There are plenty of things in this world that are more important than books. Stuff like food, shelter, and medical care — you know, the basic necessities that keep us alive.
But books are indispensable for other reasons. They have a unique ability to enrich our lives in a way that few other things can. They challenge us, educate us, inspire us, and haunt us. They introduce us to people we otherwise wouldn’t meet and places we otherwise wouldn’t go. The enjoyment of books is part of what makes the human experience so gratifying. As Mortimer J. Adler has observed, “Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.”
For me, it’s a tool I haven’t been able to use as much as I’d like lately. The days are busy, and reading has to be squeezed into lunch breaks and brief slices of free time on the weekends. But even in these small doses, reading continues to be a habit that pays substantial dividends in my life. Books make me who I am. I can’t imagine a world without them.
That’s why I’m happy to be offering up (for the seventh straight year!) the list of books that I’ve most enjoyed spending time with during the last twelve months. In one way or another, each of these books left a lasting impression on me, and I think that’s something worth celebrating — and sharing with others.
All the usual disclaimers apply: I’m just a recreational reader with no literary credibility reflecting on my own highly subjective experiences. What I happen to like, everyone else might hate. That’s okay. But for whatever it might be worth — and it’s probably not much — here are the six books that have made my list for 2022. Check them out if you’re looking to add something new to your reading queue.
1. Paradise (Lizzie Johnson). I remember hearing about the deadly Camp Fire of 2018 that ravaged parts of California, but as a Midwesterner, it’s a story that got lost among the hundreds of other tragedies that feel too far away to hold my attention. This book, however, brought the story close to home, throwing me right into the middle of the flames. Told with astonishing detail and a breathtaking pace, this account of the fire and its aftermath was almost impossible to put down. In addition to giving me a robust appreciation for the individual stories of those affected, it also tackled some of the bigger questions of climate change and institutional negligence that lurk behind the fire itself. This was a riveting book, full of suspense and empathy, heroism and tragedy, hope and loss.
2. Bittersweet (Susan Cain). Few books have resonated with me as much as Susan Cain’s first book Quiet. So when I found out that she had a new book coming out and it happened to be about a subject that I’ve been interested in for a long time, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. I wasn’t disappointed. Drawing insights from a diverse range of spiritual teachers, artists, scientists, and more, this book explores why people like me find beauty and inspiration in the melancholy aspects of life. To use a phrase that’s been way overused, it made me feel seen. In the same way that Quiet made me proud to be an introvert, Bittersweet made me proud to be someone who listens to bands like The National, watches movies like Tree of Life, and reads novels that make me cry. And speaking of novels that make me cry…
3. After the End (Clare Mackintosh). We’ve all been there: trying unsuccessfully to relay an experience to others, only to give up and conclude in frustration, “I guess you just had to have been there.” That’s how I feel about trying to describe this book. I could tell you that it’s a gut-wrenching exploration of parenthood and loss. I could tell you that the characters will drive you crazy and also make you want to hug them. I could tell you that the whole story isn’t really one story at all, but rather two. None of those things, however, would come close to capturing the sheer emotional and creative force that this book packs inside of it. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before and if you want to know what I mean by that, you’ll just have to read it. You’ll hate it for awhile, but by the time you reach the end, I think you’ll be glad you took the journey.
4. The Far Land (Brandon Presser). Thanks to the “New Nonfiction” shelf at my local library, I was lucky enough to stumble across this unexpected gem and find myself lost in a world I never knew existed. It chronicles the story of Pitcairn Island, a remote hideaway in the South Pacific where a group of mutineers made their home in the early 1800s. Blending together accounts from both the past and the present, this book offers a comprehensive look at one of the most off-the-radar places in the entire world. It’s a wild story, and the twists and turns just keep coming. It’s the sort of book that left me asking myself, “Why am I just now finding out about all this?”
5. Finding Ultra (Rich Roll). This is probably the nerdiest book on my list this year, but I just can’t leave it off. Having been a fan of Rich Roll’s podcast for quite some time now, I’m fairly familiar with his story of transformation from out-of-shape alcoholic to ultra-endurance athlete. But reading his book gave me a whole new level of appreciation for how he got there. From beginning to end, this story is a celebration of second chances, big dreams, and the triumph of the human spirit. Best of all, it’s a book that can resonate with anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re not into endurance sports. Or addiction recover. Or plant-based food. Or anything else unique to Rich’s story. This book invites everyone to discover the hidden potential that might be lurking below the surface, waiting to be explored.
6. The Survivors (Alex Schulman). I’ve never ranked the books on my annual top 6 lists; I just stick them in the order that I read them during the year. But if I did rank them, this one would definitely be at the top. It wasn’t an easy book to read (it deals with things like messy family dynamics and mental health challenges), but it’s the kind of book that leaves a lasting impression. Schulman does something exceptional in how he tells the tale, starting from either end of the story and slowly working his way from both directions toward the surprising center. But beyond that stylistic novelty, there’s a ton here to love: the prose is beautiful, the setting is unforgettable, and the characters prove themselves sincere and true. It’s the type of novel that manages to be both literary and accessible — something you can thoroughly appreciate even if you don’t consider yourself a reader.
And that’s the list for 2022. Regardless of whether or not you find any of these books interesting, I hope they’ll at least inspire you to visit your local library or bookstore and find something you’ll enjoy. There are millions of pages out there waiting for you to find them.
If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane and see what my past self enjoyed reading, check out my “6 Most Enjoyable Reads” lists from previous years:
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