2022 in books

I was going to make this an annual thing after doing it in 2020, but then I forgot to do it in 2021, but this year I learned about the Costa Book Award and was reinvigorated! The article where I learned about this prize describes the award as “[pitting] novels, children’s books, biographies, and poetry against one another… controversially for Britain’s more high-minded critics.” The prize’s inventor was inspired by Britain’s Crufts dog show.

I was devastated to learn just now, upon Googling the Costa Book Award — which, yes, is awarded by Costa, the UK’s answer to Starbucks — that it was abruptly killed in 2022. Like just about everything, amirite?

Naturally, this is my jam. So in honor of the late, great Costa Book Award, let me pit a bunch of random books that I read this year against one another by creating some arbitrary categories that are an offensive to the ontological sciences.

Actual favorite books of 2022 but I probably won’t recommend them to most people because I don’t want you to think I’m a weirdo and I’ve been alive long enough at this point to have learned that lesson

  • There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job (Kikuko Tsumura): I just want a career counselor who can get me a job riding a golf cart around a forest, please.
  • To Paradise (Hanya Yanigahara): Okay, so have we all spent the past several years dissecting what it means that we enjoyed A Little Life, which was actually just hundreds of pages of torture porn? Because I’ve come to the conclusion that I just think Hanya Yanigahara is incredibly good at the craft of writing. You know how you say you could listen to someone read the phone book? I would listen to Hanya Yanigahara write the phone book. Which is to say that, yes, this was a tome, but so is a phone book.
  • Geek Love (Katherine Dunn): I described this on Instagram as “The Night Circus on acid” and now I’m worried that everyone I know who liked The Night Circus is going to read it. Guys, don’t read this. You’re not ready.
  • The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing): Okay, I did skim some parts of this, but other parts of it were somehow definitely excerpted from my diary in 2014 even though it was published in 1962???
  • The Copenhagen Trilogy (Tove Ditlevsen): Friends, don’t read this just because I said I liked it and I lived in Copenhagen! It is not a cute trilogy of books about riding your bicycle and eating pastries! It’s about heroin! Nothing good happens!

Favorite “easy listening” books of 2022 (aka books I can recommend without worrying that my loved ones are going to call my therapist)

  • Great Circle (Maggie Shipstead)
  • Sea of Tranquility (Emily St John Mandel)
  • The Great Believers (Rebecca Makkai)
  • The Lincoln Highway (Amor Towles)
  • Olga Dies Dreaming (Xochitl Gonzalez)

Favorite show-off non-fiction

  • From The Ruins of Empire (Pankaj Mishra): So I read this book in conjunction with a book that a former colleague of mine published several years ago called The Master Plan about the rise of ISIS (until recently he ran counterterrorism at Facebook, which is a bleak fucking job if you think about it. Really nice guy though!). Super interesting pairing of books, especially against the backdrop of the absolute clusterfuck that was the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (Steve Coll): This book is a decade old, but a timely read in light of $5/gallon gas!
  • The Arc of a Covenant (Walter Russell Mead): I finally got to really learn about the Israel/Palestine conflict more deeply this year, including traveling to Israel, and thought this was a great book to read to understand the nature of America’s relationship with Israel. Another timely read as the importance of having a bulwark against Iran in the region becomes more critical, as Russia strengthens its relationship with Iran.
  • We Don’t Know Ourselves (Fintan O’Toole): I’ve been super into learning about Northern Ireland over the past couple years (last year if I had managed to write this up I would have included Patrick Radden Keefe’s excellent Say Nothing). This book was kind of a tome, and at times it felt like reading an encyclopedia, but I really enjoyed it, and I’ve also enjoyed noticing since I finished it that Fintan O’Toole is a ubiquitous presence on the Irish literary scene. I feel very “in the know” now.

Is it weird that I enjoyed these books?

  • Crossroads (Jonathan Franzen): Literally, the last time I read a Franzen novel it put me off reading books by men for like four years. And that was nine months before the 2016 election! I just love a big, fat family saga with juicy period details. Like a grimy sheepskin coat that won’t go away.
  • Our Country Friends (Gary Shteyngart): I don’t know why I’m embarrassed by how much I like Gary Shteyngart. I think it’s because I view him as sort of a literary heir to Philip Roth — don’t unpack that — and I obviously have too much pride in myself as a feminist to be a Philip Roth fan, and I’m really embarrassed by my Philip Roth period from high school, and anyway, I usually hate books about rich people being obnoxious, but I just ate this book up.
  • Woke Racism (John McWhorter): I know, Vassar is going to call for my diploma back soon, but it’s just spot on.


  • Groundskeeping (Lee Cole): I should just stop reading books by people with MFAs.
  • You’ve Changed (Pyae Moe Thet War): Super weird experience reading this book of fun and flirty essays about life in modern Myanmar (Burma). Those with even a cursory knowledge of current affairs will be aware the country is currently ruled by a repressive military junta that has been executing a violent and bloody crackdown. The author, the daughter of a military general, just… doesn’t mention it? I was pretty shocked that Catapult, an imprint that is typically pretty attuned to issues of social justice, would publish such a book, but there you have it.

Goodreads hits that I hated

  • Beautiful World, Where Are You: I think I probably need to just stop reading Sally Rooney at this point. I loved Conversations With Friends and I liked Normal People and I think she is fully entitled to have psychological breakdowns about being torn apart by strangers on the Internet, but at a certain point the lightly fictionalized rendition of that is just very dull to me. I skimmed the last fifty or so pages of this. Also, as a thirtysomething who is less left-wing than and can’t tolerate as much alcohol as most of my friends, and occasionally finds it tedious to be among drunk peers rehashing the same vaguely uninformed rants about progressive politics, yada yada yada, I… don’t really want to spend a lot of time reading about fictional thirtysomethings drinking and whining about Marxism…?
  • The Cherry Robbers (Sarai Walker): It pains me to say this because Dietland is one of my all-time favorites, but I thought this was just terrible. Overlong, humorless, and devoid of life. Where was the editor???
  • The Golden Enclaves (Naomi Novik): Why did I read all three books of this trilogy? I feel like Naomi Novik needs a ghostwriter. Or just a much better editor. Like, killer ideas, but 75% of the time I was totally lost as to what she was trying to communicate to me in prose.
  • Lessons In Chemistry (Bonnie Garmus): I actually gave up on this one about a third of the way in. It seemed like a problem that I actively hated all of the characters, including the semi-anthropomorphic dog, so I decided to put all of us out of our misery.

Goodreads hits that I didn’t hate (okay, there was only one)

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Taylor Jenkins Reid): I’m sorry, I just love her.

The fact that these aren’t Goodreads hits is offensive to me

  • The Friend (Sigrid Nunez): This book made me want to go out and adopt an arthritic Great Dane.
  • Love in the Big City (Sang Young Park): Okay, I have to be honest, I forget what made me love this book so much, but I was so thrilled that I gave it a rare five-star rating.

Rereads that lived up to my memory of the book

  • The Magicians (Lev Grossman): I just love this book so much! Especially since I can’t bring myself to reread Harry Potter anymore!
  • The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin): I picked this book up off the street (non-New Yorkers, this is a normal thing to do that doesn’t give you bedbugs) and God, does it hold up.
  • The Idiot (Elif Batuman): I read this in preparation for the release of Either/Or. Which was great, but I don’t necessarily think there needed to be another one. (I appreciated the WSJ’s Sam Sacks on “the year’s quantity of sequels from established writers highly disincentivized from attempting anything untested.”)

Bonus advice for finding good books if you are also perennially disappointed by Goodreads

I ran into a friend from college who I hadn’t seen since pre-pandemic at a party a few weeks ago and we ended up just ranting for like a half hour about how mediocre everything with four stars and above on Goodreads is. (Sidebar: It makes me so happy to have these encounters that, for as long as I continue to randomly run into college classmates here and there, reaffirm that I made at least one really stellar choice in my lifetime.) To be fair, she also warned me that the Sally Rooney book was really lame, and I read it anyway, so that one was on me. You tried, M____!

I used to read books that I found on Goodreads, or books that were recommended to me by friends and family, but in recent years I’ve turned into an intolerable snob and I find I prefer stuff that’s a little more esoteric than what most of my loved ones prefer. (Cf. “Actual favorite books that I probably won’t recommend to anyone.”)

These days, I get my book recommendations from The New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books.

(The latter is kind of expensive and is so academic in tone that I, not a stupid person, can’t always parse what I’m reading. I personally think that this reflects more poorly on the publication than on me as a reader, because again, I am not a dummy, and if your prose is so dense that I can’t read it, you should pay my high school English teacher a visit, because she did not stand for — as she called it — “fluff.”)

I’ve also accepted that I hate or at least feel disappointed by most of the fiction I read, and that if I immediately forget everything about a book after reading it, it’s not a reflection on my intellectual capacity. A lot of what I do enjoy is often bizarre. I’ve also developed much more of an appetite for dense nonfiction. But also, I have happily devoured every one of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s last few books! And I liked Ted Lasso! So who knows?


1 Comment

  1. lorivertin says:

    I really enjoyed this post and plan to check out some of your reads – Happy New Year


    Lori Vertin (aka Nadine Rousseau’s mother)


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s