The Best Books I Read in 2022
The 12 books I read last year that have stuck with me the most
I read around 50 books last year (I think) and eventually you stop counting because the metric is pointless. I only mention it so you have an idea of the sample size I’m pulling from.
Future lists will be only for paid subscribers but you all get this one for free. Six fiction books and six non-fiction books.
The Best Fiction
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I plan to write a full review of this book because it’s beautiful. It’s one I will be revisiting over the years. Short, but it packs a lot into its pages. Five years after the Civil War, an old man must transport a 10-year-old girl to San Antonio, but she’s not as enthused about the idea as the man would like. She has just been rescued from the Kiowa Indians and life among those people is all she has known.
More than ever knowing in his fragile bones that it was the duty of men who aspired to the condition of humanity to protect children and kill for them if necessary. It comes to a person most clearly when he has daughters.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I fell in love with Steinbeck after reading East of Eden but this is the book I would point people to. It’s shorter and more approachable. And for those who only read Steinbeck in high school, this is a great re-introduction that isn’t depressing like the typical high school reading list. Steinbeck has a deep affection for every one of these characters.
Doc awakened very slowly and clumsily like a fat man getting out of a swimming pool. His mind broke the surface and fell back several times.
The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book. I enjoyed most of the Longmire TV show and this book just kept getting bumped down the list for various reasons. How foolish I was. Johnson has the same skill of atmosphere and setting as Raymond Chandler and he also knows how to throw down a metaphor or two. He writes friendships well. He manages tone changes masterfully, hopping from humorous to poignant to heartbreaking with the grace of an experienced dancer. This book was a delight to read and I will be reading more of Johnson. The mystery itself wasn’t that enticing, but I didn’t care.
I sometimes forgot about how spiritual Henry was. I had been raised as a Methodist where the highest sacrament was the bake sale.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If you haven’t read this book since high school, I recommend you grab a copy or listen to the audiobook. It really does deserve its place in the pantheon. It’s hilarious, too. You really feel like you are witnessing things from a child’s point of view. Lee doesn’t do worldbuilding so much as gradual world-revealing, giving you just what you need when you need it.
He walked quickly, but I thought he moved like an underwater swimmer: time had slowed to a nauseating crawl.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Read this one to your kids. Gaiman knows how to write about worlds hidden just beyond the veil and this riff from The Jungle Book is a pleasure. Spooky and fun.
The voice in his head was something very old and very dry, like the scraping of a dead twig against the window of the chapel, and it seemed to Bod that there was more than one voice there, that they were talking in unison.
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. The very end of this book falls apart, and by “the very end,” I mean literally the last couple of pages. But the journey is still worth it. I didn’t expect anything out of this book and came away smiling. Great writing. The first chapter had me laughing out loud. It also has a great audiobook performance.
In normal circumstances, I’d prefer to shoot someone who uses the word marvelous, but it suits Milla down to the ground.
The Best Non-fiction
On Directing Film by David Mamet. This is a short book you can read in one sitting. And you should. Mamet is a fun writer and it will give you a crash course in the art of visual storytelling.
The point, as Aristotle told us, is what happens to the hero…not what happens to the writer.
Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver. A succinct introduction to rhyme and meter. Not just for writers. If you just want to enjoy reading poetry more, this is a great book to digest.
Time is meaningless to a poem; if it is about something pertains to the human conditino, then it is about something of interest to the most modern man, if he is a thoughtful man.
Miracles by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’s argument against pure materialism and naturalism, and why it is perfectly rational to believe in miracles. This might be his most underrated book.
Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legistlator."
An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis. This is how you write a long-form essay. Lewis spends the first ten chapters defining his terms and setting the stage, and then chapter eleven and the epilogue have the thrust of his argument and sum everything up. What is the purpose of good literature? Why do some enjoy it and others don’t?
Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enoumous extension of our beingwhich we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated.
If we have to choose, it is always better to read Chaucer again than to read a new criticism of him.
Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America's First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. This book gripped me with its first sentence. The authors have a clear affinity for the Indian sides of the conflict, but they are fair in their depiction of the brutality on both sides. The boldness and bravery of Boone, and others during this period boggle the mind. The authors also aren’t afraid to throw down big and unique words. I had to look up at least ten words while reading this thing. Do you know what peregrination means?
Daniel Boone was too far away to hear his oldest boy’s screams as the tall Indian tore out the sixteen-year-old’s fingernails one by one. James Boone was already bleeding out from a gunshot wound.
Working by Robert Caro. Anyone who wants to be a serious writer, especially a writer of non-fiction, should read this book. Caro’s work ethic. His dedication to his craft. His tenacity. All things to strive for. Inspiring to read about his thoughts and experiences.
I want students to learn that writing, the quality of the prose, matters in non-fiction, that writing matters in history.
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