Every year, I track my reading habits on this web site. And every year, right about now, I take stock and consider which books meant the most to me.
In 2022, I read 98 books. That's fewer than 2021, but still a nice, solid number. I've written two novels over the course of this year, and I tend to read a little less when I'm writing. This year I intended to read more books by women and non-binary authors than men; 71 of the 98 fit the bill, so about 72%. I think I could've done better.
It's always difficult to narrow a list like that down to five, so this year I cheated a little. I'll stick to just five books here, but you can find a few more favorites in my newsletter recap.
Away we go:
I genuinely adore everything about this book. The cover is beautiful, for one; just look at this. But more than that, this is a book about a family stretched to its limits. I found my way to it, perhaps, because of its similarities to the novel I'm currently writing; both are about families divided and spread over great distances. Pik-Shuen Fung writes about a Chinese family that moves to Canada, except for the father, who remains behind to work and support his wife and children. The novel moves through that liminal space between here and not-here, there and not-there, tracking the conflicted emotions of its narrator as she grows up, uncertain what her relationship to her "astronaut father" really is. Told through a series fleeting vignettes, letters, lists, it's wonderfully intimate, and incredibly moving.
I began reading this novel—not my first of Lahiri's, but far and away my favorite now—on a gray, rainy day when I just wasn't quite feeling all that attached to the world. I read most of the novel that same day, in bed for hours, utterly lost in the immediacy of Lahiri's main character, a woman who can't quite be sure where she belongs in the world. It's the perfect read for those days when you yourself can't quite grasp the answer to that question.
Earlier this year I came across a poem by Raymond Carver, called "Rain":
Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.
Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.
Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
Whereabouts is the book for a day like Carver describes.
Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven swept me away three times: When I first read it the year it was published (2014?); when its HBO adaptation was released at the end of 2021; and again when I re-read the novel after finishing the show.
The Glass Hotel and Sea of Tranquility are inextricably linked to Station Eleven. They share characters, storylines, throughlines; for that reason I've let them share a place on this list. Of the two, I think I loved Hotel the most for its smaller footprint, its lower stakes. They're both beautiful novels, equally compelling on their own, but made even lovelier when taken as a trio.
This is my great epic read of 2022. I confess that I did not connect with Great Circle right away. There are many times in my reading history when that would've proved fatal! But in recent years I've learned to take my time with a book that doesn't quite click; sometimes I'll put it down, then ask myself: Is this book not for me? Or is this simply not the right time for me to read this book? If the latter, I'll circle back it again sometime, and give it another try. This year, however, I felt compelled to press on: My agent and friend, Seth, recommended the novel after reading an early draft of The Dark Age; he felt it would be an interesting reference point for one of my characters in particular. So I read on, and read on, and somewhere about a hundred pages in, the novel hooked me hard. It's more than 600 pages long, and by the end, I felt I could've read another 600. There's nothing wrong with a slow starter. It's nice to remember that.
If ever a book was written exactly to my interests, it's this one. Tomorrow is the story of two people, Sam and Sadie, and their thirty-year friendship and partnership. Together they build entire worlds made of pixels and code, worlds that they've poured every aspect of themselves into. I love, love, love novels about video games. There's something romantic about people working together to spin a universe from nothing at all, to populate it with living, breathing characters and stories, and then to open it up to strangers who will make it their own. Microserfs and You are two of my favorites; Tomorrow belongs right there with them both.