Books of the year and feelings like that
I spent an evening chasing the titles of the books I read this year. I thought there were a myriad of apps tracking this for me, in addition to my library accounts, and perhaps Amazon kindle had my digital rentals as well? But: no. None of them kept up! What are internet cookies* for anyway?
Anyway, I went about looking for signs to recall what I was reading—email mentions, texts, photos, Instagram stories. I wondered if I had read 30 books this year (nearly, somewhere around 28). Then I wrote them all down on a piece of paper in a journal. Foolproof!
Here are some of the books that passed the attention gauntlet, and won their place in my hands and flighty mind for the duration of their pages. They were all great, or I wouldn’t have finished them.
Going to take my Marie Kondo moment and say: Thank you books, for being part of my year.
More than a few peculiar memoirs this year, mostly because I fell completely for Anne Truitt’s four books that are edited journals about her life as a sculptor and doting mother. I loved the way she cataloged work as a sculptor alongside housekeeping, being a single mother, and life. I loved learning from how incredibly hard she worked at the work, even when her art was not selling or getting critical reception. I loved entering her mind at different ages and stages in her life, from her 40s. These books inspired me in my own writing, because the way she wove daily life together with meta-aspirations is exactly the type of writing I love to do.
For those of us who grew up hearing Elisabeth Elliot on the radio, hearing about she and Jim from church mission culture, or simply reading her books, the book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot was an incredible read. Through extensive journal excerpts and letters (so many letters!) the author documents how Elisabeth became one of history’s extraordinary persons, through her devotion to God and the moral framework she believed in.
Amazing fiction of the year were Hamnet, Olive Kitteridge, Small Things Like These (the slimmest, most elegant novella set in Ireland) and The Candy House.
The Candy House is on a lot of the best books of this year lists. It’s a surprisingly easy read about a future where people upload their memories to connect with one another, written from nine (maybe? I lost count) different intertwining perspectives. Like another of her books, A Visit from the Good Squad, it’s written with this light spirit and is somehow pleasant and funny while tussling with this dark sci-fi premise. Note you do not need to read Visit from the Goon Squad first.
Similarly light yet deeply thoughtful, the sci-fi books Station 11 and Sea of Tranquility were two of my favorite books of the year. If you read Station 11, you then get to watch the hbo series which has amazing costumes and fascinating twists on the original plot.
In April Joe and I went to the warm white sands of Canouan island for my older brother’s epic 40th birthday party. The hotel, Soho House, felt like a gorgeous open air home run by an invisible benevolent being, and the lobby had small piles of chic worn beach reads for the taking. There I found The Wreckage of My Presence a hilarious memoir about mothers, being a mother, and love in general. So happy and SO sad at times. Don’t want to give too much away, but it’s an amazing read, terry clothed beach lounger not required.
I picked up Lessons by Gisele Buchen at a summer used book tent sale, the type with cardboard boxes lining tables setup over lawns and under tents. Somehow I finished it just as she and Tom Brady divorced. Sad timing! I enjoyed reading about her modeling career and all her hard work inspired by her parents’ faith in her. If you read the book you learn she values family more than anything, so I can only imagine how heartbreaking that divorce was.
At one point this year I did a send-a-book chain on Instagram. I have no idea how it worked out for the 40ish people who signed up but I did my best to maximize the system by mixing up the names instead of putting them into one-chain pyramid with me at the top (as most chain letters are structured). Through that I received 8 books from strangers and really enjoyed 3 of them: Panchinko, Untamed, and The Color of Water. I loved The Color of Water, it was astounding how his mother had shaped their family, and how much he admired her, while he was also honest about how difficult his childhood was.
In January we knew we were going to Paris and Croatia in the early summer, and some reading was influenced by that. Joe and I both loved An Editor’s Burial which is a collection of stories that inspired Wes Anderson while he was writing The French Dispatch screenplay. Arguably his inspiration is better than the actual film; An Editor’s Burial is filled with gems. For Croatia I read Balkan Ghosts, a fascinating collection of essays about the different Balkan countries. And Lea Ypi’s Freedom, about growing up in Albania (which bizarrely is directly across a slim sea from Italy, but seems a world apart).
First book of last year was a re-read that I could read every year for the rest of my life: Circe by Madeline Miller. Last book of 2022 was Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change an absolutely beautiful and thoughtful book about the kinds of care we have around us, and what we offer one another. I would recommend it to anyone, mother or not.
*Speaking of cookies, I couldn’t decide how to best hyperlink these books. Most of them are linked to Bookshop, which has a nice interface and is a place you could buy the book. But realistically what you need, as a reader, is a hyperlink where you could add these to a to-read list and get them from your library. I’m not sure where you should do that. I think goodreads is stuck in the mud–despite knowing everything I’ve read for years now, they do not give me any good recommendations. So I’m on the hunt for a new book tracking app–I think the space is realllly ready for a cute enthusiastic app that makes you want to read and helps you keep nice lists! Right now I am trying out the app Storygraph.
I appreciate not just your list, but your thoughtful comments! I discovered Circe this year, by way of you, and adored it. I was thinking that The Matrix by Lauren Groff might be an interesting read for you. It is odd and wonderful. I track my read books on a paper list and my to-be-read books in a google doc with hyperlinks. Feels archaic. Thanks for Storygraph tip!
I’m so glad Olive Kitteridge got a mention. I think of that book often in a “I wish I could write like her” way. I’m a little embarassed to admit I just bought a Colleen Hoover book, my first, for this trip. I needed to know what all the hype was about! TBD…