The 22 books I read in 2022 (aka my 2022 reading list - and a few book reviews ) - with ratings!
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
This year my goal was to read more fantasy. That's not just because I'm drafting a novel right now called The Dog War about a boy who accidentally starts a war to protect the last dog in the world (I also refer to this as King's IT in a medieval fantasy setting). It's mainly just because epic scope fantasy is the first genre I really fell in love with and I realized last year that I had been neglecting to read it because I'd gotten distracted with horror, literary fiction, and mysteries. Don't worry though, I've still read a pretty broad scope of things (from Holocaust memoirs to introspective literary fiction to ghost stories to horror novellas and everything in between). I can't actually think of a bad book that I've read this year. In fact, I can't think of a bad book that I've read in a long time. I guess I'm careful about picking things up? I'm also very willing to put a book down if it doesn't grab me. I normally give it no more than 5 pages, but sometimes will drop a book in as little as 1 or 2 pages if it's not interesting. If the premise itself hasn't hooked me, then those opening pages have to do a lot of work, in other words. If you've ever said to someone, "it starts slow but it gets good around..." you're likely describing a book I would be reluctant to read.
I'm going to offer at least a sentence or two about most of the books on the list. Not summaries, but my responses / thoughts to them. Don't be lured into thinking I give high ratings to any book that's decent, by the way, I just happen to be starting with my top 3 favorite books of the year. Anything in the 9+ category for me is a rarified and stupendous story in my eyes. A 9+ means the book is in conversation as "one of the best." An 8 means I'd gladly recommend it and gush about it to you, and, well, a 7 means it's good but has some flaws that are holding it back. Fortunately, I didn't read anything this year that I'm considering below a 7. For the record, a 6 would be a book that entertained me but that I have serious critiques for, and a 5 or below would be unlikely because I'd probably have never kept reading it to begin with.
Keep in mind quite a few of these are well over 500 pages and several are approaching the lurid 1000 page mark, so 22 books for 2022 is more difficult than if I'd been breezing through 200 page novels again and again. Next year we'll go for 23, although honestly I'd like to read something more like 30. Anyway, on to the list!
1) Fairy Tale by Stephen King. This is a 9.3/10, and is tied for my favorite book of the year. It's also got a stunningly good cover (seen above). I'm actually bewildered at how good of a cover it is. At first glance it looks like the eye of a dragon, if you study it closer, you realize it's a boy going down the steps of an intricate well. The book itself has a lot of the things I'm a complete sucker for. It's a portal fantasy, really, and the main character is a boy (with a dog!) that's thrust into a conflict thousands of years in the making. Fairy Tale also has a ton of meta commentary on storytelling, and what it means to tell a story, and approaches tropes in fantasy head on (by literally acknowledging them in the text, and the way King uses this to play with our expectations is a master stroke). It's a stellar book, and one of King's best. Somehow he keeps getting better.
2) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a 9.8/10 - it's essentially a perfect novel, and it's tied with Fairy Tale for first place in my top 3 books of the year. There's a lot written about this book already, as it's considered one of the all time great fantasy novels. I actually would list it as my favorite ever, although The Hobbit and C.S. Lewis's Narnia collection (at least 1-5) are close in competition. What really impressed me wasn't the poetic (without being dense) prose or the complex and yet hugely logical magic system, it's the way Rothfuss tells a story while being in conversation with storytelling and songwriting and fable and myth. There's a relation to Fairy Tale in that way, too, but I think the way Rothfuss pulls it off is more successful. It really is one of the best fantasy novels of all time. The second book (although I've still got a little bit left) is just as good.
3) Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. It's an 8.8/10. This is my brother's favorite book and I read it at his request/suggestion. It takes the last slot for my top 3 favorite books of the year. It's also the most unexpectedly good book I read this year. Not that I expect my brother to recommend me bad books, I just didn't think it would be this good. I laughed more while reading this book than I did while watching the last comedy special on Netflix. Nicholas Eames is downright hilarious, a real comedian, and this book also gets huge bonus points for having a cast full of older main characters. It picks up with the legendary band of heroes 20 years after they've all retired and gotten fat, lazy, and tired. It's a wild ride, the prose is strong, the world is unique and full of all the fun things that makes fantasy what it is - thank you, Jaymes.
4) The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates. 8.0/10. This is a really fun ghost story / haunted house novel. Early in the year I got a random urge to read a "scary story," and this came recommended to me from a friend in my MFA program at Emerson College (thanks, Abby). It got a little melodramatic in parts, and some of the prose stood out to me as being slightly unpolished, but that means very little to me when put against the truth that the book genuinely entertained me and got me spooked. It's a great ghost story.
5) Wilder Girls by Rory Power. 8.3/10. Wilder Girls has been described as "Lord of the Flies but lesbian" and I don't think that's an unfair characterization. It's about a bunch of girls stuck on an island where a terrible disease has broken out. It's brutal, heart breaking, original, and creepy. I liked it quite a bit. I read it at the suggestion of Katie Williams, a very talented author and professor at Emerson College. 6) Nous Nous by John Vanderslice. 8.7/10. I'm a little biased because the author is a previous professor of mine and someone I look up to, but I very seriously doubt he reads my blog so I'll tell the truth. And the truth is that Nous Nous struck me as being the most brutal and emotional read of the year, especially for parents. I'm not going to say too much, but I do want to say this. I think the conversation Nous Nous brings to light - that is, discourse about people who have been very hurt, and feel that the world doesn't recognize or understand their hurt, is important. The antagonist feels that he's been wronged, and has decided to lash out so that someone, anyone, will see him and feel the hurt that he feels. It's a really poignant and important conversation to be having at a time like this in our history. I think John Vanderslice understands why Cain killed Abel, and more importantly, why telling a story about a person like that is important. It's a great read, although there are parts that can get dense in terms of character interiority (this is a complaint I can make about almost any novel that's literary fiction or even literary fiction adjacent). The pay off is well worth it, though. John's last novel, a historical fiction called The Last Days of Oscar Wilde would easily make a "top 50 best novels" list for me.
7) Lisey's Story by Stephen King. 9.2/10. Lisey's Story isn't perfect, but it's close. This book made me feel things that I was afraid to feel, and reading it in the wake of my father's death made it even harder. If you read one book by Stephen King and never touch him again (good luck), this should be it. I think it's technically and mechanically his best written novel. The prose is gorgeous, the story is emotional and painful, and the payoff is intense. “There was a lot they didn’t tell you about death, she had discovered, and one of the biggies was how long it took the ones you loved most to die in your heart.”
8) The Haunting of Blackwood House by Darcy Coates. 7.6/10. This isn't quite as good as Ashburn House, but it was a lot of fun as well. This felt a little predictable at times, and even a little formulaic. Still, if you're in the mood for a ghost or haunting story, it should scratch your itch.
9) Needful Things by Stephen King. 8.6/10. This has one of the best endings of any of King's books, but it does suffer a bit from being a smidge too long. I think he could have cut 30 pages. I live in the town where the Hulu series Castle Rock was shot, and the imagery in Needful Things is very "small northeastern town" in the way that Castle Rock was, too, so I had a REALLY easy time imagining the setting and the shop in this book. This cover literally looks like a painting of the main street of our town, and we have a lot of fun little shops, although none of them are quite as interesting as Needful Things (fortunately).
10) Duma Key by Stephen King. 8.0/10. I read this at the suggestion of my friend, James (not my brother). It's as good as he told me it was. Creepy, insightful, well written - I loved it. Again, though, I think it could have cut a little bit out of the middle, and the end actually dragged for me. I felt that it could have ended several chapters sooner. Still, any books where the main character is a tortured artist are going to hit a note with me.
11) The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani. 7.5/10. It's a good book, but it's not something I'm about to recommend to a friend. I read this for a class, and have to admit it's not something I'd ever normally pick up.
12) Still Alive by Ruth Kluger. 8.3/10. This book is also called A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered. God damn if Ruth doesn't annoy me with how uncompromisingly terrible she is in remembering her mother (who adopted a child while in a Nazi death camp and saved her and Ruth both from being gassed while in Auschwitz - essentially a fucking literal hero). It is the most brutally honest and difficult thing to read about the holocaust that I've encountered (and I've read most of the well known memoirs). What I really liked was the depth and focus on what happened before they were taken to the death camp. Ruth Kluger really illustrated how it happened.
13) Billy Summers by Stephen King. 8.9/10. I think this is another one of King's great books that just doesn't quite make the 9+ rating for me. As a piece of trivia, I believe it's the only book King has ever published without a single note of supernatural to it. I actually really, really loved it, and wouldn't argue with anyone that had it as a 9+. It managed to surprise me, subvert my expectations in the best way, and ultimately make me think really hard.
14) Dreamcatcher by Stephen King. 8.5/10. Boy, this one really surprised me. I loved the vibe and tone of it. I was so immersed, more so than usual. It's not one of his best in a technical sense, but something about it really jived with my headspace. As a story about aliens, it's a far sight better than Tommyknockers. I could easily put this as a 9, but I think if I take away some of the strangeness that made me love it so much for inexplicable reasons, I have to admit it's just not quite there in a mechanical sense. Still, this is a beautiful book.
15) Salem's Lot by Stephen King. 8.0/10. As a "vampire story," it leaves a lot to be desired. It feels a little bit dated - but I think this is King's homage to Dracula, so that makes sense. It's a reread for me, which I've tried to stop doing (that is, I've tried to stop reading books for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th... times) but it's the first King book I ever read, well over a decade ago, and I'd honestly forgotten most of it, so I allowed myself to break the rule in this case. I think Salem's Lot suffers a bit from trying to be scary but not really being scary. Still, it's a classic.
16) Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. 9.9/10. Something Wicked is one of the greatest novels of all time as far as I'm concerned. I read it every year, rules be damned, and I'll keep going at it. It's what I call my "October book," and I think I like that tradition. I'd like for every father in the world to read this. It's thanks to Bradbury that I understand the danger of getting on the carousel, even if just for one loop. The prose here is Bradbury's best -- some of the best, period. It's poetry. And the story is multilayered in the best way. The more I read it, the deeper it gets, and the more I notice and consider. It's about boyhood, but it's also about becoming something more than a boy, about being in that awkward space where you're neither boy nor man, and it really speaks to what it means to resist temptation.
17) The Institute by Stephen King. 8.7/10. I'm noticing a trend when it comes to King. It's the reason I read him so much. He's earned my trust. His very worst book is a low 8 in my eyes. He's just a damn good storyteller, and this is another example of one of his well told, well written, thoughtful stories. For King it always seems to start with the idea, and he's masterful at communicating what the novel is about very quickly. I respect that a lot. This one, which is about a bunch of kids with special powers that get abducted by "The Institute," where they're abused and tested like lab rats, starts quick and doesn't slow down the whole time. King really grabs you by the collar in this story. The "boy genius" main character also plans to study writing at Emerson which is fun, as that's where I study and teach as well.
18) If it bleeds by Stephen King. 8.8/10. If you loved Pet Sematary then you owe it to yourself to give this a read. It's a collection of four (I think, there could only be three, it's been quite a few months since I read it) novellas and I have to say each time one of them ended I was wanting for more. It really pulls you along.
19) After the Quake by Haruki Murakami. 8.2/10. "Super-frog Saves Tokyo" is my favorite short story, and that's one of the building blocks of Murakami's collection here. I'm starting to feel guilty because I did read this collection a few years ago, but my memory isn't the best, and it mainly (aside from Super-frog) felt like new reading. All of the stories follow characters whose lives were changed, generally only slightly, by the deadly earthquake in Murakami's own town Kobe in 1995.
20) Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. 8.0/10. Although it's not part of popular discourse, Pinocchio, to me, is a story about fatherhood and what it means to give something life and then be responsible to (and for) it. I've written about this a few times and have an essay out there about it. I read this in honor of my father and it came close to bringing me to tears (something only one book has ever achieved). I'm not a "tough guy," I just don't cry that easily. I'm prone to long periods of melancholy instead. I've heard good thing about Guillermo del Toro's recent (2022) adaptation of this and I mean to watch it soon. The original Disney version is a masterpiece in my opinion.
21) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. 9.0/10. I reread this on whim because it has what I consider to be one of the best opening lines of any novel, ever. "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." I've marveled over this hilarious and intriguing opening many times. This whole series is incredible, and this is one of my favorite books of the 7. Lewis gets at the real meaning of forgiveness and teaches us what it actually means to genuinely forgive someone, for them and ourselves. Those themes mean a lot to me and Lewis changed the way I perceive the world and treat my loved ones by illustrating them so masterfully.
22) The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. No rating, because I'm about 60% finished and won't rate a book that I haven't gotten to the end of, but this isn't cheating because I will be finished before the end of the year, even though I've got hundreds and hundreds of pages to keep reading. So far it's as good as the first, maybe even better, and I'm just as in love with the author, Rothfuss, as before. The main character, Kvothe, is a classic hero in the making, but Rothfuss manages to create his legend without being too ridiculous while doing it. Again, we're looking at a story within a story, a legend within a legend, a fantasy within fantasy. It's meta and touches on the meaning of stories in a really beautiful way. I'd have liked to read a few more books than this, but I got pretty bogged down with my first semester teaching writing to college students, writing my own book, and working on freelance projects. I also read about 100 short stories (not counting the 50 or so unpublished ones from my peers in my MFA program), and when I consider that, I guess I don't feel quite as bad. I do have a request for those of you who are curious enough to have read this far. Next year I'm challenging myself to read some books that aren't fiction. I'd like to read something that'd falls under each of these five categories, and I'd really love some recommendations:
1) Historical - (I'm leaning toward something about the Greeks, Romans, Renaissance, or Medieval time periods.)
2) Science - (I'm thinking of something like Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry from Ancient Alchemy to Nuclear Fission by Bernard Jaffe, but am far from set on that.)
3) Philosophical - Preferably something considered a cornerstone of the genre. Maybe Seneca?
4) A memoir - (I'm thinking about looking at Jennette McCurdy's I'm Glad My Mom Died). As someone who loves their mom, this one really seems interesting.
5) Anything at all considered nonfiction. Think of this as a wildcard.
If you have any suggestions, please leave them below! I'll also take suggestions for fiction, too, although I normally don't have trouble figuring out what to read next when it comes to pleasure reading like that (I think I'm going to read more epic fantasy and maybe try to grab a space opera or something else in the science fiction realm). I did say my goal for next year was 23 books, and I do think it's fun to keep up with the last two digits in each year, but I really would like to surpass it. Anyway, I'll make sure to at least keep up the tradition. God help me if I live to 2099.