Happy Tuesday everyone! Welcome to the first Top Ten Tuesday update of 2023. Top Ten Tuesday is an original blog meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and is currently being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.
This week’s given topic is Favorite Books of 2022
As has been customary, before we can move forward, we have to look back. As such, looking back at the year that has become imperative at the start of the new year. Looking back at the best reads of the year that has been is but natural. Unfortunately, I come up with my separate listing every year. Rather than listing my best reads of the year, I opted to list the books released in 2022 that made an impression on me. There is a chance that they can make it to my best reads of 2022 but there is also a chance that they won’t. Without more ado, here are my best books released in 2022.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
I did not really expect to like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I have not heard of nor read any works by Gabrielle Zevin coming into 2022. Even when her latest novel started making rounds and fellow book readers singing praises for the book, my interest was not piqued. I felt like the book was not right up my alley, judging from the cover and title alone. Had the book not been listed as one of the best books of 2022 by literary publications, I might have not changed my mind. HAHA. Thankfully I did because this story of two star-crossed lovers (not really the focus of the story) juxtaposed with the progress and evolution of video gaming more than impressed me. It even reminded me of two of my all-time favorite reads: Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Cecilia Ahern’s Dear Rosie.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
Who has not heard of Douglas Stuart? In 2020, he became just the sixth writer to win the prestigious Booker Prize with his debut novel, Shuggie Bain. While I found the book a little lacking, I saw promise in his prose. It was for this reason alone that I was looking forward to his future work. The opportunity came in 2022 when, at the start of the year, I learned that he was publishing his sophomore novel, Young Mungo. Thankfully, I was able to read the book toward the end of 2022; five of the last six books I read last year were new books. Young Mungo shared several elements with Shuggie Bain, from the setting to the characters. However, I find the former more mature in its voice and surer in its execution. In a way, Stuart matured as a writer.
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
Just like in the case of Douglas Stuart, I was far from impressed with Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, We Need New Names. Incidentally, the book was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. When I learned that she published a new novel in 2022, I held back. It was not until the book was longlisted – and eventually shortlisted – for the 2022 Booker Prize that I changed my mind about giving Bulawayo’s prose a second chance. After all, I read that Glory was different from her debut novel in more than one aspect. Sure enough, it was different from We Need New Names. Rather than real people, Bulawayo (which is also a pseudonym by the way) used animals as allegories for prominent and influential political figures that shaped her home nation’s contemporary political and historical atmosphere. I did find the story meander here and there but overall, it was an insightful book about a country whose history I rarely read about.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
I capped my 2022 reading journey with Tara M. Stringfellow’s debut novel, Memphis. I first encountered the book and the writer while browsing the books on sale by an online bookseller. Curious, I bought it along with Candice Carty-Williams’ People Person, another writer whose oeuvre I have not explored either. While one can say that curiosity killed the cat, this cannot be said in the case of Memphis, although the book’s shifting perspective was a challenge at the start. Overcome this challenge and the story started to unfold. At the heart of Stringfellow’s debut novel were three generations of resilient Black women who had to endure racism, sorrow, heartbreaks, and different forms of domestic abuse. It was an engrossing read and the writing was captivating; I, later on, learned that Stringfellow was an accomplished poet.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
It was while researching for books to include in my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List that I first came across Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake. At first, I was reluctant to add the book to my list. I finally relented after multiple encounters in several most anticipated 2022 book release lists. The story involved the children of Eleanor Bennett. When Eleanor passed away, she left a black cake and a recording to her two children, Byron and Benny. It was a reunion for her children whose paths have diverged in the past few years due to their differences. The exploration of history, which included food, traditions, family, and immigration, was, for me, the book’s strongest facet, the one that I enjoyed the most. I also liked that Wilkerson was able to glue them together although I am not a fan of how the conclusion was executed, and how Wilkerson endeavored to neatly tie every loose end.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
Like Black Cake, it was while researching for books to include in my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List that I first came across Danya Kukafka and her latest novel, Notes on an Execution. Her sophomore novel immediately grabbed my attention because I thought it was a work of mystery or suspense fiction. I wasn’t far off from my initial impression of the book but the perpetrator was already known by the reader. The story commenced 12 hours before the titular execution of Ansel Parker. It makes the reader curious about what he has done. The story then shifts to his past, from his childhood until the perpetration of his crimes. While it was not the work of mystery I expected, I found myself nevertheless engaged because Kukafka slowly painted the psychological profile of Ansel. More importantly, the novel was an exploration of our growing fascination with serial killers.
Violeta by Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende’s Violeta was originally published in Spanish in early 2022 and interestingly, it was translated into English in the same year. I thought it was published earlier than that. Anyway, Violeta is my third novel by the Chilean writer whose debut novel, The House of the Spirits, is one of my all-time favorite reads. I wasn’t a fan of the eponymous Violeta at the start of the story but I held on and a different portrait of Violeta started to emerge. Her growth was the book’s central point but I was more drawn by the historical details. By being bookended by two global pandemics, the story was made all the more interesting as the past mirrored the present and vice versa, reiterating the idea that the past repeats itself. I think this was my first time reading about Operation Condor and I was intrigued. But what I truly loved was how Allende depicted the rise of the feminist movement.
All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
Technically, Mieko Kawakami’s All the Lovers in the Night is not a new book. It was originally published in Japanese as すべて真夜中の恋人たち (Subete Mayonaka no Koibitotachi) in 2011. However, with the growing interest in Kawakami’s works, the book was translated into English and published as All the Lovers in the Night in 2022. It charted the story of Fuyuko Irie, a freelance editor in her early thirties. Like Breasts and Eggs’ Natsu, Fuyuko was a passive character whose actions were dictated by those around her. The novel explored female liberation, both in mind and body, a subject extensively explored in Breasts and Eggs. Meanwhile, the book’s philosophical intersections were reminiscent of Heaven. As always, it was an engrossing reading experience. Kawakami’s ability to make the readers inhabit her character’s mind is top-notch.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark is another book from my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List. It sure is a well of good reads from writers whose prose I have not explored before. How High We Go in the Dark is a timely read. Set in the dystopian future, the book captured a vivid portrait of our current times, with the story opening with Dr. Cliff Miyashiro’s arrival in the Arctic Circle to pursue his recently deceased daughter’s research. What he discovered was the preserved frozen remains of a girl who appeared to have died of an ancient virus that would inevitably alter the course of history. Rather than a straightforward story, Nagamatsu provided interlinking vignettes that provided a grim diagnosis of the future. But while the plague continues to rage, the capitalists are turning death into a lucrative business. For a deceptively slim novel, How High We Go in the Dark unpacked a lot as it also explored the adverse impact of climate change.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
2022 was, in a way, a year for redemption reads. One of the writers whose prose I gave another chance was Emily St. John Mandel. I wasn’t a fan of The Glass Hotel, making me avoid her other books. However, fellow readers encouraged me to try her other works and her latest novel Sea of Tranquility gave me this opportunity. Sure enough, Sea of Tranquility was a world away from The Glass Hotel. Mandel’s latest novel leapfrogs across different time periods, starting from 1912 to as far into the future as 2401, reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Sea of Tranquility was an ambitious undertaking that grappled with several ideas, from time travel to the exploration of the simulation theory to the consequences of our actions to questions of our existence. The book managed to be complex and mind-boggling but still provocative and insightful.