This year I’m continuing my annual tradition of taking stock of the books I’ve read over the past year and sharing my favorites.
2022 was an interesting year for me — in many ways, but certainly in terms of reading. This past year I read far fewer books than I had in recent years. Part of this can be attributed to life opening up again after the pandemic lockdowns of 2020-21; I was out and about more, as opposed to sitting at home with my books. This was also a year when my daily schedule shifted at the expense of my reading time: I used to read for about an hour after all the kids were in bed, but now with teenagers who stay up late doing homework and who don’t seem to want to spill their innermost feelings unless it’s after 10 PM, I no longer have as much quiet, kid-free time to read. Finally, this fall I began reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke’s sweeping novel about two magicians in 19th century England. It’s an amazing work of detailed world-creation, but it’s also 1000 pages long. I have yet to finish it (or it might be on this list), and it’s monopolized one-quarter of my reading year!
So, that’s why I have fewer books to recommend this year, but every book on this list is a gem.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This was the very first book I read in 2022. The last time I read it was in middle school; now that my two middle schoolers were reading it, I decided to re-read it. It was even better than I remembered. If, like me, you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird since your own school days, it certainly deserves a re-read. When I was thirteen, I most closely identified with the narrator, Scout; this time around, I found that I related more to her father, the amazing Atticus Finch, who has become one of my parenting heroes.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
If you have seen me at all this year, I have probably recommended this book to you — effusively. I even wrote a column about some of its themes. I have since read every other book Emily St. John Mandel has written, and while I like them all, this one remains my definite favorite. It’s a beautifully crafted story that weaves through time and space (literally), but is at its heart a story about love, the beauty of daily life, and our interconnectedness. Please do yourself a favor and read it.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Like To Kill a Mockingbird, this book is told from the viewpoint of a child and features an incredible father. Set primarily in the bleak winter landscape of the northern Midwest, it follows the Land family as they search for their outlaw older brother. The glue that holds the family — and the narrative — together is a father’s fierce love, and it may just convince you that miracles are possible.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
I have never disliked anything Ann Patchett has written, but this collection of essays is my new favorite. I read the title essay during the dog days of COVID, when it first appeared in Harper’s, and it’s a breathtaking — and heartbreaking — story of how circumstances bring us into each other’s lives. But all the essays in this book are excellent, circling themes of family, friendship, love, loss, and literature.
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
This was another re-read for me; I first read McBride’s memoir of his remarkable mother a couple decades ago, but decided to revisit it after reading his novel, Deacon King Kong, last year. The Color of Water tells the story of Ruth McBride Jordan, social worker, church founder, daughter of an abusive Orthodox rabbi, twice-widowed mother of twelve black children — a resilient warrior of a woman. Looking back over many of my favorite books from this year, it’s clear that I was seeking examples of excellent parents; Ruth certainly belongs in the line-up.
Favorite Book on Christian/Spiritual Topics
Aggressively Happy: A Realist’s Guide to Believing in the Goodness of Life by Joy Marie Clarkson
I feel like I need to apologize for this book’s title whenever I recommend it. “It’s really NOT annoyingly positive,” I say. “It’s about how to find joy without denying how difficult things are.” Clarkson is still a young woman — an excellent writer with a clear-eyed gaze at life. I read the entire introduction to my family over dinner one night, then passed the book on to my eldest daughter because I wish I’d read it much earlier in life.
Favorite Children’s Books
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
I consider Kate DiCamillo a literary giant, and believe that her books should be read by everyone of all ages — but The Tale of Despereaux sat unread on our shelf for years because my children assumed they’d outgrown books with rodent protagonists. We were all pleasantly surprised when we finally read it this December. As with all DiCamillo books, it is beautiful, funny, true, and moving, with a particularly poignant focus on forgiveness.
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
The best explanation I’ve read of this book is that it’s Les Miserables set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world. It prompted some excellent discussions in our family around issues of justice and right vs. wrong.
Favorite Poetry Books
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
Poetry has come to have an increasingly large part in our family’s life, and we are always able to find something breathtaking in this extensive collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry.
Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
My 11-year-old poet picked up this book of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems for young readers on a Barnes & Noble trip, and she hasn’t put it down since. (Her favorite is “Window.”)
BONUS: Favorite Show Based on a Book!
Is anybody else out there watching The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+? We read the book series by Trenton Lee Stewart, but the series — now in its second season — may actually be better than the books, thanks to clever writing, an outstanding ensemble of young actors, and the brilliant Tony Hale as Nicholas Benedict. One of the very few shows that every single member of our family looks forward to watching.
Wishing you a wonderful year of reading in 2023. I’ll be joining you — as soon as I finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell!