection of short stories about desire, desire, desire. Fiercely drawn women, most of a certain age, are at the center of each of these 13 stories. A few cats, too.” ~Caroline Bock

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad. “This is a joyful story about family, romance, and finding yourself — whoever that may be. With four stories in one, this book has something for everyone as the four Singh sisters find love (and more) over the course of a year at the inn they call home — which also just so happens to be the Most Romantic Inn in America!” ~Emma Carbone

The Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel. “I hadn’t read this trilogy before Mantel passed away in September, but her excellent works have been providing excellent company for me these last two months spent recovering from ‘flu-rona 2022.’ I’m just sad now that I’m getting to the conclusion because, I mean, we all know things don’t end well for Cromwell, right?” ~Julia Tagliere

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid. “It was the most thought-provoking 180 pages I’ve read in a long time. It makes you consider issues of inclusion, change, fear, bigotry, compassion, empathy, and more — as if that’s not enough.” ~C.B. Santore

The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth by Ben Rawlence. “In 2022, the weight of climate-crisis books felt almost crushing. But The Treeline’s exploration of the boreal forest offers tangible hope rather than platitudes or pure despair for a climate-changed future ‘in shared endeavor, in transformation, in meaningful work for the common good.’” ~Julie Dunlap

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. “A reminder that ALL of our entertainment comes with VERY significant costs borne by those who create it. I have to note, though, that this book requires serious trigger warnings.” ~Chris Rutledge

The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini; translated by Richard Dixon. “A fascinating fictional history of a legendary American bank, written in blank verse, originally in Italian. Who could do that? Stefano Massini, apparently. I listened on audio, which conveyed the compelling rhythm of the original & translation. Stuffed with weird and compelling characters who (Wikipedia says) are portrayed with remarkable accuracy.” ~David O. Stewart

Still Life by Sarah Winman. “When I huffily told my friend that I was putting our book club selection aside for the time being — and possibly forever — as it just wasn’t drawing me in, she insisted I give it another chance because she ‘couldn’t put it down.’ Well, I owe her big time, and go figure what was different the second time around (‘It’s not you, it’s me…’), because Still Life now has a secure place as one of my favorite books of all time.” ~Heidi Mastrogiovanni

Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris. “Two Black sisters in Jackson, Mississippi, barely survive the racial injustice of the 1960s. One works to ensure Black votes count per the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the other kills a white man. A terrifying and beautifully written tale about being Black in the Jim Crow South.” ~K.L. Romo

Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu; translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato. “This year, I couldn’t get enough of Moldy Strawberries. A short-story collection by the late Brazilian writer and activist Abreu, it felt like nothing else I’ve read. Written while Brazil was ruled by a military government, the stories make the case that the messiness of humanity is the best alternative to oppression’s brittle grasp.” ~Carr Harkrader

Lady Justice: Women, the Law, and the Battle to Save America by Dahlia Lithwick. “I mainlined this book written by Slate’s senior editor and former SCOTUS reporter. She relates her real-life stories of these fierce women in the law with the adrenaline drive of a thriller and the cinematic good-versus-evil intensity of the best classic courtroom dramas. It makes you want to join the fight.” ~Jenny Yacovissi

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson. “A wondrously playful tale of Jazz Age London and a fetching departure from form for this author known for stunning creative innovation with virtually every book.” ~Bob Duffy

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton. “Beaton’s graphic novel somehow captures the nuances of socioeconomic class, our relationship to fossil fuels, and the quietly dripping terror of sexual violence. Ducks is worlds away in tone from her comics (like Hark! A Vagrant), but its gritty beauty is unforgettable.” ~Gretchen Lida

My Grandfather’s Son By Clarence Thomas. “Most would agree that there is too much animus, even hatred, in our polity — it’s unhealthy.  So, here’s a good-news guarantee: Whatever your politics, whatever you think of the jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas, once you read his strong, poignant, beautiful memoir, you will never be able to hate him.” ~Mark Gamin  

Still Horse Crazy After All These Years by Jim Wofford. “Two-time Olympian and five-time national champion in the equestrian sport of three-day eventing, Wofford has written both an engaging memoir and an authoritative firsthand account of elite equestrian competition in the last three decades of the 20th century. Neither ghost-written nor ‘as told to,’ like so many celebrity memoirs, Still Horse Crazy also boasts a distinct authorial voice and a fine prose style.” ~Charles Caramello 

Billy Summers by Stephen King. “A surprise to me! Billy Summers is an engaging, at times poetic, contemporary noir about a burnt-out hitman and Iraqi War veteran who is pulling his last job and finds himself becoming a writer — and maybe a better human.” ~Liz Robelen

Twenty Stories by Jack Driscoll. “Set primarily in the sometimes bleak, sometimes stunning landscape of Northern Michigan, Driscoll’s stories capture the brutal and beautiful moments of lives lived in the heartland’s impoverished and shadowy margins.” ~Patricia Ann McNair 

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. “This novel of a fictional early-20th-century aviatrix and her artist twin brother is an ode to the beautiful immensity of our world and an appreciation of the small wonders. As Shipstead follows Marian’s life, the pages fly, and so did my heart — until it broke, and she remade it.” ~Carrie Callaghan

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. “The mark of masterful historical fiction? Its ability to make a long-ago place or time feel three-dimensional and immediate. That’s what Mitchell achieves in bringing Dejima — a manmade island in Nagasaki Harbor that was once Japan’s sole port open to foreigners — to life. It’s 1799, and the things a young Dutch East Indies Company clerk encounters on and off Dejima (from love and camaraderie to treachery, bloodshed, and an imperial infant-slaughtering cabal) paint a world that feels both wholly true and utterly fantastical.” ~Holly Smith

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