More or less
favorite bookS of 2022
by andrew pieterick
chapter 1: abdurraqib
they can’t kill us until they kill us / go ahead in the rain / A little devil in america
For me, 2022 was the year of Hanif Abdurraqib, and after reading three of his books I can definitively say that Hanif Abdurraqib is smarter than me. It’s not even close, and this isn’t some humility complex of mine, I believe I am fairly smart. He truly altered my brain chemistry, I am forever changed.
Reading Abdurraqib’s books conjure the feeling of sitting on a couch at a party as a random stranger tells you all about a topic you never considered, but now is the most fascinating thing you’ve ever heard. His writing probes American pop culture in unexpected ways, forcing the reader to reconsider many cultural touchstones and the history that created them. Abdurraqib is, in my opinion, our greatest writer working today, and I feel fortunate as a reader that I get to live during his period of productivity. Read one of his books, read all of his books.
Chapter 2: barry
we ride upon sticks
I run into the same issue each time I try to talk about Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks. I usually try to articulate the reasons why a book is good, but whenever I think about this novel I just get giddy and over-excited. This is, without question, my favorite book of the year. It is truly a goddamned delight from start to finish, the most fun I had reading in 2022
What Barry pulls off in this story of a high school field hockey team’s demonic quest for a winning season is remarkable. Its silly setup is a bit of a red herring, as Barry is not much concerned with the consequences of consorting with the devil. Instead, this is a story about the lives of teenage girls during a very formative period, just on the cusp of adulthood. We so often dismiss stories about teen girls as something less-than or unimportant, giving those books beach-y pastel covers and sticking them on a Target end-cap. Barry succeeds in her storytelling by treating every moment, however inconsequential, as essential and important because that’s exactly how they feel to her characters.
chapter 3: erdrich
To preface this rave review, it should be said that this is a pandemic novel set between November 2019 and October 2020 in Minneapolis. For some, that will already be a topic too raw, too recent to read about. In my case, it was a cathartic experience that helped me remember everything that was lost over the past three years, and consider about what was gained in the process.
Erdrich sets this novel in her own bookstore, and follows Tookie as she deals with hauntings of both the literal and metaphorical varieties. I fell for this book during its early pre-pandemic sequences and the way it evoked winter in Minnesota, each of the characters becoming brief friends of my own. When the narrative turns, I was fully invested in the well-being of each of them.
It is not a fresh take to say that Erdrich is damn good at what she does, the countless literary awards speak to that, but it’s remarkable how she seems to only be getting better.
chapter 4: habib
No book fried my nerves this year quite like Conner Habib’s Hawk Mountain. I’m not exaggerating, I’m stressed just writing this blurb. Habib revealed himself to be a master of controlling dread, and in his debut no less! Hawk Mountain follows Todd, a single father who runs into his former high school bully, Jack, on the beach one day. Jack then begins to invade Todd’s life, and the reader is buckled in as small moments, the tiniest of choices, reverberate throughout the novel.
What sets this novel apart from others with similarly pulpy setups is the stunning writing. In Habib’s world, love and hate are not diametric forces, they are intertwined, emotions so closely linked that you may not understand what you are feeling as it happens.
This is not a novel for the faint of heart, and one that I would struggle to give a blanket recommendation for. It is relentless and dark as an oil stain. Its ending though… an all timer. Habib pulls off a masterful sleight of hand that punches you in the lungs, rips your heart out, and seals it with a kiss. The ending of the year, and that’s why it has earned its place.
chapter 5: mandel
sea of tranquility
Emily St. John Mandel is in the business of making bops. She is a hit factory, and her unique style of storytelling adds a mark of prestige to genre fiction that could otherwise be easily dismissed. Her novel Station Eleven was my favorite book of last year, and Sea of Tranquility continues her winning streak.
The summary promises a time travel story, but Station Eleven promised a post-pandemic apocalypse, and we all know how that turned out (if you don’t know, seriously, go read Station Eleven.) Mandel is less concerned with these high concept plot elements, her focus turned instead to the human connections we form through time.
With Sea of Tranquility, Mandel attempts to answer the large questions that have dogged the greatest minds for all of eternity, the drive to discover what the meaning of life really is. The beauty of that question is that, in Mandel’s hands, the answer is quite simple.
chapter 6: hsu
My copy of Hua Hsu’s Stay True is permanently dogeared to mark the moments it took my breath away, starting with a passage early on in this college-set memoir:
“Back then, years passed when you wouldn’t pose for a picture. You wouldn’t think to take a picture at all… Later, when photography became ubiquitous, pictures were evidence that you existed at all, day in and day out. They registered a pattern. Looking back, you began to doubt the sequence of events. If, in the absence of proof, anything had happened at all.”
Stay True is the story of a friendship, one cut tragically short. It’s about the bonds we form with our college friends, the first people who get to see us as we are out in the world. It’s about the connections we form when we’re trying to understand ourselves. It’s about a specific time and place, Berkeley in the ’90s, but somehow manages to feel universal. It’s a beautiful absolution of the mistakes we make when we’re young.
Chapter 7: Rowley
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
It is naive, or at least willfully ignorant, to not approach books as aesthetic objects. To that end, the cover of The Guncle is one I found so ugly that I refused to bring it with me out in public. But, true to the saying, what is on the pages inside of this resort-wear hellscape is one of the best examinations of grief I’ve read all year. It’s also hilarious, as that topic sometimes can be.
In Rowley’s novel, Patrick, a middle-aged gay man, has his niece and nephew stay with him in Palm Springs in the aftermath of their mother’s untimely death. Patrick’s world is upended by the two children, but honestly not as much as one would expect. The humor of this book is not of the fish-out-of-water variety, but more in how easily the children acclimate to Patrick’s very gay, luxe lifestyle. Lessons are learned along the way, in a very “maybe I wasn’t meant to help them, and instead they were meant to help me” kind of way. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, etc., etc.. This book is like a warm cup of tea, but one with a shot of brandy in it just for fun.
Chapter 8: CHAKRABORTY
the empire of gold
The fantasy genre was not very kind to me this year.
I read quite a few fantasy novels, and was effusive about just one: the final book in S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy, The Empire of Gold. I began this series after concluding Fonda Lee’s Greenbone Saga last December, and I was worried that Lee had ruined all fantasy for me, rendering each subsequent novel I read an unimpressive effort. I enjoyed the first book in the Daevabad Trilogy enough, was less enthusiastic about the second book, and came into this trilogy-capper without much hope.
Well, Ms. Chakraborty had something else in mind. The strength of this novel is that it utilizes the entire world Chakraborty has built to its full potential, illustrating the story with all the vibrant cultural hues at its disposal. I tend to balk at world-building for the sake of world-building, and blessedly that is not what has been done here. It’s a major accomplishment, and it has earned its place among modern fantasy’s best series.
Chapter 9: diaz
Next, we come to Hernan Diaz’s Trust, maybe the most acclaimed book of the year. You’d be hard-pressed to find a “Best of 2022” list that didn’t mention this title, and mine is no different.
You may be asking, “Andrew, what more could you tell me about this book that hasn’t been said?” The answer is not a whole lot, Diane. Also, there’s not much I can say about this book without spoiling it. So, I find myself in a real conundrum.
Generally speaking, it follows the life of a Wall Street financier and his wife in the early 1900s through the Depression. To say anything else would ruin the surprises of this literary feat. Diaz is a genius, this book is the supporting evidence. Just read it, immerse yourself in it, let it take over. It’s just that good. Trust me.
Chapter 10: Calhoun
ALSO A POET
The most surprising development from this year might just be that I have two memoirs on my “best of the year” list. Historically, I am not a memoir or biography reader, and Ada Calhoun’s Also a Poet is a blend of both. Calhoun uses her father’s aborted biography of Frank O’Hara as a jumping off point to explore their shared love of the poet and their often strained relationship over the years. Calhoun’s portrait of her father, fellow writer Peter Schjeldahl, is rarely generous, her recountings of his dismissiveness and self-centered nature cut deeply.
This book had me thinking about the solitary nature of writing and reading, and how we share those things with the people we love. Being a reader often comes with a detachment from the people we love, requiring alone time to engage in the hobby we cherish. Calhoun believed that a shared love of reading, and specifically O’Hara, was the connecting thread between her and her father, and this book is a love letter to that connector, as well as the New York City literary scene that raised Calhoun.