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Celebrating creativity, reclaiming hidden history, recognizing camouflaged connections, sharing intimate truths, stating facts, expressing feelings, and telling powerful and imaginative stories in fiction that illuminates the specific and the universal, the most exceptional of the best books of 2022 reviewed in Booklist cover with skill and insight wars and plagues, families and loners, swimmers and orphans, a time traveler and a racehorse. These works of nonfiction—including biography, history, memoir, social science inquiries, and poetry—and mainstream and genre fiction (crime, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror) offer a rich and evocative variety of high-quality reading experiences, each book a window onto this world and beyond.
Martha Graham: When Dance Became Modern. By Neil Baldwin. Knopf, $40 (9780385352321).
Baldwin mined a trove of archival treasures to construct this enlightening, engrossing, and richly illustrated biography of modern-dance revolutionary and icon Martha Graham.
Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins. By Aidan Levy. Hachette, $35 (9780306902796).
Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, as Levy establishes with passionate precision, has long been a courageously creative, spiritual, socially conscious, and profoundly influential musician, composer, and virtuoso.
One: Pot, Pan, Planet; A Greener Way to Cook for You and Your Family. By Anna Jones. Knopf, $35 (9780593320327).
Integrating instruction and inspiration, Jones emphasizes ecologically sound practices without sacrificing flavor, variety, or efficiency, with a particularly useful section of creative and simple ways to reduce food waste.
GEOGRAPHY & TRAVEL
Africa Is Not a Country: Notes on a Bright Continent. By Dipo Faloyin. Norton, $30 (9780393881530).
Journalist Faloyin explores the origins of the 54 countries of Africa with clarity and incisive wit, inviting readers to look beyond the stereotypes that remain at the forefront of the rest of the world’s portrayals of the continent. It is a forceful rebuttal of erased histories as well as a celebration of a continent already living in its dynamic future. (Top of the List Winner—Adult Nonfiction)
South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation. By Imani Perry. Ecco, $28.99 (9780062977403).
Perry offers a transformative perspective on the South in a mix of travelogue, family history, and clarion analysis as she delves into long-camouflaged aspects of a past rooted in racism, misogyny, and violence.
Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy. By Damien Lewis. PublicAffairs, $32 (9781541700666).
Legendary expat African American entertainer Josephine Baker was one of the greatest women in espionage, as Lewis energetically chronicles, becoming a key member of the French resistance during WWII.
Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad. By Matthew F. Delmont. Viking, $30 (9781984880390).
Documenting the African American experience in WWII, Delmont restores important history to our collective memory, including the mutiny court martial of Black sailors at Port Chicago that led to desegregation of the Navy.
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War. By Deborah Cohen. Random, $30 (9780525511199).
In this compulsively readable group biography, Cohen portrays daring American journalists who witnessed the world falling apart between the world wars across Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and Asia.
Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World. By Irene Vallejo. Tr. by Charlotte Whittle. Knopf, $35 (9780593318898).
In this magnificent history of books, authors, and the often-anonymous librarians to whom civilization owes an unrepayable debt, Vallejo moves seamlessly among references to Homer, Tolkien, Borges, Durrell, the Septuagint, and a host more, uncovering deep connections.
Stay True. By Hua Hsu. Doubleday, $26 (9780385547772).
When he was a student at Berkeley in the 1990s, Hsu lost a friend to a senseless act of violence. Bringing in history, philosophy, art, and memoir, Hsu’s astonishing recollection of that time is a biography of friendship writ large and in specifics.
Great Short Books: A Year of Reading—Briefly. By Kenneth C. Davis. 2022. Scribner, $28 (9781982180034).
This compendium of novels of 200 pages or less—from classic to contemporary by a diverse slate of authors—makes the case for readers venturing out of their comfort zones to experience the joy of the short novel.
All Darkness Down Wide. By Seán Hewitt. Penguin, $26 (9780593300084)
In this remarkable memoir, British poet Hewitt writes movingly about his coming-of-age as a gay man and the heartbreaking deterioration of his relationship with Elias, who suffers from depression.
Constructing a Nervous System. By Margo Jefferson. Pantheon, $27 (9781524748173).
Like a skilled embroiderer, Jefferson blends the multicolored threads of Black cultural life with memories of her past in a provocatively impressionistic yet incisive memoir.
Crying in the Bathroom. By Erika L. Sanchez. Viking, $27 (9780593296936).
Poet and novelist Sanchez spares no detail in this heart-opening memoir about the gang-run Chicago streets of her youth, her angsty goth teen years, dating life, marriage, divorce, professional success, and motherhood.
Diary of a Misfit. By Casey Parks. Knopf, $29 (9780525658535).
A fascinating work of self-investigation and investigative journalism, Parks’ memoir of identity and belonging intertwines her story with that of a man called Roy, who becomes “the first queer community I ever imagined for myself.”
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. By Kate Beaton. Illus. by the author. Drawn & Quarterly, $39.95 (9781770462892).
This lucid and perfectly balanced graphic memoir weaves sharp moments of humor with masterfully captured feelings of vulnerability and homesickness, illuminating misogyny and the generational trauma of economic disinvestment as well as the cost—both human and environmental—of the fossil fuel industry. (Top of the List Winner—Adult Graphic Novel)
Easy Beauty. By Chloé Cooper Jones. Simon & Schuster/Avid Reader, $28 (9781982151997).
Rendering complex emotion and unparalleled insight in skillfully precise language, Jones moves in spaces previously denied to her as a disabled person, reflects on key life moments like the birth of her son, and engages her study of philosophy.
Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD. By Jason Kander. 2022. Mariner, $28.99 (9780358658962).
Kander was a rising star in the Democratic party until his battle with PTSD and depression derailed his political career; his memoir outlines his service in Afghanistan, contentious state politics, and his struggles with night terrors and the VA.
Antes Que Isla Es Volcán / Before Island Is Volcano. By Raquel Salas Rivera. Beacon, $16 (9780807014578).
Punchy, funny, smart, and stylistically unmatched, Lambda Award–winning Salas Rivera’s bilingual collection confronts the histories of Puerto Rico through the lives of the island’s inhabitants and diaspora.
The Hurting Kind. By Ada Limón. Milkweed, $22 (9781639550494).
U.S. Poet Laureate Limón delves into her acute sensitivity as one of “the hurting kind” in startling poems about animals, plants, and our place in the web of life.
African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals. By David Hackett Fischer. Simon & Schuster, $40 (9781982145095).
Historian Fischer reveals how Africans responded to slavery in ways that ultimately redefined American notions of freedom in this comprehensive demographic history with a powerful and important corrective thesis.
Atoms and Ashes: A Global History of Nuclear Disasters. By Serhii Plokhy. Norton, $30 (9781324021049).
Plokhy considers the possible future of nuclear power and elucidates lessons learned from nuclear disasters, including thermonuclear weapons tests, Chernobyl in Ukraine, and Fukushima in Japan.
Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home. By Kate Mangino. 2022. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (9781250276117).
This inspiring and inclusive guide encourages readers to rethink and rework household gender roles, outlining the perils of the neotraditional family while offering examples of real couples who participate in equal partnerships, addressing topics beyond dividing tasks at home.
Fine: A Comic about Gender. By Rhea Ewing. Illus. by the author. Norton/Liveright, $21 (9781631496806).
Woven together with Ewing’s own account of coming out as nonbinary, the author/illustrator’s series of interviews-in-comics becomes a wondrous tapestry of personal reflections on subjects like gender, masculinity, femininity, and community, as well as societal obstacles and oppression.
His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice. By Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa. Viking, $30 (9780593490617).
This gripping oral history offers a behind-the-scenes look at George Floyd, his loved ones and community, his horrific and indelible death in police custody in Minneapolis, and the cataclysmic racial reckoning that followed.
Life on the Rocks: Building a Future for Coral Reefs. By Juli Berwald. Riverhead, $28 (9780593087305).
Berwald combines a bracing overview of efforts to save the world’s imperiled coral reefs with a frank account of her daughter’s battle with debilitating anxiety and OCD.
The Rescue Effect: The Key to Saving Life on Earth. By Michael Mehta Webster. Timber, $28 (9781643261492).
In the face of climate change that is as demoralizing as it is alarming, Webster presents a realistic action plan based on hope for the future, featuring case studies illustrating seven types of environmental rescue.
Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto. By Tricia Hersey. 2022. Little, Brown/Spark, $27 (9780316365215).
Hersey, known as the Nap Bishop, delves into why rest is a crucial part of racial- and social-justice work, especially for Black women, challenging the legacy of exhaustion and grind culture that wreaks havoc on bodies and minds and is a fixture of capitalism.
The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide. By Steven Thrasher. Macmillan/Celadon, $29.99 (9781250796639).
In his exemplary examination of America’s struggles with HIV and COVID-19, Thrasher explains why and how these viruses hit people of color, the poor, the incarcerated, the queer, and immigrants with particular ferocity.
Big Girl. By Mecca Jamilah Sullivan. Norton/Liveright, $27 (9781324091417).
Growing up in 1990s Harlem, young teenager Malaya faces the world in a body that is constantly commented on and judged. With grace and patience, Sullivan invites the reader into Malaya’s interior world of yearnings and rejections and her rapidly changing exterior world.
By Her Own Design. By Piper Huguley. 2022. Morrow, $16.99 (9780063059740).
This important, page-turning novel traces the life and career of Ann Lowe, who went from Jim Crow–era Alabama to New York City to the White House, designing gowns for high-society women, including Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding gown.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. By Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 2022. Del Rey, $28 (9780593355336).
The brilliant daughter of Dr. Moreau lives in isolation on the Yucatán Peninsula in the 1870s, alongside her father’s hybrid human-animal creatures, in a novel filled with action and romance that meshes the unease of scientifically created beasts with the real-life terrors of colonialism.
Demon Copperhead. By Barbara Kingsolver. Harper, $32.50 (9780063251922).
Kingsolver’s ingenious tale about a hungry orphan in a snake-harboring hollow in Virginia, where many are plagued by poverty and opioid addiction, is a virtuoso present-day variation on Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.
Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta. By James Hannaham. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316285278).
Carlotta Mercedes, a Black Colombian trans woman, has just been paroled from a men’s prison and will spend a head-spinning weekend back in Brooklyn attempting to reconnect with her life in Hannaham’s gloriously original novel.
Horse. By Geraldine Brooks. Viking, $28 (9780399562969).
Brooks’ impactful novel connects a Civil War-era champion racehorse, an enslaved groom, an equestrian artist, and, in the twenty-first century, a Nigerian American art student and a Smithsonian scientist.
If I Survive You. By Jonathan Escoffery. Farrar/MCD, $27 (9780374605988).
With nuanced writing and characters, Escoffery’s interconnected stories about Trelawny and his Jamaican American family balance much pain and trauma with moments of levity and humor.
Lark Ascending. By Silas House. 2022. Algonquin, $27 (9781643751597).
In this harsh, hopeful novel, 20-year-old Lark leaves a ravaged, fascist America for the relative freedom of Ireland, only to find it dangerous and desolate until he befriends a dog and an old woman who accompany him on his journey to freedom.
Liberation Day. By George Saunders. Random, $28 (9780525509592).
Saunders’ boldly imagined, harrowing, compassionate, and caustically funny short stories are catalyzed by assaults on our most basic human rights and inspire reflections on the fragility of freedom and the fire of the human spirit.
The Light Pirate. By Lily Brooks-Dalton. 2022. Grand Central, $28 (9781538708279).
Featuring an ensemble cast of the residents of Rudder, Florida, a town besieged by hurricanes, this luminous and wrenching novel follows pregnant Frida, and, later, her daughter, Wanda, who finds that she can create light along the surface of water.
Mercury Pictures Presents. By Anthony Marra. Hogarth, $28.99 (9780451495204).
Maria Lagana fled Italy for Hollywood after her father was imprisoned for opposing Mussolini’s fascist regime and became associate producer at Mercury Pictures in Marra’s witty, vivid, and moving tale of two opposite worlds.
Our Missing Hearts. By Celeste Ng. Penguin, $28 (9780593492543).
Young Bird’s absent poet mother, a PAO (person of Asian origin), is being hunted for violating the “Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act” in Ng’s haunting tale of oppression and resistance.
The Patron Saint of Second Chances. By Christine Simon. 2022. Atria, $27 (9781982188771).
In this bighearted debut, Giovannino Speranza tells a little lie to increase business in tiny Prometto, Italy—that superstar actor Dante Renaldi is planning on making a film there—and soon the whole town is involved in creating a homegrown cinematic masterpiece.
The Rabbit Hutch. By Tess Gunty. Knopf, $28 (9790593534663).Vacca Vale, a dying small town in Indiana, is home to La Lapiniere Affordable Housing Complex, whose offbeat residents come alive in this brilliantly imaginative first novel.
Signal Fires. By Dani Shapiro. Knopf, $28 (9780593534724).
Like creating an intricate origami puzzle, Shapiro folds together events that define the lives of neighboring families in Upstate New York in a luminous examination of loss and acceptance.
Someday, Maybe. By Onyi Nwabineli. 2022. Graydon, $26.99 (9781525899805).
Eve Ezenwa-Morrow leans on her close-knit Nigerian British family after her husband dies by suicide, but she feels stuck in place until hope comes from an unexpected place in this debut that portrays grief and recovery in all its messiness.
Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm. By Laura Warrell. Pantheon, $28 (9780593316443).Debut novelist Warrell tells the powerful, polyphonic tale of a mixed-race jazz trumpet player, Cyrus “Circus” Palmer, through the voices of the many women in his life.
The Swimmers. By Julie Otsuka. Knopf, $23 (9780593321331).
Otsuka’s exquisite novel begins in an indoor swimming pool and voices a collective “we” that reports the routines of the swimmers, then shifts to the poignant story of Japanese American Alice. (Top of the List Winner—Adult Fiction.)
True Biz. By Sara Nóvic. Random, $28 (9780593241509).In this touching and witty celebration of Deaf culture, teenager Charlie enrolls at a Deaf school in Ohio and undergoes a transforming experience. A moving and revelatory novel.
Yonder. By Jabari Asim. Simon & Schuster, $27 (9781982163167).
The Stolen, enslaved Blacks on a plantation, know that it’s dangerous to even dream about freedom, so what to think about an itinerant preacher’s promises of a free life “yonder?”
Anywhere You Run. By Wanda M. Morris. Morrow, $17.99 (9780063082502).
This riveting novel about two Black sisters on the run, one victimized by an egregious crime and both guilty of simply wanting better lives, tells parallel stories of hiding and pursuit.
After the Lights Go Out. By John Vercher. Soho, $26 (9781641293310).
There is a deep and satisfying humanity at the core of Vercher’s tragic tale of mixed-race MMA fighter Xavier Wallace. A compelling look at a brutal and crime-ridden sport and an unflinching portrait of the ravages of dementia.
Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution. By R. F. Kuang. 2022. Harper Voyager, $27.99 (9780063021426).
A young Chinese orphan is content to study at the Royal Institute of Translation at Oxford University until he discovers a thief who bears his face in a novel that scrutinizes linguistics, history, politics, and the social customs of Victorian-era Great Britain.
Count Your Lucky Stars. By Alexandria Bellefleur. Avon, $15.99 (978006300889).
The best woman in the wedding, the one person in all of Seattle who can make or break event coordinator Olivia Grant’s career, is her longtime crush, Margot Cooper.
How High We Go in the Dark. By Sequoia Nagamatsu. Morrow, $27.99 (9780063072640).
Nagamatsu examines the ways a pandemic changes the world in the decades that follow in an epic yet deeply intimate tale offering hope in the face of tragedy through human connection.
The Island. By Adrian McKinty. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316531283).
In this expertly choreographed and breathlessly exciting family-in-peril thriller, a woman and two teens are on the run from a clan of nasties under the blistering Australian sun.
The It Girl. By Ruth Ware. Gallery, $28.99 (9781982155261).
After her Oxford roommate is found strangled, Hannah testifies against a university porter, who is convicted of the crime. But, later, Hannah has doubts about what happened, and we have doubts about Hannah.
The Kaiju Preservation Society. By John Scalzi. 2022. Tor, $25.99 (9780765389121).
A man accepts a job with a company tasked with keeping Earth safe from giant creatures, and vice versa, except catastrophe strikes—explosively—in a gleefully chaotic novel inspired by the Japanese kaiju film genre.
Marlowe Banks, Redesigned. By Jacqueline Firkins. St. Martin’s/Griffin, $16.99 (9781250836502).
After floundering in New York City’s theater world, Marlowe Banks lands a job on a successful TV show in Los Angeles, but it’s more nightmare than dream come true in Firkins’ insightful rom-com.
One-Shot Harry. By Gary Phillips. Soho, $26.95 (9781641292917).
Black photographer Harry Ingram investigates the death of a Korean War buddy, white jazzman Ben Kingslow, in 1963 L.A. Phillips vividly captures the history and ambience of the era, including the ubiquitous racism and police brutality that threatened everyone in the Black community.
Sea of Tranquility. By Emily St. John Mandel. Knopf, $24 (9780593321447).
Transcendent experiences occurring a century apart and a moon-dwelling time traveler sent back to investigate them shape Mandel’s gorgeously rendered tale that speaks to how we are all interconnected.
Secret Identity. By Alex Segura. Flatiron, $27.95 (9781250801746).
In 1975 New York, Carmen Valdez, struggling to break into the male-dominated comics industry, is hired to create a female superhero. Then the man who hired her is murdered. Comics and crime blend perfectly here.
Shrines of Gaiety. By Kate Atkinson. Doubleday, $29 (9780385547970).
Atkinson focuses her brilliant re-creation of 1920s London on Nellie Corker, the self-made queen of the city’s club scene, who has just returned from prison to find her empire threatened from within and without.
Two Nights in Lisbon. By Chris Pavone. Farrar/MCD, $28 (9780374604769).
This jaw-dropping thriller, about a woman, Ariel Pryce, who wakes up in Lisbon to find her husband missing, displays Pavone’s stunning ability to use byzantine plotting as a tool to reveal character.
Where We End & Begin. By Jane Igharo. Berkley, $17 (9780593440230).
Igharo’s second-chance romance stars Dunni and Obinna, a scholarship student, who fall in love at an elite secondary school in Lagos, only to have their bond severely tested when Obinna continues her studies in America.
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