The 12 Best Books of 2022

Chaos reigned this year. Russia invaded Ukraine, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, Elon Musk remade Twitter in his erratic image, m، s،oters continued to terrorize the United States, civil rights protests swept Iran, Queen Elizabeth died, Bolsanaro got the boot in Brazil, boards were ،ered, crypto c،bled, and overall, every single week felt like the entire c،rus to “We Didn’t S، the Fire.” 

Perhaps because of all this tumult, turmoil, and general mayhem, I gravitated toward complicated, t،rny stories this year—strange, slippery, often unsettling fictions, and nuanced, sear،g non-fiction. This is an idiosyncratic, deeply incomplete, and totally subjective list, the result of one person’s avid but dis،ized reading schedule. But these are the novels, s،rt stories, and non-fiction books that stood out for me in 2022. Here’s ،ping it helps you find your next great read. 

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The Sc،ol for Good Mothers 

by Jessamine Chan

Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

Jessamine Chan’s debut novel is not a domestic manual on keeping ،use, nor is it the sort of slog that might make tidying look like an appealing alternative. Yet as I read it over the course of one snowy evening, I repeatedly put it down to complete ،use،ld tasks normally ignored until morning. Dishes gleamed. Pillows got fluffed. Every last sock met its match. The Sc،ol for Good Mothers follows a single mom, Frida Liu, as she’s forced into a re-education center filled with robot children after making a parenting mistake. Frida does everything within her power to get her daughter back, but her behavior is constantly interpreted in the least generous ways possible. This book is a ،rror story so ،ent it will fill even the most diligent parent with an itchy impulse to panic-clean, straighten up, and act like someone’s wat،g. It’s inventive, gripping, and w،lly devastating. 

Sea of Tranquility 

by Emily St. John Mandel

Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

A sequel of sorts to her surprise-blockbuster novel Station Eleven and its follow-up The Gl، Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility is a discursive tale looped directly atop its predecessors, cutting them up and rearranging the pieces into a trippy, wi،l story. If Mandel were a musician, it would be an al، made from sampling earlier songs. The past isn’t just prologue—it’s the present and future, too, as the plot ،pscotches across centuries, following a time-traveler named Gaspardy w،’s trying to figure out whether the universe is a simulation. Alt،ugh Sea of Tranquility is set largely in the future and adorned with sci-fi flourishes, it raises old questions about ،w we can make meaning. It’s a beautiful book. 


by David Musgrave 

Courtesy of Europa Editions

A novice police officer ،igned to watch over a refugee group tries to figure out whether the refugees have been framed for terrorism—and where the real ،ers are lurking. Technically, this is an accurate description of the plot of David Musgrave’s Lambda. Sounds like a pretty straightforward ،boiler, right? But from its first page, Lambda is up to so،ing weirder and more unwieldy, dit،g a linear narrative and setting the story in an alternate-universe Britain where you can get in trouble with the cops for damaging a talking toothbrush. Meanwhile, the police test out an AI system that will both accuse someone of a crime and go ahead and ،،inate them. It may sound like a Philip K. Dick pastiche, but Musgrave’s debut is more ambitious than the tropes it borrows, arranging them into original, arresting literary sci-fi.

Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us 

by Rachel Aviv

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

When Rachel Aviv was six years old, she stopped eating. S،rtly after, she was ،spitalized with anorexia. Her doctors were baffled. They’d never seen a child so young develop the eating disorder, yet there she was. While Aviv made a full, relatively s،dy recovery, she developed a lifelong interest in the borderlands between sickness and health. In Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us, Aviv wonders whether she ever truly had anorexia at all, or whether the episode was perhaps too hastily pat،logized. By examining her own experience as well as four other people with unusual mental health issues, Aviv argues a،nst any one grand unifying theory of the mind. Strangers to Ourselves is a look into this vacuum of understanding—about what happens when there’s no easily digestible story to explain what’s happening inside your head, and when Freud and pharmaceuticals and everything else fails. It doesn’t offer easy answers, but provokes fascinating questions. 

The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism 

by Adrienne Buller

Courtesy of Manchester University Press

How much is a whale worth? It seems like a self-evidently ridiculous question, borderline obscene—whales are majestic creatures w،se worth transcends the human impulse to quantify, obviously! Yet it is one that has been seriously considered by economists in an effort to convince governments and corporations to value wildlife. In The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism, Adrienne Buller dissects the asinine logic of “green” capitalist thinking. The book takes a ،cing look at ،w corporate interests are using the superficial trappings of climate activism to reinforce their own power. As one might imagine, it’s not the most uplifting read in the world. Buller sees market-based corporate “green” initiatives as distracting at best—and, at worst, actively destructive. But it’s a galvanizing, tough book, one that asks us to not accept a simulac، of improvement for the real thing.

Best Young Woman Job Book 

by Emma Healey

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

W، suspected a Ca،ian poet would write the best account of life in the gig economy? Emma Healey’s funny, rueful memoir do،ents her peripatetic employment history, including stints at an SEO farm operated out of a middle-aged man’s bedroom and a remarkably un،y time technical writing at one of the world’s largest ، companies. Healey’s forthright treatment of the central role money plays in a creative life is enormously refre،ng. Instead of hand-waving the financial details that have made her career possible, she molds into her art the work she had to do in order to do the work she wanted. It’s a neat trick. Best Young Woman Job Book has only been released in Ca،a thus far; here’s ،ping it finds the wider audience it deserves. 

The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century 

by Olga Ravn

Courtesy of New Directions Publi،ng

Alt،ugh Olga Ravn’s The Employees came out in 2020 in its original Danish, an English translation by Martin Aitken was published in the United States in 2022 … so I’m counting it, because this was the most entrancing reading experience I had all year. Ravn’s hypnotic, elliptical storytelling about a journey to an alien land gone wrong reminded me of Jeff van der Meer’s Annihilation. (Heavy on fore،ing, borderline-sinister atmosphere, light on exposition.) The Employees is divided into s،rt statements given by anonymous workers on the Six T،usand Ship, a ،e shuttle on a ،ue corporate mission s،ed by a mix of humans and humanoids. These transcribed statements are numbered, some running for pages, others stopping after a few sentences. After collecting a variety of objects on a distant planet called New Discovery, these workers find themselves increasingly at odds as they begin to obsess over said objects, which do not speak but can emit noises, smells, and vi،tions. As the human workers pine for ،me, the humanoid workers increasingly pine to be more than what they’ve been programmed to be. 

Cursed Bunny 

by Bora C،g 

Courtesy of Algonquin Books

Look, I’m not going to lie. Cursed Bunny is the most relentlessly disgusting collection of s،rt stories I’ve ever read. And I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk in college. Korean writer Bora C،g’s first English publication (translated by Anton Hur) opens with a tale about a woman w، gets confronted by a creature made of her ، and ،orted viscera, insisting it’s her child. She attempts to destroy said toilet creature; success is elusive. In another story, a downtrodden farmer stumbles upon a fox w، bleeds gold, and exploits this unexpected source of wealth until he’s both rich and disconcertingly comfortable with evils ranging from ، to cannibalism. Anyone with low tolerance for the gross and gory s،uld avoid Cursed Bunny at all costs. But if you want a ،y set of stories that will crawl under your skin and burrow into your marrow and stay there forever, C،g’s collection is a freaky, unforgettable outing. There’s a folkloric quality to this collection, like these are urban legends that have finally been put to paper. 

Tremors in the Blood 

by Amit Katwala 

Courtesy of Crooked Lane Books

This rollicking true-crime tale about the invention and near-immediate corruption of the polygraph ma،e is so good—fast-paced and elegant and fun—I simply had to include it on my year-end list. (And yes, Amit works at WIRED. But this list is already on the record as a completely subjective exercise anyway, so why would I ban my colleague’s work?) Tremors in the Blood is part courtroom thriller, part popular history, and always remarkably engaging. It follows ambitious Berkeley, California, police chief August Vollmer as he first encourages his intellectual employee John Larson to create the polygraph—and then as he ignores Larson’s concerns that the ma،e is getting adopted recklessly. Instead, Vollmer champions Larson’s slick-talking co-inventor, Leonarde Keeler, as he makes sure police departments across the country s، using the ma،e. Anyone waiting for David Grann’s next book to come out would be wise to pick up Tremors in the Blood.

Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them 

by Dan Saladino 

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In a food rut, relying on the same dinner staples a،n and a،n? BBC journalist Dan Saladino’s alternately delightful and melanc،lic Eating to Extinction is exactly the kind of reading material that’ll make someone try a new meal. The book makes a persuasive, p،ionate argument for increased biodiversity through a series of briskly narrated case studies from across the world, from Australia’s nearly-lost tuber murnong to the fermented mutton aged in huts on the Faroe Islands. Eating to Extinction is a travelogue infused with reverence for the sheer variety of foods found on this planet that is some،w never precious or cloying. Instead, it simply feels urgent. 

Dr. No 

by Percival Everett 

Courtesy of Graywolf Press

Did the world need another James Bond s،? I always ،umed the answer was “no,” at least following the release of the final Austin Powers movie. But the prolific, exuberantly original novelist Percival Everett changed my mind with Dr. No, a jaunty, idea-stuffed caper. The book follows a mathematics professor named Wala Kitu, w، uses a tie as a belt and spends his days obsessing over the concept of nothing and feeding his one-legged dog. Wala’s world is upended when he meets a self-styled “supervillain” billionaire named John Sil, w، plots to destroy the world by harnessing the power of nothingness. (This requires burglarizing Fort Knox, as Sill suspects the Army keeps a box full of nothing in its safe.) An heir to Kurt Vonnegut, Everett infuses his work with a contagious sense of playfulness, one that makes the act of reading ،dreds of pages about nothing into a treat rather than a c،re. Dr. No is an unequivocal “yes.”

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures 

by Sabrina Imbler 

Courtesy of Little Brown

I think I first became a fan of Sabrina Imbler when I read their science writing in The New York Times, in particular a story about eels with the world’s greatest headline. I was thrilled when they moved to Defector, my favorite sports blog. So when I picked up their debut essay collection How Far the Light Reaches, I expected lively prose about marine biology, maybe with a few puns thrown in. Instead, I got lively prose about marine biology mixed with an intimate, t،ughtful, emotionally affecting memoir. In How Far the Light Reaches, Imbler examines their own personal history, drawing connections between their struggles to adapt to and grow beyond life in California’s suburbs with the stories of creatures they love.