I read exactly the same number of books as last year, though that doesn’t necessarily mean I read as much. Look through the list below and you’ll find nothing nearly as long as My Struggle (Book 6) or Don Quixote (though the compulsively readable The Goldfinch sprawls way past the 500-page mark.) Of the eight re-reads, Tom Spanbauer’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age-in-1960s-Idaho novel was the most enjoyable, but Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Good Squad proved the most illuminating, particularly in those moments where she anticipated (if not quite fully predicted) the current era.
My ten favorite new-ish books I read in 2022 (unranked; in alphabetical order by author’s last name):
Jennifer Egan, The Candy House
As sequels to Pulitzer Prize-winning novels go, this gets a nod over Andrew Sean Greer’s pretty great Less Is Lost for its sheer ambition. Matching and occasionally exceeding the first book, Egan shifts her focus from music to technology which allows her to cast an even wider net without obscuring the ethical and psychological implications of humans having access to, well, everything.
Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads
Franzen’s long-form fiction is so consistent he might be my favorite current American novelist. This typical-for-him doorstop, the first in a purported trilogy is simply what he does best. A rich but contained familial drama set mostly in 1971, it’s like The Corrections after two decades of lived experience informing an attitude that neither belittles nor deifies its well-drawn characters.
Hannah Gadsby, Ten Steps To Nanette
You’d wouldn’t expect a by-the-numbers memoir from Gadsby or even her one-woman show Nanette simply retold in book form. Although this serves as both memoir and Nanette companion, it’s also a fascinating deconstruction of Gadsby’s history, persona and, in meticulous detail, how she conceived and constructed the monologue that made her infamous.
Jessi Klein, I’ll Show Myself Out
I enjoyed this as much as You’ll Grow Out Of It, television writer/producer/voice actor Klein’s first essay collection from 2016. Following the birth of her son, this sequel consists of amusing, caustic and often riotously funny observations of raising a young child in your 40s. More Sedaris than Bombeck, Klein deserves an audience as bountiful as either of them.
Mary Jo Pehl, Dumb Dumb Dumb: My Mother’s Book Reviews
Best known as a writer/performer on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pehl’s slim but satisfying memoir has a novel slant. Following her mother’s death, Pehl discovers a box full of notecards containing handwritten, haiku-like thoughts on the books she had read. From these pithy remnants, she assembles (with disarming Midwestern humor) a multifaceted portrait of her mom while also surveying her own grief.
Sarah Polley, Run Towards The Danger
A child actor-turned-director/screenwriter, Polley’s been mostly MIA for the past decade; this essay collection explains why. Due to a freak accident, she suffered brain damage that left her unable to work. She’s now recovered (her new film, Women Talking, is in theaters as I write this) and uses this experience as a catalyst for six essays about taking risks, working through trauma and confronting the unknown. Happily, her essaying retains all of the steel-eyed complexity and personable wit of her other creative pursuits.
David Sedaris, Happy-Go-Lucky
The newfound depth and maturity on display in 2018’s Calypso continues in this latest collection. Sedaris muses on life during COVID, naturally, but also centers on his 98-year-old father’s decline and death and his own mortality. Rest assured, even as he delves further into personal and often uncomfortable places (from American gun culture to revelations about his father), he has little difficulty locating the humor in such taboos without coming off as cynical or flippant.
Gary Shteyngart, Our Country Friends
Having written a novel set during the 2016 election, Shteyngart’s follow-up concerns a family and their friends sequestering themselves at a crumbling, upstate New York estate in the early days of the pandemic. It reads like a Robert Altman-directed French farce as filtered through the author’s unique, endearing perspective of an immigrant writer/humorist forever navigating/questioning/discovering their own place in America.
Bob Stanley, Let’s Do It
A companion to 2013’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, a history of modern pop (i.e. the Rock and Roll era), this tracks everything that came before, from the dawn of popular music at the turn of the 20th Century to early 1950s crooners and their adherents in the following two decades. It doesn’t cohere as well as its predecessor but Stanley writes so eloquently about everyone from Duke Ellington to Rod McKuen that it winds up another essential tome for nearly all music fans.
Martha Wainwright, Stories I Might Regret Telling You
Often in the shadow of her parents and older brother, Wainwright’s own talent as a singer/songwriter is nothing to scoff at. Her memoir might be the best I’ve encountered by a musician since Liz Phair’s Horror Stories in that Martha exhibits a candor fully in tune with the book’s title without seeming sensationalist or self-indulgent. She’s set a high bar if Rufus ever decides to attempt a memoir of his own.
Here’s my complete 2022 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):
- Tom Gatti (ed.), Long Players
- Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads
- Tamara Shopsin, LaserWriter II
- Gary Shteyngart, Our Country Friends
- Kelefa Sanneh, Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres
- Dana Stevens, Camera Man
- Jennifer Egan, A Visit From The Goon Squad*
- Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store
- David Mitchell, Ghostwritten
- Chuck Klosterman, The Nineties
- Marilynne Robinson, Jack
- Peter Terzian (ed.), Heavy Rotation
- Mel Brooks, All About Me!
- Dale Peck, What We Lost*
- Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
- Ann Patchett, The Dutch House
- Kurt Vonnegut, Deadeye Dick*
- John Dos Passos, 1919
- Stephen King, On Writing
- Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors*
- Alex Jeffrey, Donna Summer’s Once Upon A Time (33 1/3 series)
- Bob Odenkirk, Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama
- Julie Klausner, I Don’t Care About Your Band*
- David Sedaris, Happy-Go-Lucky
- Karen Fowler Joy, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
- Jessi Klein, I’ll Show Myself Out
- Sarah Polley, Run Towards The Danger
- Mary Karr, The Liars Club
- John Waters, Liarmouth
- Jennifer Egan, The Candy House
- Carson McCullers, Collected Stories*
- Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
- Sloane Crosley, Cult Classic
- Tom Perrotta, Tracy Flick Can’t Win
- Lesley Chow, You’re History: The Twelve Strangest Women In Music
- Charlie Berens, The Midwest Survival Guide
- Amos Vogel, Film As A Subversive Art
- Hannah Gadsby, Ten Steps To Nanette
- Molly Shannon, Hello, Molly!
- Geoff Dyer, The Last Days Of Roger Federer
- Kliph Nesteroff, We Had A Little Real Estate Problem
- Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg, Full Service
- Paul Rudnick, Playing The Palace
- Martha Wainwright, Stories I Might Regret Telling You
- Patricia Bosworth, Montgomery Clift: A Biography
- Bob Stanley, Let’s Do It
- Mary Jo Pehl, Dumb Dumb Dumb: My Mother’s Book Reviews
- Tom Spanbauer, Now Is The Hour*
- Andrew Sean Greer, Less is Lost
- Michael Schur, How To Be Perfect
- Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens
- Tom Breihan, The Number Ones
- Stanley Elkin, Mrs. Ted Bliss
- Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son
- Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life*