I really wanted to hit 60 books in 2022, more than my usual goal of Harlan Ellison’s “a book a week.” As it is, I fell short by giving up on Stephen King’s Fairy Tale shortly after Jan. 1. Sorry, Uncle Harlan.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a synopsis of every book I read this year. I wouldn’t do that to you. I will, however, give you my top choices, with the understanding that as with the last four years, 2022’s reading list is heavily influenced by my courses of study. Six months to go, folks.
Best story cycle: The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor. Honestly, every story cycle I’ve read so far has been amazing, but this one really blew off my head. (A story cycle, if you’ll recall, is a novel comprised of interconnected short stories and a form I find fascinating.) I knew of Brewster because they made it into a movie, but I’d never seen it. Thus I was unprepared for its beauty and horror, and the writing is on point.
Best nonfiction: Wordslut by Amanda Montell. Billed as a feminist guide for taking back the English language, I was prepared for a dull examination of etymology, a word I always have to look up so I don’t mix it up with the bugs. Instead it was accessible, hilarious and thought-provoking as it examined the misogyny behind some of our language evolution and how the language continues to evolve.
Best re-read: Imzadi by Peter David, now available on Amazon as Imzadi Forever. I’m not sure why, because it turns out to be pretty much the same book as the amazing novel I first read as a teenager. I got the chance to ask Peter about it on tour umpteen years ago – we were both signing in a dead hallway at an eerily quiet con – and he said it was still his most wildly popular book, which was more than a little awkward since it’s a love story he wrote when he was with his first wife. Regardless, it’s an incredible story and one that I always wished would become one of the movies.
Biggest disappointment: The Wastelands by Stephen King. Look, folks, I keep trying to get with the Dark Tower series and we’re past book three at this point and I just don’t think it’s going to happen. At what point does it stop being a slog and start becoming “the most amazing thing he’s ever written”?
Biggest turnaround: Sula by Toni Morrison. I read this book first for a class on “Nasty Women,” an examination of female characters whose behavior is considered wrong or foul by society but would be lauded if they were men. Kind of. From that standpoint, I really disliked Sula, and found that her behavior would never have been lauded even if she were a man. I think I even wrote an essay about how she didn’t deserve to stand with the rest of the nasty women. But I re-read the book a semester later in the context of a class all about themes in Toni Morrison’s work, and I began to see Sula in a new light. Eventually it became my favorite of Morrison’s work, with the full knowledge I still have some of her works to go.
Best Book Overall: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Stephen King once called it “the hole in the paper,” that moment when you fall into a book and forget who and where you are. The older I get and the further in my career, the harder it is for me to find that hole, whether it’s a book I’m reading or a book I’m writing. But there’s nothing like it, like Alice’s fall into the rabbit hole, so easy when I was young and every book was a new world. Crawdads was that book. I picked it up at the library and started reading it that afternoon, and could not stop save to refill my tea until I finished. The language paints a stark picture of the Carolina marsh and a central character that was amazingly compelling. I have mixed feelings about the ending, but that stems from the high emotions raised by this story.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
My Evil Mother by Margaret Atwood
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson, duh
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois (nonfiction)
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck
Things Left Behind by Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni (collection)
Feeling Very Strange ed. by James Patrick Kelly (anthology)
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Firestarter by Stephen King
On Writing and Writers by C.S. Lewis (full column pending)
A Day Like This by Kelley McNeil
The New Thanksgiving by Diane Morgan (nonfiction)
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison (literary analysis)
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Fan by Bob Randall
The Old Guard vol. 2 by Greg Rucka (graphic novel)
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke (graphic novel)
The Shapes of Night by Mary SanGiovanni
King Lear by William Shakespeare (play)
The Sweet Science of Bruising by Angelia Sparrow
Make Art Make Money: Lessons From Jim Henson by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens (nonfiction)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
At the Quiet Edge by Victoria Helen Stone
Creative Writing in the Community by Terry Ann Thaxton (textbook)
Flash Fiction International ed. by James Thomas (anthology)
Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly
The Great Silence by Ted Chiang
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Jerusalem’s Lot by Stephen King
Inventory by Carmen Mara Machado
Recitatif by Toni Morrison
Sweetness by Toni Morrison
The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
Sea Oak by George Saunders
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright
So what was the best book YOU read in 2022? Time to fill up next year’s list – and I will get to 60!