It was another stellar year for books and I’m pleased to say I achieved my 22 books in 2022 target and then some. I will never get over the feeling of ‘so many books, so little time’ however I’m embracing the practice of tsundoku (a Japanese term for leaving books piled up and unread). The following list includes 22 books that I read and loved in 2022 and once again, I’ve sectioned them into books I want everyone to read, books I couldn’t get out of my head, and books I’ll return to again and again. ‘Always be drunk,’ Charles Baudelaire said. I stay drunk on stories and I’m grateful to the writers that fed (hydrated? drenched?!) my habit in 2022.
Books I Want Everyone To Read
A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney
This is the type of book that people might want to avoid and yet I urge everyone to read it. Yes, the subject matter is emotional and terrifying and no, Rob Delaney doesn’t tiptoe around it or try to soften the blow. Instead he pulls you right up close so that you are virtually living the experience with him: of becoming a father for the third time, discovering that his baby has a brain tumour, watching his child go through harrowing medical procedures, caring for Henry through the aftermath, watching him relapse, and finally, the utterly heartbreaking moment when his family have to let go of their two-year-old forever.
A hugely popular actor, comedian and writer, Rob is phenomenally talented at his craft, managing to keep you in suspense even though you know how the story ends. You will snort laugh, you will ugly cry, you will fall completely in love with Henry. For that’s what this book is really about, it’s not just a grief memoir, it’s a love story. A Heart That Works turned out to be one of the most life-affirming books I’ve read in a while. My book of the year, hands down.
My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
Model Emily Ratajkowski shot to international infamy when she appeared naked in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video. In this essay collection, Emily discusses that video and the fallout, along with a variety of encounters, clashes and relationships as she builds a name for herself in the modelling and fashion game. Visceral and astute, My Body is a searing polemic and memoir examining beauty, feminism, exploitation and motherhood. She’s a brilliant writer and this was easily one of my top 5 reads of the year.
In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lolá Ákínmádé Åkerström
Three Black women from very different backgrounds wind up in Stockholm, connected by one man (the enigmatic Jonny). Through alternating narratives, we follow the lives of Nigerian American executive Kemi, Jamaican American ex model Brittany-Rae and Somali refugee Muna as they deal with daily challenges including microaggressions served Swedish style, glass ceilings to sweep or shatter, and the lurking sense of otherness that threatens to destabilise even the most secure among them. Deftly written with vivid characters and an ending you won’t see coming, I inhaled this book in 48 hours and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
Imagine your father dies and you do a DNA test only to discover that he wasn’t your real dad? This is the engrossing part memoir, part detective story by writer Dani Shapiro who found herself caught in the centre of a grand deception. As Dani uncovers the puzzle of her origins piece by jagged piece, she weighs up the fragility of identity and the true meaning of family. Dani’s book led to so many people writing to her with similar tales that she launched, Family Secrets, a podcast on the topic.
The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
While researching my book on raising boys, I watched a few clips by the inimitable Grayson Perry discussing manhood and that’s how I heard about The Descent of Man. This book uses personal stories, in-depth research and Grayson’s funny, charming illustrations to discuss why we need to deconstruct masculinity and refashion it into something a lot freer. Witty and full of sense, this is a book that can appeal to more traditional lads as well as those like Grayson who don’t fit the ‘macho’ mould.
Feeling Myself by Natalie Lee
A manifesto for sexual liberation and an intensely personal and occasionally harrowing look at popular influencer Natalie’s (aka Style Me Sunday) life story. From childhood trauma to abusive or imbalanced relationships, the breakdown of her marriage, to rediscovering her self and her body confidence, Natalie holds nothing back. What I loved about this book is that it sounds just like she’s sitting next to you, chatting in your ear. Her easy conversational style is the hallmark of a naturally gifted writer. I was in awe of her ability to lay it all on the page and I was continuously struck by the generosity of her storytelling. It’s an empowering book for readers of all ages and descriptions.
The Colour of Madness by Dr Samara Linton and Rianna Walcott
This moving anthology explores what life is like for people of colour experiencing mental illness. It mixes raw personal essays with poetry, short fiction and visual art to create a collage of Black and Brown mental health and how to survive against an unjust system. Some excellent writing that’s carefully compiled by two editors who both have skin in the game.
A Better Man by Michael Ian Black
Subtitled A (Mostly) Serious Letter to My Son, this is an epistolary memoir by comedian and actor Michael Ian Black. As his son prepares to leave for college, Michael looks back at his own upbringing in the patriarchy and the lessons he wants to teach his teenager about life, love and how to be his own man (instead of the type of man that society pushes on our boys). It’s engaging, funny and poignant with plenty of food for thought.
Every Family Has a Story by Julia Samuel
Ever wanted to peek inside a therapy session? This intriguing and insightful book features acclaimed psychotherapist Julia Samuel in conversation with a diverse group of families, each with their own unique story. Every family is dealing with a major personal upheaval, crisis or loss and it’s fascinating to see how honest conversation and reflection can lead to greater bonding, self-awareness, accountability and healing. Overall, what shines through is Julia’s empathy and her gift for truly seeing her clients as whole human beings. One to encourage everyone in your family to read.
Books I Couldn’t Get Out of My Head
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
One of the hits of 2021, this was the first book I read last year as part of our local book club. You know when there’s so much buzz about something and it doesn’t quite live up to expectations? This book was better than the hype, in my humble opinion. From an illicit moment on a beach in Cape Cod, we witness the unravelling of one family brought on by a series of events in their past. Miranda Cowley Heller’s writing lures you in so vividly you can taste the salt on the sea breeze that surrounds the Paper Palace. Spellbinding.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
The YA novel on everyone’s lips that famously secured a 7 figure book deal for its 21-year-old author. It’s set around a private school where two students, ultra popular Chiamaka and nerdy musician Devon, find themselves at the centre of a series of scandalous rumours by someone who’s clearly out to get them. But why? This book could have been too laden with issues (race, sexuality, class) but fortunately, none of that outweighs the mystery elements. Seriously compelling and would make a great movie or miniseries. A follow-up, Where Sleeping Girls Lie, is due out in spring 2023.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Lucy Foley’s novel drops you right into the action as a murder takes place on a dark night in Paris. A stranger arrives and finds herself caught up in solving the mystery of her missing brother and the strange goings-on at his residence. Exploring a clash of cultures and conflicting values, The Paris Apartment is enjoyably twisty and pacy with memorable characters and a satisfying (but surprising) finale. I’m looking forward to when this hits the screen.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
I devoured this novel. A writer who’s grieving not only the dad she’s lost but the father she never fully knew takes a summer trip to his beach house to write her next work. She encounters a fellow writer from her past living right next door and sparks fly, in more ways than one. Sultry and sweet, it’s a delicious summer read and I’ve already got Book Lovers (and frankly, whatever else Emily Henry writes) queued up on my reading list.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
I enjoy reading books about writers although sometimes they can come off a bit self-conscious or navel-gazing. Joanna Rakoff’s memoir is crammed with enough writerly angst to be convincing but also manages to be sharp, funny and endearing. It follows her stint as an intern at a famous New York agency whose biggest client is THE JD Salinger. Baffled at first by his obsessive fandom, Rakoff soon finds herself caught up in the allure of one of the 21st century’s most enigmatic authors. The film version came out in 2020 to strong reviews too.
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
I must be one of the few people who hadn’t read any of Elena Ferrante’s novels before this one. Picked for our local book club, The Lost Daughter is an intriguing study of maternal ambivalence and female obsession, set against a picturesque Italian beach holiday. We can never quite get a grip on the narrator which makes more sense as her stories, and her life, start to come apart at the seams. A layered and provocative read that will stay with you for some time. I haven’t yet watched the Netflix adaptation but I’ve heard good things.
Books I Will Return to Again and Again
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
I like seeing people’s shocked faces when I ask them how many weeks make up an average lifespan and then I reveal that it is actually just 4000 weeks (if you’re lucky). That’s the stark message of journalist Oliver Burkeman’s book which sounds like it should be grim reading but is actually rather fun. It will give you an ‘ahhh’ sense of relief that you don’t have to DO ALL THE THINGS. Instead, the book is an invitation to choose what really matters, because there’s no time to bother about anything else.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
I read this book years ago and loved it, so when it popped up on our book club reading list, I was excited to revisit it. The Namesake is a tale about an Indian immigrant family and how they adapt to American society across generations. It’s a heady, engrossing swirl of culture, romance, self-determination and the stories that shape us, starting with the very first stories we hear about ourselves: our birth names. Jhumpa Lahiri is such a clear and lyrical writer, I could read her sentences all day long.
How To Tell A Story by The Moth
If you’ve ever listened to The Moth podcast, you’ll know that they’ve honed public storytelling down to a fine art. The Moth premise is simple: tell a compelling true story in 10 minutes to a live audience. But where do you even start and how can you make your story resonate? The Moth team breaks it down in an engagingly written, easy to follow guide that outlines their process and helps define what makes a good story. How To Tell A Story will give you the confidence to step out and speak up whether you’re on the Moth Stage, delivering a work presentation, or giving a wedding toast.
Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn
What is love? The phrase sends my head spinning with a mega-mix of songs that pose the question but don’t always hit the spot. This meditative and affectionate book by Natasha Lunn grapples with different aspects of love, from romantic to parental to the often elusive self love. You’ll hear from celebrated voices like Candice Carty-Williams and Alain de Botton sharing powerful insights but it’s Natasha’s own voice and her personal journey that kept me hooked until the end.
Wintering by Katherine May
This book was uncannily well pitched for our season of lockdowns. Beginning with a struggle with illness, Katherine May describes the concept of ‘wintering’ as something that everybody experiences and that we can all learn to embrace. Through her painterly writing, Katherine reminds us that retreat and recovery are a necessary part of life, as well as art. Winter is coming but that doesn’t mean doom and gloom. It could mean your time to bloom is just around the corner.
A Room With A View by EM Forster
I hadn’t read this since I was studying English Literature and so it was a treat to have it as our local book club selection. EM Forster’s witty and incisive take on romance and class transports us from the streets and fields of Italy to the drawing rooms of Little England. Such an enjoyable read with an unforgettable mix of characters. The movie starring Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands and Dame Maggie Smith is one of my favourites. That kiss!
Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Have you ever wanted to write your life story? You can have few better mentors than bestselling author Cathy Rentzenbrink. Drawing on lessons from her life writing workshops, this book gathers some of her best advice and insights, all delivered in a friendly, practical and reassuring voice. Cathy walks you through the process in a way that makes it seem achievable, even if it’s your first attempt at putting your story on the page. I also loved the section at the end where she shares writing tips from a range of authors. Read it, get writing.
*Find more of my reading lists on Bookshop.org. I’ll be sharing book recommendations via my social media throughout the year (follow @BabesaboutTown on Instagram and Twitter). Check out some of the books I’m excited to get my hands on in 2023. What were your favourite reads of the past year?
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