I HAVE TO SAY 2022 was a pretty good reading year for me, with ten+ books sitting solidly at the top of a very sturdy stack. These reads I relished and heartily recommend, particularly for tastes that align with mine: accessible literary fiction (I read with a pencil in hand, always, to underline sentences and passages that astound/amaze/inspire me); character-focused; a plot with some depth and layers. In non-fiction I want to learn something, be surprised, take a look at something ordinary and see the extraordinary there. All of these books deliver. I’m listing here in no particular order other than Spot #1, which was my favorite read of the year.
These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett
The beloved New York Times bestselling author reflects on home, family, friendships and writing in this deeply personal collection of essays.
A smart, lovely, insightful, inspiring read and I will never not think about it. I could call out every essay with a long list of loves, but I’ll limit it to these: Eudora Welty, How Knitting Save My Life, Book Covers, Reading Kate DiCamillo, A Talk to the Association of Graduate School Deans in the Humanities, and of course, These Precious Days. I adore Ann Patchett the writer, and I admire Ann Patchett the person. What a beautiful book and what gorgeous lessons in life. I listened to this one on audio, as Ann reads the essays, and the experience was moving, funny, exceptional. Then I bought the hardcopy to underline and mark and remember. In fact, These Precious Days is now on my FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME list which you can find here, under the GALLERY section of my website.
We are the Light, by Matthew Quick
A poignant and hopeful novel about a widower who takes in a grieving teenager and inspires a magical revival in their small town.
I started to write my own review of this fine novel and then I read this, in publisher notes, and I cannot do better: We Are the Light is an unforgettable novel about the quicksand of grief and the daily miracle of love. The humorous, soul-baring story of Lucas Goodgame offers an antidote to toxic masculinity and celebrates the healing power of art. In this tale that will stay with you long after the final page is turned, Quick reminds us that life is full of guardian angels.
(Trigger Warning: While this novel is beautiful and hopeful, it does center on the aftereffects of a mass shooting in a small town. The theme is difficult while the perspective is redemptive. In fact, here’s another perfect description from Nickolas Butler, Book of the Month Club Pick:
“This remarkable novel explores themes of community, forgiveness, kindness, and yes, the dark violence that seems to be inherent in the American Experience. But it eschews politics in favor of humanity, ignores easy answers in favor of hard-won redemption. . . . feels like a warm hand on your shoulder. This is the novel so many of us have been searching for in these troubled times. I promise you it will affect you like no other book you’ve read in a long time.”
Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.
Already an international bestseller, Small Things Like These is a deeply affecting story of hope, quiet heroism, and empathy from one of our most critically lauded and iconic writers.
This tiny volume was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and for very good reason. It is beautiful and powerful in equal measure. It’s also a great winter read.
Lucy by the Sea, by Elizabeth Strout
A poignant, pitch-perfect novel about a divorced couple stuck together during lockdown—and the love, loss, despair, and hope that animate us even as the world seems to be falling apart.
Lucy by the Sea is the follow-up to Oh, William, another Strout novel I enjoyed. But Lucy by the Sea I ADORED. It’s a quiet but poignant story and a beautiful treatise on love, marriage, divorce, children, aging, change. There are four novels in the “Lucy” series, and if you loved Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, read them all in order. Otherwise, start with Oh, William then make your way to the magnificent Lucy by the Sea. Then write to tell me how much you loved it. 🙂
Atomic Habits, James Clear
No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving—every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.
Brene Brown told me to read this book and so I did. (She actually told all of us humans and she is right.) So good. So helpful.
Taste: My Life Through Food, Stanley Tucci
From award-winning actor and food obsessive Stanley Tucci comes an intimate and charming memoir of life in and out of the kitchen.
I devoured this one. (Pun intended) Listened on audio which is a DELIGHT because, well, Stanley Tucci. Then I bought the hardback because YOU JUST HAVE TO and I committed to a summer filled with pasta and Negronis. This book is just so…delicious.
The Stars Are Not Yet Bells, Hannah Lillith Assadi
A story of secrets, loss, and the betrayals of memory: a lyrical novel of an aging woman confronting her romantic past under the mysterious skies of her island home.
I was not familiar with Assadi’s writing when I first discovered this book, pre-publication. I immediately reserved it at the library, and I was delighted to pick it up just as it was released. This little novel is everything I love: a beautiful, heartbreaking story; place (in this case, an island off the coast of Georgia) as a central character; writing that made me swoon.
She’s going too far to go it alone. It is 1950. London is still reeling from World War II, and Margery Benson, a schoolteacher and spinster, is trying to get through life, surviving on scraps. One day, she reaches her breaking point, abandoning her job and small existence to set out on an expedition to the other side of the world in search of her childhood obsession: an insect that may or may not exist–the golden beetle of New Caledonia. When she advertises for an assistant to accompany her, the woman she ends up with is the last person she had in mind. Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.
Rachel Joyce is one of my favorite writers, and this delightful novel tickled and delighted me. Love, love, love!
Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown
In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.
This heft of a book is part textbook / part emotional bible / all MUST READ for anyone longing for greater connection and the language to achieve it. I listened on audio then ordered my own “emotional bible” copy. If the description appeals to you on any level, I can’t recommend it enough.
I could not narrow it down to ten because there are two books I loved written by friends I adore. I encourage you to give both of these great novels a good look:.
Traces, Patricia Hudson
“Her father spent a good part of that evening dancing with their mother, then afterwards, sitting by one of the fires, recounting his adventures to anyone who cared to listen. Her mother sat beside him, quietly taking it all in. As the evening wore on, Jemima saw her mother’s jaw tighten as she watched her husband sell Kentucky to his audience as smoothly as a peddler touting the benefits of a homemade elixir. Clearly, he meant to go back across the mountains, and he didn’t intend to go alone.”
–from TRACES, by Patricia Hudson
TRACES is the Daniel Boone story told from the point of view of the women, primarily Rebecca Boone and their daughters, Savannah and Jemima. With all that has been written about Boone and his adventures, rarely is there even a mention of Rebecca beyond “wife.” Ms. Hudson has changed that. Oh, has she ever changed it.
I’ve long been fascinated by pioneer life, perhaps from growing up in rural SW Virginia. I’m also captivated by Boone in particular, no doubt due to the fact that an important chunk of his exploration took place all through our mountains. (In fact, the Daniel Boone Trail is noted all along the route I take whenever I go “home.”) What was it like to live in those wilds at that time, both as the explorer but also as his wife—a woman who bore 10 children and spent so much time homesteading in dire and dangerous circumstances? Without him, for years at a time? Why did she put up with his long absences? How did she survive?
Now I know, because Ms. Hudson has brought this all to life through meticulous research that is woven expertly and seamlessly into a compelling narrative.
I loved this book.
Lark Ascending, Silas House
A riveting story of survival and hope, set in the not-too-distant future, about a young man forced to flee the United States and seek refuge across the Atlantic.
I’ve long been a fan of Silas House’s writing, and this is my favorite of his novels. It’s a gut-wrenching story set in a dystopian future that is—terrifyingly—not that difficult to imagine. Still Silas fills the narrative with so much heart you cheer and believe, and along with young Lark and his companions, you walk on. (Also, there is the sweet dog, Seamus, and like every reader of Lark Ascending I am in love.)
I hope you find this list helpful and that your choices enhance your 2023 reading year! And as always, I’d love to hear what made it to the top of your list for 2022—I do love a good book-lover tip! Until our next reading round-up—I hope you can make space for a hot cup of tea, a scented candle, a little quiet place and a book that pulls you in and holds you in the most glorious way.
Happy reading, sweet friends!
30 Days of Joy
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