The end of the year is a crazy time of year. We have three major holidays in a 2-month period. This means we have to make a couple of big meals and travel plans, plus the extra pressure of buying gifts. At times, the whole process seems crazy. But despite this and the deep freeze around Christmas 2022, I love making my top favorite books of the year list. It’s one more thing to do, but it’s also a labor of love.
By my count, in 2022, I read 14 books. Not a stellar reading year. I dnf’d (did not finish) one book, Demian by Hermann Hesse. It had too much philosophy for my taste, plus I wound up getting into The Woman in White (more of that book later). Anyway, let’s get going with the list, which for some reason, I like to start with my favorite book first.
1. Stoner by John Williams
You would think a book about an English professor at a Midwest university might be boring, but it is anything but. This is a sad story about William Stoner, a boy who is sent to an university to learn about agriculture to save the family farm but falls in love with English literature. He winds up on a disastrous marriage, working with colleagues that he winds up feuding with. It’s amazing that when it was first published in 1965, it was quickly forgotten but when it was republished in 2006 by NYRBC and championed by Julian Barnes and Ian Mc Ewan, it became a modern classic. That’s why I like to advocate for less known books. This was a buddy read I did with my Instagram buddy Rolly.
2. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This book blew me away. In a number of short chapters and vignettes, this book tells the story of Esperanza Cordero who dreams of living in a house outside of the Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago that she lives in now. You really can imagine what Esperanza’s neighborhood looks like and get a great sense of the people who live there.
3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I was a fan of Collin’s book The Moonstone that I read a couple of years ago for #victober. The Woman White is even better. One night, art teacher Walter Hartwright runs into a mysterious woman dressed in white walking aimlessly in the outskirts of London. This starts a gonzo story with plenty of twists and turns. Collins grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go. Another great group read with the faboo Rolly.
4. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
I always was a big fan of the movie when I saw it on TV one Saturday afternoon. I also became an instant fan of Maggie Smith, who deserved her Oscar for her role. The book is very different from the film, but the story is basically the same about Jean Brodie, who teaches in an all girl’s school, Marcia Blaine, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 30s. The book doesn’t have the explosive confrontation between Brodie and Sandy, her student and confidant, but still examines Miss Brodie’s downfall.
5. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
I saw the film Trumbo last year and became more interested in this book. Published right before the second World War, this antiwar novel is told from the point of view of a severally injured soldier when a bomb falls in his foxhole during WWI. This was definitely one of the most visceral books I’ve ever read. When you find out the extent of his injuries, it will shock you. A tour de force.
6. Green Fried Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fanny Flagg
I remember growing up watching Fanny Flagg on Match Game. In her later years, she became better known as an author. I remember seeing this film years ago. The movie concentrates on the love story between Idgie and Ruth, but the book tells the story of the small community of Whistle Stop and the people who lived there until the railroad stopped coming through the town.
7. The Beat Queen by Louise Edirich
I joined an online book club where each year there was a theme. Last year’s theme was books with food in the title, thus why I read Green Fried Tomatoes and this book. This book starts out with siblings Mary and Karl Adare riding a boxcar to Argus, North Dakota to live with their aunt after their mom flies off with an airplane pilot during the Depression. It took me awhile to get into book, but it’s a great novel about families, the one you are born into and the one you find.
8. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This was another group read run by Rolly. I think we all have seen one of the many adaptations of this novella. It was great to finally read it. What I loved the most was the extent of Dickens’ imagination. I loved his vivid descriptions of each ghost.
9. The Black Mountain by Rex Stout
In most Nero Wolfe novels, Wolfe solves the case from the safety of his brownstone on West 35th Street in Manhattan, surrounded by his beloved orchids. This book is very different. The death of Wolfe’s childhood friend Marko Vukcic as well as his adopted daughter, Carla Britton, leads Wolfe to leave to confines of his brownstone to go with his sidekick Archie Goodwin in the former country of Yugoslavia to solve the case. More action-packed than most Wolfe books.
10. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
This was actually a reread. I read this book in junior high, and it became one of my favorite books at the time. It basically a series of stories about how men from Earth come to colonize Mars and how we destroy the planet. It was a pleasure to reread it.
I have 3 honorable mentions: Rabbit is Rich by John Updike, Death of a Peer by Nagio Marsh, and The World of Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. I am currently reading a holdover from last year, Stones For Ibarra by Harriet Doerr and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Looking forward to seeing where both books land on 2023’s list.