Best of 2022 Staff Picks
Where to start with this riotously funny, nuanced, razor-sharp collection of stories? Shit Cassandra Saw is as wild and vivid as the book’s title and cover suggest. Kirby manages to give the characters in each story a distinctive voice that can pack a punch in just a few short pages, and I found myself laughing, tearing up, seething and smiling along with them. The stories in Shit Cassandra Saw have teeth, and the women in them are relatable, angry, and flawed. They don’t hesitate to bite back.
BLACK CAKE is the eponymous heritage dessert composed of blackened sugar and dried fruits and nuts soaked in rum and port that is both the talisman and leitmotif bringing together the myriad threads of the Bennetts, an Asian African Jamaican family, whose past has been severed by loss, tragedy, secrets, escapes, racial and sexual violence and endless reinvention. Told in staccato chapters named for their central character or event, this sprawling narrative moves backwards and forward in time and across oceans just like the Black Cake whose long fermented ingredients are thrown together with sensitivity and intuitive measure to create a divine work you can consume with delight.
If you're already a Dillahead, this book will surely expand your appreciation for his particular brand of musical genius, providing insight both into Jay Dee's personal life and production techniques as well as the social and historical context from which he arose - including fascinating history of the city of Detroit, of swung versus straight time, and of the evolution of machine-made music both in and out of hip-hop. If you're not already a Dillahead, well, you will be soon...
The nostalgia in this book is incredibly palpable. Au's take on mother/daughter relationships and how our brains struggle to process our parents age with us is beautiful and only a little bit sad. Reading this made me miss my mom, even though we were in the same room.
A mother and daughter take a trip to Japan. They spend time together, in a way that they haven't in a long time, as memories start to swirl around them. Au, in effortlessly clear and crystalline sentences, explores the quiet gaps between people and even quieter attempts at connection. This is a book you fall into without even realizing, built on heavy melancholy and pure elegance. I wish everything I read was this perfect.
— David G
In her deliciously titled follow-up to The Idiot, all-time great Elif Batuman returns to our beloved Selin as she ponders a few essential, maddening questions: can you live an aesthetic life, even if you’re not a character in a book? Can the seduced become the Seducer? Is the microwave in the Ukrainian Institute haunted? (Yes to all three). Here, Batuman explores what it means to choose, and how by choosing, we create what we are. In true Kierkegaardian fashion, Either/Or is characteristically astute, mortally serious, and eternally amusing.
— Franki G
This book ripped out my heart and destroyed my soul - please you have to read it. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions from beginning to end that I couldn’t put down. For all the teenagers who feel like they’re being forced to grow up too fast, this is for you.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Revolutionaries make bad fathers?" In this case, it's mothers - Olga's mother - and phew, what an example of how the truth is not always neutral but can be wielded violently for one's own purposes! How do we navigate the vocation of parenthood, these children who didn't ask to get born, and yet find themselves at the mercies of our whims, subject to the repercussions of our missteps, and somehow still often offer us the most unconditional love of all? The writing was beautiful, the characters layered, the insights 100. The whole of it caught me quite by surprise, and I just really loved it.
This book was made for book lovers (no pun intended). A book about people who work in books, this enemies to lovers romance is IMPECCABLE. There's tension, passion, and pining. Turning the big city working woman falls in love in a small town trope on it's head, Henry has really written a romance for those of us that long for love and career at the same time and aren't willing to sacrifice one for the other.
This is enemies to lovers at its finest! Nora and Charlie are the cutest and have the best chemistry and banter. It’s also such a cozy read loaded with Gilmore Girls small town vibes. The perfect morning read with your bowl of coffee.
A debut novel irrefutably of its time and far ahead of it simultaneously. Told over the course of a single morning, The Novelist follows a writer who must overcome the confines of the algorithm in a world obsessed with itself and the instant gratification of perpetual scrolling. Tao Lin sums it up in one word: "Succulent." No doubt.
A man named Anders wakes up one day and discovers that his skin has turned brown. Anders finds that he has to discover who this new version of himself is but for some people the panic sets in especially as more people begin to change. But Hamid examines these changes with two people beginning a new relationship. An excellent and thoughtful examination.
Put down your trauma plots, skip those fictions of irredeemable suffering — pick up Banana Yoshimoto instead. In these five stories, broken people are put back together again, not through miracles or cartoonish romance, but how it actually happens: with time; with the help of a well-placed stranger; with a small choice that makes a great difference. Maybe you can make one of those choices today: read her, and be healed.
— Jack K
Margot's inability to feel physical pain is due to a rare congenital birth defect. Margot's inability to feel emotional pain is due to... trauma. Lots and lots of trauma. A reflection on bodily autonomy and what we owe those closest to us, this slim novel redefines what it means to be comfortably numb.
A slim novel about the everyday experiences of life in a new city. A man travels to Berlin in 2005 as a visiting professor and adjusting to the city means reconciling its history, both past and present. He's thoughtful trying to understand what is around him but can't seem to grasp any direct meaning. But truthfully it's all incidental.
Easily one of the best novels, if not the best, of 2022, Mottley completed Nightcrawling when she was 17, replete with the craft, wisdom, honesty, and social relevancy that eludes far older writers.
Kiara is an Oaktown teenager supporting herself when the landlord doubles the rent. Doing the right things have no rewards and soon she finds herself with no truth or justice in sight as her name unjustly rips across headlines. Based on a true story, the American literary landscape sorely needs more writers like Leila.
Keeps you questioning what is real, what is wrong, and what the hell is going on.
Advice for reading this book. 1) Google Kay Dick, look them in their sultry butch eyes and say, yes, I will read anything you write. 2) Remember that spooky season is over when you say it is, and prepare to have your hair stand on end in a creepy, pastoral, extremely British kind of way 3) Go find a hill to run down, spread your arms out wide, because no one is going to catch you.
Hilarious, heartbreaking, at times maddening, but ultimately spectacular.
A liberal arts grad on the fringe of 90s NYC’s downtown scene loses his bass, along with his band’s lead singer. So begins this Pynchonian noir set at the end of Manhattan’s tenure as a haven for bohemians. The end of history has arrived, but nobody’s told the kids. N.O.L.T.C.L.F.Y. is a portrait of quixotic artists and imperial decline, and damn funny to boot. Lipsyte has been the most syntactically inventive mainstream writer for years. This is his best novel.
These essays cover a lot of ground. Driving through the desert from her/their home to her/their lover’s, in a car that might not make it. Crossing into Mexico to view art as border wall on the way to a wedding. Reaching across generational lines, older and younger. Considering gender and sexuality and the continuous evolution. Thinking deeply about art of many forms–photography, performance, djing. I felt like I was in the car with Guitierrez, having a long talk, letting the hot air wash over us.
All the Lovers in the Night is a balm for tense nerves, a light in the dark for anyone who has ever felt ashamed, lost, and unlucky in love. In Mieko Kawakami's world, ordinary things become strange and hilarious: a smiling woman looks like a piece of cabbage split "perfectly in two," a person wearing an ear-flapped hat appears at the top of an escalator like "a piece of luggage emerging from the baggage claim." There are very few writers whose work I follow with a religious fervor, and Kawakami is one of them.
Claire Saffitz is a baking goddess. Her first book, Dessert Person, was a paean to the craft of delight. Rarely is a sequel as brilliant, quirky and delicious as What's for Dessert? Her recipes are never pantry bending or mind twisters, they are clever and witty and delicious. If you need a gift, here it is. Don’t think twice.
Trapped under a mountain of college debt, Beaton traveled to rural Canada, working on the camps set up in the oil sands. There she witnessed as oil workers destroyed the land, the oil companies destroyed the workers, and parts of her were destroyed by both. Beaton’s rendering of this time is stark and gray, unflinching but never devoid of the moments of solace or grace she experienced as well. With Ducks, Beaton has crafted the best graphic novel of 2022, and it’s not even close.
SHMUTZ in Yiddish refers to anything dirty, filthy and unclean. In Felicia Berliner's extraordinary debut novel SHMUTZ refers to the pornography discovered by ultra-Orthodox Raizl, on the laptop given by her employer. Of marriageable age, Raizl's search is one of discovery and wonder. This magical novel is about venturing into the unknown, in search of pleasure. Funny, insightful and lovey, it is a unique insight into what is a very closed world.
This perfect coming-of-age novel feels like it has been with me my whole life. Reenie, the young narrator, now sits snug in my consciousness informing my own memories of growing up. Adolescence in Rattlebone pops like a cherry bomb, furious and jolting, but also radiant and lucent. Read this. It’s the book you did not know you were missing.
I knew before I even read the first page that I would recommend it with my whole heart. It's history, anthropology, family lore, humor, hard truths, beauty, and grace. An intimate portrait of the people and places oft overlooked in the telling of our story.
If Christ’s parables were about shitty college relationships, working in retail, and losing a parent. Sheila Heti’s writing contains so much warmth and light and wisdom that you almost forget she is insanely funny. Manna for nonbelievers.
Give Scholastique Mukasonga 150-odd pages and she will produce an epic, populating a Rwandan hillside with dozens of richly drawn characters and building a stage on which the myths of the colonizers and the colonized wage war. Around the fire pit, the villagers ask: who is it that brought the rain? Some say Kibogo, some say Christ. For the reader, it is Mukasonga herself who performs the miracle, blanketing the world with life.