Read: Book recommendations (and, some advice on how NOT to read)
Best memoir, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books from my 2022 reading list.
Two things are proven to help people achieve their goals:
A hard deadline
A public declaration of intent
I challenged myself to read 60 books last year, and I just made it. Ever the gold star seeker, there was no way I fall short of my December 31 goal with my 25 (ha!) Goodreads friends watching! But reading isn’t a competition, and the race to finish—rather than savor, think and re-read—drained some the joy of turning pages.
I did read some fantastic books. And if you keep scrolling, you’ll see some favorites. But I also suffered through a handful I might have put down if I wasn’t trying so hard to hit that number. (Yes, I’m one of those DNF readers. Life is too short to waste on bad writing. There I said it.)
Here’s another controversial opinion—very few books should be listened to. Musician memoirs where the artist pulls out her ukelele (e.g. Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking) are one exception, but I need to see the words, touch the covers, highlight meaningful phrases, and even dog-ear pages (talk about controversial!). For me, books are a tactile medium, and while I understand the pleasure of an author’s company on a long road trip, I recently canceled my audio-book subscription.
Before I share my favorite books of the year, you should know:
Many of the memoirs and nonfiction books I read were to support my own writing and research about midlife reinvention.
These are not all 2022 releases. One was published in 1969.
What I favorite in 2022 may not make my all-time list, but reflects, for the most part, what I am curious about at this time and where my head and my heart lie.
I love a book when the story and the writing sticks to me—I eat juicy sentence after sentence. I carry the images around and find myself quoting something, sharing a fact, or buying a copy for someone else.
A few notes about some of my picks below. Please support your independent bookseller.
These woman-authored nonfiction books are so on point for these times.
From The Menopause Manifesto: “And there it was. The source of my rage was this reproductive reckoning.” …. “Many women have been conditioned to fear menopause as an expiration date for relevance and as a sign of weakness only because that is what men thought. In fact, we have this amazing data that tells us that menopause is the opposite—a time when historically, women contributed great things to society because of their knowledge and their age.” Science-based storytelling with a snappy wit. The authoralso has a terrific newsletter on women’s health.
Burnout is another exception to my audiobook aversion. While I walked the dog, the authorsand Amelia Nagoski, explained absolutely everything I've been feeling about work, relationships, politics, people, and the whole f*cking world. Learn about "human givers" (i.e. women, men are just human beings) "who must, at all times, be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, which means they must never be ugly, angry, upset, ambitious, or attentive to their own needs.” After listening I bought the physical copy.
No better read for Dry January than Quit Like a Woman. It was an eye-opener and remains an inspiration as I work on my own relationship with alcohol.writes about recovery in all its forms and is the reason I stopped making jokes that normalize drinking as a coping mechanism.
I bought a copy of Why We Can’t Sleep for my millennial daughter (born in 1987). Though I’m on the tail end of the Boomer generation, there was much to relate to (and rage about) in Calhoun’s book. Like this: “It’s a strange state of vacillating between having our shit together and feeling less and less like we give a damn about what the rest of the world thinks.”
If you can’t guess where my head’s been at this year, Susan Cain sums in up in Bittersweet— “a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world.”
I greeted 2022 from a hospital bed (I’m fine. Long story for another post.) I hadn’t asked him to, but my partner brought me I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It had been on my nightstand for months. Why it took me so long to open Maya Angelou’s heartbreaking but hopeful memoir, I don’t know. But I finished it in two days, and I promise you, I will read it again.
Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement takes back her life and her story and builds a purposeful life in service to others. This memoir is striking and clear of voice. It stays near my desk as a model of succinct and dynamic memoir writing.
It seems there were a lot of memoirs about difficult mothers this year. I haven’t read the author who’s glad her mother is dead. I have an affinity for memoirs with a humble promise of redemption. Love and healing are central to Crying in H Mart. Zauner writes about the tension of love and tradition and independence — of becoming who she is by opening herself to her heritage.
In Heavy, Kiese Laymon writes the truth from his body, the truth of unresolved family trauma, the truth of racism as he has lived it. The writing is clear and personal—he addresses his mother directly. An easy book to read, a heavy story to take in.
Several people recommended The Overstory to me. So many, in fact, that I didn’t bother to add it my TBR pile. I thought it was some fantastical story about talking trees. It’s. Not. It’s a page-turner, and its central message reminds me of one of my all-time favorite books, E.M. Forrester’s in Howard’s End. “Only connect.”
Fellow Stonecoast MFA alum, Morgan Talty, CRUSHES his debut novel, Night of the Living Rez. A collection of linked stories set on the Penobscot Nation reservation in northern Maine. His characters are vivid. Their humanity shines amidst impossible circumstances that Talty helps us remember are not of their own making. The love between the central narrator and his mother will break your heart.
I’ll end my reading highlight reel with two thoughts for you.
READ MORE POETRY! Even if you “don’t read poetry” or you think you don’t understand it, or for whatever possible reason you’ve been avoiding lovely words strung together in order to capture your deepest feelings just so.
And, this excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “Blue Iris”
Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?
Can’t fly, can’t run, and see how slowly I walk.
Well, I think, I can read books.
Work hard. Be brave. Believe.
I subscribed to Dr Jen Gunter’s newsletter - thanks for the recommendation!