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  • Louis Arata

The Top Ten Books (I've Read) of 2022

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

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

Louise Erdrich

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

Ben Fountain

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

Dan Rather

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 Adams

David McCullough

Dear Abigail

Diane Jacobs

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

Patrick Ness

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

Flannery O’Connor

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

Jim Terry

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.

Honorable Mentions:

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

Maaza Mengiste

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.

Lonesome Dove

Larry McMurtry

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.

Young Mungo

Douglas Stuart

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

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