Best of 2022: Books

Even though The Metropole traffics heavily in the written word—we value books more than anyone—it can be hard to fit all the year’s titles in annually. When putting books on my wish lists, I almost always end up using “Best ofs” from two to three years ago. With that in mind, our editors have a few suggestions including novels, popular non-fiction, and academic works for your upcoming 2023, but not limited to 2022.

Favorite Book

(academic or popular, published in the last three years)

Avigail Oren (senior co-editor): This year I read more nonfiction than usual, but fiction still dominated. Vladimir by Julia May Jonas reminded me of Eileen in an academic environment, and the main character’s argument that power differentials can be sexy was provocative and cringy. The novel pairs exceptionally well with Amia Srinivasan’s essay collection, The Right to Sex. And I guess while I’m hyping books about sex, I recommend Shmutz by Felicia Berliner, which, like Melissa Broder’s Milk Fed, meditates on desire through the lens of Judaism and Jewish community.

The book that most surprised me this year was Winter Pasture by Li Juan. I have been obsessed with nonfiction nature writing this year, and I thought I was in for thick description of cold sheep. No! This was thick description of the entire experience of one winter living with a Kazakh-Chinese family and their herd of sheep and camels in the Chinese steppes—family dynamics, long boring days shepherding, attempts to get television reception, hosting neighbors, puppy training, jeep rides. I was delighted by how funny the book was, and just could not recommend it more highly. I think about it constantly. I also enjoyed Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

Finally, don’t sleep on Belt Publishing. Two of their 2022 releases were exceptional: Runaway, a memoiristic essay collection by Salon editor in chief Erin Keane, and Aaron Foley’s Boys Come First, which was a really funny and romantic story about three Black, gay friends in Detroit navigating relationships and the strains they place on friendship.

Ryan Reft (senior co-editor): “His mother had died, and then his sister; both had been taken from him, and he’d been left to survive. That was the life he was given. Had there been a better life waiting for all of them on the other side of misfortune?” observes one of Steph Cha’s main characters in her 2019 novel, Your House Will Pay, a funny, heart-wrenching story about the L.A. Riots, African American and Korean American relations, and the struggle to forgive, or even more basically, accept. Clearly based in part on the killing of Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner in Los Angeles before the 1992 uprisings, Cha’s novel serves as a great addition to work on 1990s Los Angeles and the complexity of what happened in 1992.

Honorable mention goes to the ineffable Walter Mosely, whose noir novels continue to entertain years later. Needless to say, I found A Red Death (1991), the follow up to Devil in a Blue Dress, to be an excellent addition to Easy Rollin’s narrative, highly recommended for anyone who digs L.A. noir. Like Cha’s novel, A Red Death, and really much of Mosely’s work generally, attempts to unwind the tangled racial and ethnic relations that have defined the city for over a century. 

Finally, a bit of self-interested promotion. My brother-in-law, historian James A. Edstrom just published a history of Illinois tracing its journey from territory to state. I admit I personally don’t delve into eighteenth and nineteenth century histories as much as perhaps I should, but his new book, Avenues of Transformation: Illinois’ Path from Territory to State traverses the state’s history during this era well, taking readers back to a time when Illinois served as heart of the frontier, a location that would eventually place it at the center of the national economy and politics: “its vigorous industrial base enabled Illinois to amplify the larger growth and development of the nation as a whole. It’s admission illuminated the essential nature of the relationship between a territory and the national government and highlighted nascent sectional conflicts,” reminding observers that “the moral stain of slavery was by no means fully restricted to the South.” Check it out if you chance.

Angela Stiefbold (copy & formatting editor): While I read widely across fiction genres, from sci-fi, to fantasy, to mystery, for me 2022 was the year of historical fiction. Top of my list was Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds, which traces a mother and daughter’s relationship as they leave dust-bowl Texas for California, only to face the challenges of agricultural work there during the Great Depression. A close second was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, which explores how we all can have an impact on the world, even a woman who is made immortal in 1714 at the cost of being immediately forgotten by (almost) everyone she meets. (Okay, technically this one is fantasy, but her life spans a lot of history!) And coming in third is Kate Quinn’s latest WWII novel, The Rose Code, about Bletchley Park codebreakers. Honorable mentions (both published in 2018, but I only got to them this year) are Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, in large part because of its amazing descriptions of the coastal wetlands of North Carolina (the 1960s murder mystery aspect also had some good twists); and The Unquiet Grave, Sharyn McCrumb’s most recent novel, based on the true story of a nineteenth-century Greenbrier County, WV, murder trial that included testimony of a ghost.

Charlotte Rosen (co-editor, Disciplining the City/Disciplining the Nation series): I am trying to read more novels (to balance out aforementioned ungodly amounts of TV watching). I recently read Magda Szabó’s The Door, which was a wild ride. I’m not sure I fully understood all of the nuances (especially as someone who knows very little about the politics of communist Hungary), but it was gripping and made me think in a different way, which is always welcome. I am a big Éduoard Louis stan (seriously Who Killed My Father is one of the best books on class and premature death I’ve ever read) and am currently reading another one of his books, History of Violence. Because I hate silence and cannot be left alone with my thoughts, I have also become an avid audiobook listener, which I find I can only really do for thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary lit rather than capital-L ~Literature~. My favorites this year have been The Paris Apartment, Post-Traumatic, Two Nights in Lisbon, Bath Haus, and Manhunt

Matthew Guariglia (co-editor, Disciplining the City/Disciplining the Nation series): In terms of academic books, the books I’ve been transfixed by this year have been Torin Monahan’s Crisis Vision: Race and the Cultural Production of Surveillance and Dan Bouk’s masterful Democracy’s Data. In terms of their impact on my own scholarship, as I finished up my book Anna Lvovsky’s Vice Patrol (2021) and Anne Gray Fischer’s The Streets Belong To Us were always rattling around in my backpack. I also did an event earlier this year to celebrate the release of Brian Hochman’s great history of wiretapping in the U.S., The Listeners. 2022 was also the year I rediscovered my enjoyment of reading fiction, so mostly spent the year reading through the entire bibliographies of China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer.

Featured image (at top): Sadie Wendell Mitchell, “Dig” (1909), chromolithograph, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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