I did it! I hit my target of 60 books this year — and even exceeded it a little. (Update: 64 books for the year) After a few years of reading very little fiction and sometimes very little at all, it feels good to be back in the world of readers. It’s funny that I began and ended the year with Richard Osman’s books. Books #2 and #3 in the elegant Thursday Murder Club series were my first and (nearly) last books in 2022.
As always, I credit the Libby app from the Indianapolis Public Library. I read quite a few audio books but “Reading with your ears” is just as effective (for me, anyway). As one friend said this year about audio books: “How else do you clean your house?”
I also joined Goodreads this year and loved following many of you on your reading journeys. Connect with me on Goodreads so I can see what you’re reading, too!
Now that the year is finished, here’s the roundup of my favorites or most impactful for the year:
Best non-fiction book of my year was Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Religion scholar Kristen Kobes De Mez does a masterful job of mapping the history of the evangelical movement in the United States and how — and why — it shifted to a message of toxic masculinity. She looks at the subordination of women and describes several notable movements in conservative Christianity leading to politicians who don’t seem to promote Christian values.
My second best non-fiction book of the year was Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, Patrick Radden Keefe’s bestseller about the Sackler family and the opioid epidemic. I was a year or two late in reading this book, but it’s a history making indictment of the pharmaceutical industry and describes for consumers how and why medical marketing works. Add in the huge impact on philanthropic giving. I mean, just, *wow*.
Of course I always have a few honorable mentions for non-fiction titles. This year’s include Rachel Maddow’s Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House which details the rise and fall of Vice President Spiro Agnew and the Justice Department’s tricky indictments in the middle of Watergate. It was a part of history that I just never knew and gives me a new perspective on political turmoil. The book is based on the podcast which is nearly the same. And I can’t neglect to mention The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. The book is a history of General Alex Dumas, a mulatto in France before, during, and after the French Revolution and the father of future author Alexandre Dumas who drew upon many of his heroic father’s adventures for his popular books. (Thanks to Books of Titans for the recommendation!) Lastly, I have to recognized the tremendous achievement that is the new biography of King George III, The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III by British historian Andrew Roberts. Published just a year ago, the book takes a comprehensive look at the longest reigning King of England and his victories (and failures) beyond the loss of the American colonies. I wrote about it for the Liberty Fund Reading Room.
I had one big standout this year when it came to fiction: Wolf Hall. The literary world lost Hilary Mantel in 2022 so it was perfect timing to read Wolf Hall for an upcoming reading group. I had expected a dull, tedious slog through Tudor history, but was I ever wrong. It was an incredibly well-researched and contextual look at the life of Thomas Cromwell and his relationships with many of the major figures of the day from Anne Boleyn to Thomas More. This is a book I will enjoy re-reading and taking apart because of the many enlightening turns of phrase or witty exchanges. It’s fiction, but well researched, and while some struggle with her writing style, it didn’t bother me at all. (Plus: I love how utterly delighted she looks in all her author photos. She look truly pleased and excited to have won two Booker prizes!)
There are lots of honorable mentions in the fiction category. I read three of Lucy Foley’s thrillers and loved The Guest List and The Hunting Party. Osman’s books were a delight. But I must specifically mention The Paris Library, a book the American Library in Paris, love, and loss during the WWII occupation. And Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. I had mixed feelings about this one going into it. I’m not a great fan of regret. However, this book was about so much more, and while it was sometimes painful to relive the main character’s lives and examine her failures, ultimately, the theme is about redemption and gratitude. We all have wonder and love in our lives. It definitely earned a spot on my best-of-the-year list.
I used to choose a large classic for an annual summer read and now my classics are just an ongoing parade scattered throughout the year. I lead a reading group on Jane Eyre (still one of my all time favorites) and re-read Persuasion — again. Still, my best new classic was The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I knew of the author, but truly understand now why this particular 1859 novel is cemented as the ancestor to the modern mystery-thriller. I just couldn’t put it down and read most of it over the course of a snowy cabin day while not moving from a couch in front of a wood burning fire.
And of course, I need to mention The Mysteries of Udolpho — a much referenced classic of Gothic fiction that most people only know from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abby. It’s a lovely read and truly the benchmark of the genre. (I’m going to tackle Clarissa next year.) And call it a modern classic? I finally read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Now that was a book.
General Notes: Series and Re-reads
Lastly, I usually have some guilty pleasure series or reads to cover, but this year, I tackled a series that feels like an old friend — the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series. I made it to book 9 and will finish the last 11 in 2023. If you love literature, 19th century detail, and naval history, you’ll love these books about British naval captain Jack Aubrey and surgeon/spy Stephen Maturin. They’re a delight — and my set has been read and re-read for the past 25 years. It was time to give them a new listen — and I wasn’t disappointed!