- Louis Arata
The Top Ten Books (I've Read) of 2022
Updated: Jan 4
I can always tell that I need a bit of grounding in turbulent times when I find myself turning to Winnie-the-Pooh. The bear of very little brain and very big heart always refreshes my weary spirit. Reading A.A. Milne’s stories and poems brings me back to my childhood.
Other touchstones of nostalgia over the past year include reading about TV sitcoms and variety shows of the 1970s, in particular The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show. Behind-the-scenes stories of these classics brought back a lot of wonderful memories.
Over the year, I also revisited 10 books I’d read before. As Ursula K. LeGuin said: “If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”
One book I reread was She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith. In my freshman year of high school, this was my very first theatre production. Reading it again, I wondered how much of the story I would remember. As it turns out, very little. What mostly sticks in my mind is the awful moment on stage when I forgot my lines.
There were plenty of surprises and delights this year: discovering new authors, reading outside my comfort zone, and challenging myself to learn a bit more history and current events. It’s typical of me to read two to three books at a time, but this year I read a few books in tandem – alternating back and forth – as they addressed similar themes or subject matters. Getting different perspectives on the same events often opened the door to better understanding of history.
In alphabetical order by author, here are my top ten books:
The Top Ten:
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
Father Jude has been sent to investigate the seemingly miraculous events occurring on a reservation in North Dakota. There, he meets the 100-year-old Father Damien, who has been a missionary among the indigenous population for over 80 years. Damien shares the histories of the Anishinaabe – how families blend and intersect – but he also knows the secrets surrounding the miracles. But the mysteries don’t end there, because Father Damien is actually Agnes DeWitt, a nun who has adopted the priest’s identity. Erdrich’s novel blends the themes of spirituality, gender fluidity, family, and resilience across the sprawling history of the reservation. Magical.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
The eight members of Bravo Squad are Iraqi war heroes. A two-week Victory Tour culminates in the half-time show at a Dallas Cowboys’ football game. At first, the adulation is heady, but Billy begins to question the authenticity of American-style patriotism. Surrounded by the bombast of jumbotron screens, endless handshakes, cheering, and free-flowing booze, Billy recognizes that for most Americans, the war is just a big football game that you cheer from the sidelines. An incisively satiric novel that made my head spin.
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story
Nikole Hannah-Jones, ed.
The 1619 Project is an evolving journalism project which examines the long-reaching consequences of slavery on the shaping of the U.S. A New Origin Story is a collection of essays and poems which address the threads of racism and marginalization through issues such as capitalism, politics, health care, music, and justice. While every historical study has a particular agenda in what is and isn’t included, The 1619 Project for me was honest, challenging, and ultimately true in chronicling aspects of American culture which are often overlooked. A seminal work.
The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism
Two books that are essentially about patriotism. As Dan Rather writes, “Patriotism, while deeply personal, is a dialogue with your fellow citizens, and a larger world, about not only what you love about your country but also how it can be improved.” Both King and Rather express profound respect for the ideals of the U.S., but each in their own way is challenging us to address the racism, xenophobia, poverty, sexism, as well as other issues that prevent us from living in a just society. King’s language soars, and Rather’s prose is poetic, but together they create a powerful chorus.
John and Abigail Adams had a rich correspondence across the course of their marriage in which they discussed politics, war, society, and interspersed it all with their devotion and adoration for each other. I read these two bios in tandem, often switching from one to the other to keep the chronologies in line. McCullough’s bio of John Adams has breadth of scope and examines the political forces and personalities which shaped the colonies into the United States. Jacobs’ bio of Abigail Adams provides an intimate portrait of family relationships, poking around in the corners and cubbyholes of day-to-day life, while also providing eye-witness accounts of the Battle of Boston and the smallpox plague. By alternating between the two books, I was able to appreciate how historians also shape histories by what they choose to include and what is left out.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here
The next supernatural apocalypse is always around the corner, and there are always those special Chosen Ones who will keep it from happening. But Mikey is not one of them; he is an ordinary high school student who just happens to live in the town where it all happens. Mikey and his friends are conscious of the peculiar events that continually unfold – vampires, aliens, gods from other dimensions – but they are too busy living their lives and trying to get to graduation day. Patrick Ness’s book is a brilliant study of the personal challenges we all face, and even if we’re not the ones saving the world, we do save each other.
Everything That Rises Must Converge
Short stories are an art form, and most writers will tell you that they are harder to write than novels. And Flannery O’Connor is held up as a shining example of how-to-do-it-right. Her stories have a Southern Gothic flare that critically examine her characters’ limitations. Through painful lessons of hard-natured grace, people must face their prejudices and narrow-mindedness, and it’s not easy. I confess that reading stories set in the 1950s and ‘60s was challenging, due to the racist behavior prevalent at the time, but O’Connor is unapologetic about human foibles.
Come Home, Indio
In this graphic novel memoir, Jim Terry shares the trajectory of his life – a child of alcoholic parents and his own battle with alcohol. A raw, unyielding story that does not shy away from the cyclic, destructive behavior that arises out of family dysfunction. Ultimately, though, this is a journey of self-discovery, as Terry chronicles his recovery and his new sense of self-worth. The illustrations are powerful, and the story will definitely stay with me.
My Heart is a Chainsaw
Stephen Graham Jones
An homage to the slasher film. Jade Daniels, who knows everything about horror movies, begins to suspect a serial killer has hit her hometown of Proofrock. The only problem is no one will believe her – a troubled teen with a troubled past. In their eyes, her fascination with horror movies is a cry for help. For Jade, the movies prepare her for the evil that is to come.
The Shadow King
Mengiste explores gender roles, identity, and the fluid nature of memory – set against the backdrop of the Italian-Ethiopian war. A piece of history I’d never heard about before.
McMurtry takes the reader on a mosey through the west as Rangers Gus McCrae and Woodrow McCall lead an epic cattle drive from Texas to Montana. I first read this book 27 years ago, and I am amazed how much I remembered. Not merely the gist of the story, but individual scenes and the abundant cast of characters. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Fifteen-year-old Mungo lives in tenement housing with his alcoholic mother, gang-leader brother, and pregnant sister. There isn’t much hope to be had, until Mungo discovers friendship and love with James. A meditation on loneliness, growing up, and finding out who you are.
The complete list of books is below:
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee
Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli
Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas
We Had to Remove This Post, Hanna Bervoets
Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life, Blair Braverman & Quince Mountain
This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection, Carol Burnett
Directed by James Burrows, James Burrows
Relax into Yoga for Seniors, Kimberly Carson & Carol Krucoff
The Sittaford Mystery, Agatha Christie
All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung
Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer
The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
Silas Marner, George Eliot
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich
The Caramel Pecan Roll Murder, Joanne Fluke
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain
She Stoops to Conquer, Oliver Goldsmith
My Heart is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, Nikole Hannah-Jones, ed.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Stephen Hawking
Dickens and Prince, Nick Hornby
In One Person, John Irving
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams
and her Two Remarkable Sisters, Diane Jacobs
The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Outsider, Stephen King
The Mediterranean Method, Steven Masley
Blank Pages, Bernard MacLaverty
John Adams, David McCullough
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste
Chicago Noir: The Classics, Joe Meno, ed.
The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
Every Moment After, Joseph Moldover
Chaos Walking trilogy, Patrick Ness
1) The Knife of Never Letting Go
2) The Ask and the Answer
3) Monsters of Men
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness
A Keeper, Graham Norton
Everything that Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor
Sankofa, Chibundu Onuzo
Astonishing the Gods, Ben Okri
Overboard, Sara Paretsky
What Unites Us, Dan Rather
The God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza
Fuzz, Mary Roach
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
Hope Never Dies, Andrew Shaffer
All’s Well That Ends Well, William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
The Church of Baseball, Ron Shelton
Perestroika in Paris, Jane Smiley
Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit
Counting Descent, Clint Smith
Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart
Come Home, Indio, Jim Terry
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
The War of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, August Wilson
The Piano Lesson, August Wilson