Happy New Year everyone! 2022 is now a done deal; we have completed a journal of 365 pages but as they say, every ending is a new beginning. We have been given a fresh set of 365 blank pages which we can fill with good and lasting memories. While the previous years have been shrouded in uncertainties due to the pandemic, 2023 is shaping up to be a year of good tidings. I sure hope so – despite the ominous forecasts vis-a-vis the global economy – because hope is the only thing that springs eternal.
As has been the tradition in the past couple of years, I am kicking off the new year by looking back to the previous year, its hits, and of course, its mishits. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse of how the coming year is going to shape up. This book wrap-up is a part of a mini-series that will feature the following:
- 2022 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2022 Book Wrap Up
- 2022 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2022 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2022 New Favorite Authors
- 2023 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2023 Top 23 Reading List
2022 has been my most productive reading year to date. I have achieved a goal that I have been hoping to achieve for the longest time: completing 100 books in a year; I capped 2022 with 103 completed books. Since the start of the pandemic, I read 288 books, the most prolific stretch I had since I became a devout reader. While there were books that failed to live up to my expectations, there were also several that stood out. For this 2022 wrap-up piece, I am sharing some of the books I read in 2022 that simply stood out for me. Actually, I had a challenging time picking out which ones to feature as there were several books that astounded me. I would usually share ten books but 2022 was not my typical reading year so I will again be breaking a tradition. Instead of ten, I am sharing the twelve books that left the deepest impression on me in 2022. Happy reading.
But before sharing my ten best reads of the year, here are the runners-up who nearly made the cut; there were just too many amazing reads in 2022.
Title: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, a book I first came across midway through 2022. The book received overwhelmingly positive feedback from readers and critics alike. However, I was a little apprehensive about the book as I didn’t feel like it was my cup of tea. When it was listed on many a literary publication’s Best Books of 2022 list, I resolved to make it form part of my 2022 reading journey. At the heart of the novel were Sadie Green and Sam Mazer who first met when they were teenagers. Sam and Sadie would bond over video games; it was integral in the story as it was the single thing that kept the two together. Their paths would diverge but eventually emerge, forming a pattern that would span three decades. They formed a tumultuous relationship as business partners, friends, and colleagues. The novel did remind me of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with a sprinkling of Cecilia Ahern’s Dear Rosie sans the epistolary narrative. I must say that I am thankful I changed my mind about the book. While there were parts where I had to fill in, I was nonetheless riveted by Zevin’s prose and storytelling. It was easily one of my best reads of the year.
Title: A Suitable Boy
Author: Vikram Seth
Kicking off the list is one of the books that I have long been looking forward to. This book occupies an important place this year as it was my 100th year and was the last book that completed two of my reading challenges; talk about hitting three birds with one stone. Had it not been for must-read lists, I would have never encountered the book, which was also my first 1,000+ pager since Hungarian writer Péter Nádas’ Parallel Stories. The book was daunting and the intimidation only grew as the novel moved forward. On the surface, the story seemed domestic enough, simple enough. We meet Lata, the youngest child of Mrs. Rupa Mehra. When we first meet the mother and daughter pair, we witness the marriage of Lata’s older sister, Savita. Savita’s marriage was arranged for by their mother as their father has already passed away. That left Lata, who was nineteen when we first meet her, the last one for an arranged marriage. The story got complicated as it moved forward. Three more families were introduced, their common connection being the Mehras. Their other main connection was politics which was integral to the story. The story was set during the infancy of the Indian republic and it wasn’t long before it unfolded. The heft was really meant to daunt but like with Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I found the novel easier than it looked. Overall, it was an insightful portrait of contemporary India, its colorful history, and its diverse people. It is easily one of my most memorable reads of 2022.
Title: The Garden of Evening Mists
Author: Tan Twan Eng (Chinese: 陳團英)
It was a real-life friend that introduced me to the wonders of Tan Twan Eng’s prose. My friend, who back then visited Malaysia, had nothing but positive words for Tan’s debut novel, The Gift of Rain. I have since been on the lookout for a copy of the book. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. I would encounter Tan a couple of years later but it was through his other novel. I came across a copy of The Garden of Evening Mists while browsing through an online bookstore and without any more ado, I purchased the book. I even made it part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. I was really looking forward to the book and, thankfully, it did not disappoint. The focal point of the story was the Second World War but rather than the typical European setting associated with the war, Tan’s sophomore novel transported me to his home nation, the Malaysian peninsula. The intersection of history, memory and the vast spectrum of humanity captured by Tan’s story made The Garden of Evening Mists a potent and memorable work of contemporary fiction. It was a triumph of storytelling, a stellar book worthy of the accolades it earned, consolidating Tan’s status as one of the contemporary’s promising literary voices. I can’t wait to read The Gift of Rain.
Title: Tomb of Sand
Author: Geetanjali Shree
Translator (from Hindi): Daisy Rockwell
To be honest, had it not been for the International Booker Prize, I would have not encountered Geetanjali Shree and her novel, Tomb of Sand. When the longlist was announced by the Booker Prize, it was one of the titles that immediately grabbed my attention and when I saw how thick it was, I somehow had an inkling that it was going toe-to-toe with Nobel Laureate in Literature Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob. I admit I was pleasantly surprised when Tomb of Sand was declared the winner but it only piqued my interest in the book further. Certainly, Tomb of Sand was no walk in the park. At the start, I struggled to find my footing and I nearly resigned myself to simply finishing the book. The language was unusual; it was common to see related words strung together in a sentence, with no commas separating them. The novel was also without quotation marks. My persistence paid off past the 200-page mark; the first part was rather stagnant. As soon as the action picked up, the story had my focus. I started to appreciate the direction Shree was stirring the story to. Its lightness and humor belie several sensitive and seminal subjects, many of which are relevant in the contemporary.
Title: Palace Walk
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Translator (from Arabic): William Maynard Hutchins and Olive E. Kenny
It was over seven years ago that I first encountered Naguib Mahfouz through an online bookseller. I didn’t have any iota about who he was but a quick search yielded that he was a Nobel Laureate in Literature, something that meant little to me back then. This did not stop me from acquiring two of his works: Miramar and Palace of Desire. I ended up liking Miramar despite it being short. However, I had to hold back on reading Palace of Desire after I learned that it was the second book in Mahfouz’s renowned Cairo Trilogy. In 2020, I was finally able to complete all books but it would again take me some time before I finally got to start reading the trilogy. As it was imperative for me to start reading the trilogy, I included Palace Walk, the first book in the trilogy, in my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. Palace Walk was also my third novel by the first Arabic winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It was also the heftiest of the three. I am glad the book, a chronicle of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad and his family during one of the most pivotal moments in modern Egyptian history, did not disappoint. I had quite lofty expectations of it. Mahfouz masterfully captured the image of Egypt in transition. It was complimented by lush cultural touchstones and the historical context which made me learn more about Egypt, its people, and its contemporary history.
Title: The Books of Jacob
Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Translator (from Polish): Jennifer Croft
From one Nobel Laureate in Literature to another. From virtually being in the woods to one who keeps on looking forward to reading more works of Nobel Laureates in Literature. Among the laureates growing up on me was 2018 awardee Olga Tokarczuk. After reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Flights, I knew I was hooked. When I learned that an English translation of what the Swedish Academy cited as her magnum opus to date, I just knew had to read The Books of Jacob. It was daunting not only because of the accolade attached to it but because it was physically hefty. But with many readers equally excited to read the book, might as well dig in. The novel chronicled the story of a Messiah. Tokarczuk conjured a world that was hopelessly clinging to certainty. But as The Books of Jacob, and even history itself, has underscored, nothing is ever fixed, including identities, religious dogmas, and physical boundaries. We inhabit a world that continuously shifts. This makes the novel resonate in the contemporary. Limits, whether physical or intellectual, existed to be breached, and breach them Tokarczuk did by weaving a rich tapestry that was brimming with vivid details of diverse cultures, religions, and ideas. The Books of Jacob was lush and complex but at the same time remarkable and highly immersive.
Title: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Author: Milan Kundera
Translator (from Czech): Michael Henry Heim
I first encountered Milan Kundera through must-read challenges. The exiled Czech writer was a prominent presence in such lists, with some of his works even listed as among the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. His first novel I read was The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book I admittedly struggled with, primarily because his prose was new territory to me. Immortality made up for my initial impressions of Kundera. Both were memorable. Three years after my last Kundera novel, I made The Book of Laughter and Forgetting a part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. I was initially reluctant to read the novel because it was defined as a short story collection; I am not really fond of short stories. I was eventually able to overcome my ambivalence. Indeed, the novel did come across as a collection rather than a straight narrative. I did not mind for it showed me Kundera’s brilliance as a writer. The landscape of his homeland was vividly captured by his storytelling. His story was populated with an eclectic cast of characters who gave life to the story. It is no wonder that the book is often cited as his magnum opus. Interestingly, the three Kundera novels I have read all belong to his middle period, considered the best stretch of his oeuvre. This, however, is not stopping me from reading his other works.
Title: The Overstory
Author: Richard Powers
Like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, I was initially reluctant to read Richard Powers’ The Overstory, a book I first encountered over three years ago during one of my stops at the bookstore. While the stamp of the Pulitzer Prize was usually enough of an attraction for me, I found myself daunted by the book’s cover art and its length. It was brimming with trees, a literary alley I rarely found myself in. The fact that I had no iota about who Powers was not on the book’s advantage. I then put the book at the back of my mind until about two or three years later. In 2021, Powers’ latest novel, Bewilderment, was longlisted (and eventually shortlisted) for the 2021 Booker Prize. I ended up liking Bewilderment which made it imperative for me to read The Overstory which I then made part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. While I find The Overstory more complex, both in subject and execution, compared to Bewilderment, it did provide me with a more complete picture of Powers’ prose and storytelling process. It was not an easy read, however, as it grappled with complex subjects, subjects not usually found in literature. Some of the characters were stereotypes and Powers can be relentless in his evocation of the destructive side of human nature. The book could have easily crumbled under the weight of its ambition but this is Powers we are talking about. Moreover, the urgency of the book’s message made it a worthy read.
Title: Swann’s Way
Author: Marcel Proust
Translator (from French): C.K. Scott Moncrieff
Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way was one of the books that have been sitting for the longest time on my bookshelf although I have been planning to read the book for some time. I obtained the book back in 2015 but I had to put off reading it after I learned it was part of a seven-volume novel, In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past, an epic tome that defined Proust’s literary career. Before I start reading the book, I wanted to obtain the rest of the books. I currently have six of the seven books, hence, there is no reason to keep me from reading the book. Swann’s Way, for certain, was no easy read. It was narrated by an anonymous narrator who opened the story with his memories of childhood at Combray, his family’s country home. Charles Swann was one of their family friends and happened to visit them at Combray. Swann was Jewish and was well-connected. The middle part, Swann In Love, was the book’s most engaging as it captured Swann’s love story with Odette de Crécy, a former courtesan. It was a push-and-pull love story, with Swann being uncertain of his position in Odette’s life. Being the first book, Swann’s Way was establishing the tempo for In Search of Lost Time. Proust has a compunction for long paragraphs but his free-flowing language made the journey worthwhile.
Title: The World According to Garp
Author: John Irving
John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my most memorable reads. Owen Meany is one of the most memorable literary characters I have encountered. Irving’s ability to conjure memorable characters was simply astounding. This quality was palpable in The Cider House Rules, and again in The World According to Garp, my fourth novel by the prolific American wordsmith, and my first in nearly four years. The end of the drought was another memorable read. Like my previous experience with Irving’s works, the story started slow but once it picked up its pace, the story started to unfold. The World According to Garp was an ambitious undertaking. With the plenitude of overarching plotlines, the book covered a vast territory, such as feminism, toxic masculinity, sexuality, gender roles, family dynamics, and the growing dichotomies between genders and sexes. Also woven into the novel’s lush tapestry was the narrative of good versus evil where no middle place was allowed. The sheer ambition of the novel would have made a typical writer balk. But as he has demonstrated time and again, Irving was not your typical writer. He continues to push boundaries while highlighting and confronting relevant social maladies. The diversity of subjects the novel grappled with makes it transcend time. The World According to Garp is a literary masterpiece deserving of all the paean it has received.
Title: The White Book
Author: Han Kang
Translator (from Korean): Deborah Smith
Korean writer Han Kang was popular among Korean readers but was virtually unknown to the rest of the world. She rose to global prominence when the English translation of The Vegetarian won the Booker International Prize. I really wasn’t a fan of the book, at first. The passage of time and the realization of the subjects it grappled with made me appreciate it. I liked Human Acts, perhaps more than her first work to be translated into English. The dichotomies between these two works were stark but it was also this sea of differences that made me appreciate them on an individual level. This made me look forward to The White Book,. On the surface, it masqueraded as a collection of poetic musings on a string of white objects. However, it goes beyond that as it was through these objects that Han explored profound subjects such as human spirit loss, and grief. Through the process of understanding the dichotomies of death and life, she provided an intimate glimpse into a seminal part of her life. A deviation from the typical story, it makes readers ponder on the fragilities and the innate beauty of life. The White Book, then, is simultaneously a memoir, a meditative piece, and a poetic musing. By tackling the mysteries, beauty, and fragility of her own, and, by extension, our own mortality, the book provided a cathartic experience.
Title: The Use of Man
Author: Aleksandar Tišma
Translator (from Serbo-Croatian): Bernard Johnson
Prior to 2020, I have never heard of nor had I read any works by Serbian writer Aleksandar Tišma. My interest was piqued in early 2020 when I encountered one of his works, The Use of Man, through an online bookseller. My lack of knowledge about the Serbian writer did not preclude me from obtaining the book although it would suffer the same as most of my books: gathering dust on my bookshelf. Two years later, I would acquire another book of his, Kapo, not realizing the connection between the two books. It was actually Kapo that I was planning to read as part of my 2022 European Literature month but, in the end, I opted for The Use of Man knowing that I had it longer than Kapo. The Use of Man transported me to the Balkan Peninsula. It explored a very familiar subject, war; it is a subject that one can not fully avoid. Reading several stories about the horrors of the Second World War did not preclude me from appreciating The Use of Man. It provided a different perspective. It is rare for us to encounter a book about how the war impacted smaller localities such as Novi Sad. The Serbian writer provided very little reprieve from the nightmarish landscape but his honest storytelling captured the war as it should be captured; human bonds are volatile and heroes are nowhere to be found.