Every year as Kirkus presents its extensive best books coverage, I reflect on the highs and lows of my personal reading experience over the previous 12 months. The highs in 2022 were very high—books I’ll be thinking about and recommending for years to come. As for the lows—well, let’s not dwell on those. Here, without further ado, are six of my favorites.
The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead, March 1): The best nonfiction will completely transform the way you think about a topic. That’s what happened while reading O’Rourke’s exploration of a medical syndrome that affects millions—especially with the advent of long Covid—but is often misdiagnosed or outright dismissed by physicians. The author’s own experience with Lyme disease makes this rigorous study deeply personal and relatable.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (Grove, April 5): The second novel from this Booker Prize–winning author didn’t garner the same level of coverage that Shuggie Bain did. But as a reader who was profoundly moved by the earlier book, I was gratified to find this one its equal. And by giving its young working-class Glaswegian protagonist the fleeting solace of a gay love affair, it’s a more hopeful book than its predecessor.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan (Scribner, April 5): The author didn’t consider this a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize–winning 2010 novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, but that’s how it was received by many critics. If only all sequels matched the original with such inventiveness, intelligence, and style! This one left me breathless as it explored themes of memory, privacy, family, and more with pure storytelling brio.
Trust by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead, May 3): Another sophomore novel (do I spot a trend?), this cleverly constructed book—with four separate sections, each offering contradictory views of a 1920s New York financier and his wife—was a pleasure to read while inviting critical reflections on American capitalism, the role of women in society, and the manipulations and distortions of power. Trust went on to win the Kirkus Prize for fiction in late October.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Knopf, July 5): I knew of Zevin but had never read her before and wasn’t convinced a novel about video game creators was the place to start. Boy, was I wrong—the book delivers a trio of friends who are deftly drawn and completely engaging (not unlike the quartet in A Little Life—with less melodrama). It’s a story about the creative life, about the workplace, about friendship, and it left me convinced that video games are a genuine art form. (I’m still not a gamer, though.)
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly, Sept. 13): I’ve already rhapsodized about this graphic memoir in a recent column, so I’ll just add that what I love most about it is the way the author’s personal experiences—working as one of very few women at oil extraction companies in Alberta—subtly invites the reader to consider large themes of feminism, capitalism, and environmentalism without ever letting its narrative take a back seat. Just brilliant.
Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.