My year in reading: 2022

Happy New Year! I’m a little late to the party but thought I’d share a bit about my reading year in 2022. In general, the year was a strange one. I know most of you can relate to that. From a reading perspective, it was unusual. My reading simply felt all over the place. I read very little nonfiction. I picked up and then abandoned several popular books. I fell for the easy pleasures of rom coms. I even finished a fantasy trilogy!

In terms of highlights, this year had fewer than most, but they were real standouts:

One of my favorite novels this year was The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz. In 2021, I read and loved her novel The Plot, so when I heard she had a new book out in 2022, a multi-point-of-view family saga about the lives three children conceived in the early days of IVF (and the much later arrival of a fourth), I knew I had to read it. In 2020, Korelitz was absolutely stuck with the draft of The Latecomer, which she’d been working on for years. Sitting in her publisher’s office, she found herself pitching the idea for The Plot instead, and then writing it very quickly during lockdown and publishing it quickly to much acclaim. After writing The Plot, she returned to the manuscript of The Latecomer and could see all the problems…and knew how to fix them. Thank goodness she did because The Latecomer is such a rich book, with fully realized, interesting characters and a solid story. And–fun fact–Steve Martin acted as a consultant in the sections dealing with modern art. This is the book I most look forward to re-reading in 2023.

One goal I set for myself in 2022 was to dig into Carol Shields’s catalog, and this I did. I read Small Ceremonies, Swann, Unless, Larry’s Party, Happenstance: Two Novels in One About a Marriage in Transition, and her short story collection Various Miracles. I also re-read The Stone Diaries, one of my favorite books of all time, and finally scored and read a copy of her collected works on writing, Startle and Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing, which was compiled by her children after her death. I feel like Shields is one of those writers who deserves a lot more attention than she gets. Her writing is insightful and exquisite without being precious, and she loves to experiment with form. In an essay titled “Boxcars, Coathangers and Other Devices” in Startle and Illuminate, she writes: “[I] wasn’t interested in the problem-solution story I had grown up with. The form seemed crafted out of the old quest myth in which obstacles were overcome and victories realized. None of this seemed applicable to the lives of women, nor to most of the men I knew, whose stories had more to do with the texture of daily life and the spirit of community than with personal battles, goals, mountaintops, and prizes.” Each of her novels follows a different sort of form: an academic year, a he said/she said, major life milestones, a fan’s perspective, biographical detritus (letters, overheard snippets of conversations, lists). And honestly, things don’t always work. But seeing her work through it all on the page–that’s the gift. Probably my favorite besides The Stone Diaries was Larry’s Party, which simply follows (you guessed it) a guy named Larry from his early twenties up to his fiftieth birthday party, looking at various elements of his life. It’s thoughtful, engaging, enlightening, and humorous.

Seriously, I don’t know what they put in the water in Canada. If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know Alice Munro is one of my favorite writers, but I also love Mavis Gallant, Margaret Atwood, and the aforementioned Carol Shields. Three other Canadian women make my list this year, though, too: Miriam Toews, Mary Lawson, and Sarah Polley. This year I re-read (twice) Toews’s wonderful novel All My Puny Sorrows–another favorite of all time–but I also picked up Swing Low: A Life, a sort of imagined memoir from the point of view of her father in the months before his suicide. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it, managing to bring such lyrical depth, empathy, warmth, and humor to a subject as bleak as suicide, but she does. I also re-read Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake (just as good the second time around) and her latest, A Town Called Solace, a multi-point-of-view novel that deals with coming of age, losing and finding love, and death, as well as what we mean to our neighbors and communities. This is another one I hope to revisit soon. Finally, I read Sarah Polley’s essay collection Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory. These six long essays cover her career as a child star and the dangers to which the adults surrounding her willingly exposed her, the #metoo movement, difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth and healthcare, and brain injury. Throughout all these she explores the fallibility of memory, the meaning of lived experience as a child and as a woman and a mother, the importance of how the past shapes the present, and how we can reshape the past. Although the whole collection is excellent, my favorite essay, one I’ve re-read several times over, is the one that lends the book its title, “Run Towards the Danger,” about the several years of her life she lost to concussion and how she finally returned to herself.

In any year, I tend to read more fiction than nonfiction, but I read such a dearth this year, maybe that’s why the few I did read really stand out for me. The other notable nonfiction book I read this year was Steven Hyden’s Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation. If you’re a Gen Xer like me and also a music lover, you’re going to want to pick this one up. Hyden covers the band’s whole career, from the release of their first album Ten in August 1991 (gulp) to present day (yes, they are still going strong). The book is arranged like a mixtape of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder songs. I won’t say much more here because I’d like to review this one more fully, but a particular standout is the essay about the fate of Pearl Jam versus what happened to Stone Temple Pilots and how easily things could have gone in a different direction for each band. RIP, Scott Weiland.

Other standout books for me in 2022:
Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke. I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so I was excited to read this one. I even managed to write a review! That says a lot.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk. If you love a sly, witty, unreliable narrator, one whose observations are sharp and cunning, then you’ll love this one. It says much about how the world treats animals and old women and reminds us that neither should be counted out.
The Sentence, Louise Erdrich. Books, ghosts, George Floyd, #BlackLivesMatter, love, friendship, redemption–Erdrich weaves together all of these things in the story of Tookie, covering a year of her life working in a small independent bookstore (owned by Erdrich). This is another one I plan to revisit soon.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. I re-read this beautiful novel, a letter from a dying preacher to his young son, this year and was reminded again why Robinson is one of my favorite writers.
The Book of the Most Precious Substance, by Sara Gran. Okay, I admit–when I heard Sara Gran describing her latest book as an “erotic thriller,” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go along for the ride. In all honesty, that description sells this book short. First off, if you’re at all interested in the world of rare book collecting and dealing, you’ll enjoy this. But the mystery at the heart of the book is really about how we deal with grief, what lengths we’ll go to for the people we love, and how we trick ourselves into believing we can control our fates.

Well, that’s a wrap for my 2022 year in reading! I’d love to hear if any of these books were also on your list or if anything intrigues you. Happy reading in 2023!

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8 thoughts on “My year in reading: 2022

  1. Oh I loved The Plot, so will be keen to read The Latecomer too. I only found out recently that she is married to Irish poet Paul Muldoon! I also love Carol Shields – she has never disappointed and there are a few in her back catalogue that I still have to read. Happy New Year!

  2. I read and loved Larry’s Party last year too. I have no i idea why she isn’t as lauded as Munro and Atwood! Lovely post and a great year in reading.

  3. Cathy, The Latecomer is so well done! I also have a few left in Shields’ back catalog–I’m especially interested in her Jane Austen bio. Happy New Year (belated!) to you, too!

  4. Hi Laura, sorry for the delayed response–your post went to spam! I’m happy to hear you loved Larry’s Party, too. It’s one of those books I still find myself picking up and thumbing through to read passages.

  5. A book on Pearl Jam! Ok that’s going on my tbr list. I wonder if the audiobook will be good?

  6. Sharlene, that’s a good question! Hyden does several podcasts, so if he’s reading the book it’s probably worth listening! I listened to a few podcasts where he discusses the book, and he also has a Spotify playlist that goes along with it.

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