Every year I try to read a variety of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir/biography. I actually used to have a book review blog ( called One Little Library - may it rest in peace!) where I religiously reviewed hundreds of books over the course of several years.
While I no longer write about every book I read, I still love making book recommendations and playing literary matchmaker for my friends and clients. Reading is truly one of the great joys in my life, and finding a new excellent book makes me incredibly happy.
So here you go: the list of books that brought me joy (and sadness—but as you’ll see, that was ok!) in 2022.
My #1 pick of the year! If I could choose one word to describe this year, it would be “bittersweet.” There were lots of wonderful moments and circumstances to be grateful for, and there were moments of mourning, too.
In the midst of all of that, this book felt incredibly healing and validating. Why do we love sad music and sad movies? Why are Les Miserables and The Fiddler on the Roof my favorite Broadway shows (it’s not just for the music!)? If life is all about being happy, then why do we seek out tear-jerkers? Part memoir, part psychological and cultural analysis, Susan Cain provides insights on why we need more sadness in our lives. If this year has had its fair share of hard for you, I think you’ll appreciate this one.
I had the opportunity to edit this fantastic book through my work with Fresh Complaint. BaronFig founder Joey Cofone distills 38 laws of creativity that help to provide insights and practical ideas for anyone taking on creative projects or hoping to increase their creative output. I’ve already given it to several of my clients and friends.
My favorite part of editing this book was reading all of the stories. Joey told me it took about a year to find all of the stories that feature in each of the 38 laws—and they are worth it! Some of the stories are about people you know, and many are about people you’ve never heard of; but they’re all engaging, memorable, and illuminating. This is a book you will not want to put down!
My clients know I’ve been a bit of a broken record about this book because it’s seriously so well written! I’ve used Melissa Urban’s Introduction, Table of Contents, and Conclusion as examples in my group coaching and several classes I’ve taught this year. If you’re hoping to write a prescriptive nonfiction book in the future, this book is worth buying just so you can learn from it.
But more than that, I found Urban’s advice on boundaries to be the most helpful, practical, and persuasive I’ve ever read. As an Enneagram 9, I’ve not only struggled to set boundaries… sometimes I struggle to even see the value of them. Melissa Urban’s personal story of setting boundaries and the so-easy-you-can’t-not-use-them scripts she provides make boundary setting a no-brainer.
Everyone climbs two mountains in their lives. Most people climb the first mountain in their younger years—when they’re striving, working hard, and trying to find their place in the world. Then they reach the top of that mountain and realize: It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. They don’t find the happiness and peace they were promised; usually, they realize that achievement/money/status is not what life is all about. From the top of that first mountain, they plunge (or sometimes are pushed) into a deep valley.
It’s in this valley that we have to struggle to find what truly matters in life. Brooks writes that in this valley, we can make four commitments that will ultimately bring us more fulfillment and peace: to vocation, marriage, philosophy/faith, and community. Once we make these commitments, we start climbing our second mountain—a mountain that we’ll never stop climbing, as we come to find fulfillment and joy in the journey.
I love this analogy, and I found this book to be so helpful in considering the four commitments I’m making in my own life as I start to climb my own second mountain. I’ve recommended it to several people who are in valleys in their lives, and I know it’s been helpful for them as well!
Alzheimer’s and dementia run in my family on both sides, and I’ve taken seriously the idea that there’s a good chance that someday this will be my fate, too. So I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Amy Bloom’s memoir of her husband’s experience with early onset Alzheimer’s. I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you that he decides not to say “a long goodbye,” and instead seeks euthanasia at a clinic in Switzerland. This memoir is a moving chronicle of Amy’s struggle to make peace with his decision and support him, even as she sees his suffering increase as his disease gets worse. Excellent reading for caregivers and those who have loved people with Alzheimer’s.
In 2015, Chanel Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on the Stanford campus. The trial that ensued caused a storm of media around what happened—but no one knew her name. She was referred to as “Emily Doe” in all of the court proceedings to protect her identity, until the following year when she decided to release her victim impact statement and reveal her identity.
This is a book about what happened and what that time in her life was like—but more than that, it’s a moving journey of one woman finding her voice. What Chanel experienced took away her power, not just in that fateful moment on Stanford’s campus, but in the following months as she dealt with the aftermath. Her decision to take control of the narrative and reclaim her power was incredibly courageous and admirable.
This multi-generational tale about a Korean family who migrates to Japan follows the life of Sunja, the family matriarch. We first meet her as a teenager, when she falls in love with an older Korean businessman and gets pregnant, then we follow her story through the years as she becomes a mother and kimchi maker in Japan, and finally as a grandmother and great-grandmother. Sunja’s family struggles with both ordinary and extraordinary issues—from sibling squabbles and parents’ demands on their children, to betrayal and racism—with a cast of characters so realistic that I felt anyone could easily step into their story.
It’s a long book, but the time investment is worth it!
In 1954, after Emmett and Billy’s father dies, the boys decide to leave their small town in Ohio and travel west to California to find their mother, who had left their family many years before. But their plans are foiled when Emmett’s friends Duchess and Woolly escape from juvie and steal his car on their own mission to find Duchess’s father in New York. The boys are forced to head east instead, meeting all kinds of people and circumstances with Woolly and Duchess along the way.
The Lincoln Highway feels like a classic; it’s a tale of adventure, friendship, and family—and one that I plan to pick up again soon!
You know I’m a sucker for retellings of the classics! This reimagining of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is set in the 19th century and centers around a new heroine, Isobel—a young Scottish woman with synesthesia who sees words in color when people speak. She always sees the letter A in red, and it becomes her trademark as a seamstress, woven into her seemingly-magical embroidery patterns. Isobel meets young Nathaniel Hawthorne and the two embark on a passionate love affair, causing all kinds of waves in the small town of Salem, and inspiring Hawthorne to write his famous love story about a cursed woman.
I hope you enjoy any of these books that you decide to read! If you do read them, write to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know. I'd love to hear what you thought!
Happy reading in 2023.