18 Best Books of 2022

best books 2022

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Congratulations, dear reader: we’ve made it to another great season in books. Whether you read like the wind this winter or fell short of your goals, spring is a time of rebirth, meaning that it’s a new season, a new you, and a whole new slate of releases to devour. Whether you’re looking to understand our current moment through rigorous nonfiction or escape it through otherworldly plots, 2022’s early crop of new titles offer something for readers of every persuasion. Our favorite books of the year so far run the gamut of genres, from epic fantasy to literary fiction, and tackle a constellation of subjects. If you want to read about spaceships, talking pigs, or supervillains, you’ve come to the right place.

A warning: Not all of these books have hit shelves yet, so if you see something you like, pre-order it now as a gift to your future self. When it shows up in your mailbox, you’ll be thanking Past You—and diving between the covers in no time. And check back here throughout the year—we’ll be updating our list as 2022 rolls on.

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1

Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility, Mandel’s sensational sixth novel, offers immense pleasures of puzzle box plotting and high-flying imagination. As devoted readers have come to expect from her fiction, the novel braids together a rich ensemble of characters, revealing the surprising linkages between their disparate lives. In 1912, a high-society exile is spooked by an out-of-body experience in the Canadian wilderness; in 2203, a novelist endures the agonies and ecstasies of “the last book tour on Earth” while longing for her home in a lunar colony; in 2401, a shiftless thirty-something becomes enmeshed with the secretive Time Institute. Linking them all is one mysterious shared experience: an overlapping moment, disjointed from linear time, that calls into question the very nature of our reality. Masterfully plotted and deeply moving, this visionary novel folds back on itself like a hall of mirrors to explore just what connects us to one another, and how many extraordinary contingencies bring us to each ordinary day of our lives. Read an exclusive interview with Mandel here at Esquire.

2

The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan

One of our great American storytellers returns with a rare literary sequel of the very rarest quality. The Candy House enlarges A Visit From the Goon Squad not just by revisiting its memorable characters, but by doubling down on its formal conceits, with many chapters written in texts and emails. In this alternate reality, the world has been forever changed by Own Your Unconsciousness, a popular platform where memories are stored in the cloud and accessible to any user. As Egan hopscotches through the interconnected stories of shared memories, she asks powerful questions about the innate human need for connection, and the price of surrendering our privacy. Of the many novels that have sought to make sense of the social media age, The Candy House is the finest yet.

3

The Immortal King Rao, by Vauhini Vara

Why should television get to have all the fun with Big Tech? In this thrilling story about capitalism, consciousness, and the ties that bind, Vara brings the ethical questions of our time to speculative fiction. In a not-so-distant future, Athena Rao stands accused of murdering her father, the legendary tech mogul King Rao. To prove her innocence to the Board of Corporations, who run the planet, she’ll have to make use of The Harmonica, a device King implanted in her brain to provide access to all of his memories. Athena’s defense takes the story back to her father’s traumatic childhood in India, all the way through to his meteoric rise and eventual downfall. Vara’s warped world of techno-capitalism run amok is vividly imagined, but it’s the novel’s beating heart that will win you over. “What if we could gather up our stories and hold on to them for safekeeping?” Vara asks. “Wouldn’t that be our best shot at proving to the universe that, once upon a time, we were here?”

4

Scoundrel, by Sarah Weinman

One of our finest true crime writers returns with the chilling story of Edgar Smith, a convicted murderer freed from Death Row by virtue of his connections with various powerful people, including National Review founder William F. Buckley. Smith’s deceptions set him free and catapulted him to literary fame, but ultimately, he nearly took another innocent woman’s life, leaving blood on the hands of Buckley and his other champions. Exhaustively reported and compassionately told, Scoundrel shows how the justice system is easily manipulated, and how it often fails vulnerable women. Like The Real Lolita before it, Scoundrel proves once again that Weinman is a modern master of the genre.

5

The Invisible Kingdom, by Meghan O’Rourke

“I got sick the way Hemingway says you go broke: ‘gradually and then suddenly,’” O’Rourke writes in The Invisible Kingdom, describing the beginning of her decades-long struggle with chronic autoimmune disease. In the late nineties, O’Rourke began suffering symptoms ranging from rashes to crushing fatigue; when she sought treatment, she became an unwilling citizen of a shadow world, where chronic illness sufferers are dismissed by doctors and alienated from their lives. In this elegant fusion of memoir, reporting, and cultural history, O’Rourke traces the development of modern Western medicine and takes aim at its limitations, advocating for a community-centric healthcare model that treats patients as people, not parts. At once a rigorous work of scholarship and a radical act of empathy, The Invisible Kingdom has the power to move mountains.

6

True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us, by Danielle J. Lindemann

Have you ever been bashed for watching Survivor or The Bachelor? Pick up this definitive sociological guide to reality television, and next time someone mocks your “guilty pleasure,” you’ll know exactly what to say. In compulsively readable chapters on everything from COPS to Honey Boo Boo, Lindemann illuminates how reality television both reflects and creates us, while also codifying our deep conservatism and fragile hierarchies of power. “Reality television teaches us how the categories and meanings we use to organize our worlds are built on unsteady ground,” Lindemann argues. Reading True Story is like seeing the matrix—you’ll never watch Bravo the same way again.

In Anthem, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and only teenagers can see the big picture. This epic literary thriller is set in a not-too-distant future, where the nation is hopelessly divided, the political system is broken, and the climate is barreling toward irrevocable disaster. (Familiar, right?) Crippled with anxiety about the sorrowed world they stand to inherit, high schoolers respond with a disturbing protest movement: mass suicide, “an act of collective surrender.” Three unlikely young heroes resist the movement and journey into the American West, where wildfires rage through the redwoods and homegrown terrorists stoke lethal violence. Together they embark on an epic quest to save a friend from the Wizard, a Jeffrey Epstein-like monster; ultimately, they may just save the world. Anthem is a Great American Novel for these tumultuous times—a provocative work of fiction that sees to the heart of things, cuts through the noise, and asks, “How can we change, before it’s too late?”

Read an exclusive interview with Hawley here at Esquire.

8

Olga Dies Dreaming, by Xochitl Gonzalez

In this Technicolor novel from an astounding new voice, we meet Olga and Prieto Acevedo, two Brooklyn-born children of Puerto Rican revolutionaries who now live successful but precarious lives in their gentrifying borough. Olga, a wedding planner working with well-heeled Manhattan clientele, wonders if she’ll ever find a love story to call her own; meanwhile, popular Congressman Prieto fights for the siblings’ Latinx neighborhood while concealing his sexuality. Blanca, their demanding and absent mother, chose fighting for Puerto Rican independence over her children long ago, but when Hurricane Maria blows her back into their lives, Olga and Prieto must reckon with the wounds of the past. Olga Dies Dreaming proves the truth of that oft-quoted aphorism, “the personal is political.” Packed with richly imagined characters and vivacious prose, the novel asks how we can live meaningful lives in a world rife with inequality. (A Hulu adaptation starring Aubrey Plaza is already in the works, so get in on the ground floor while you can.)

9

To Paradise, by Hanya Yanagihara

In this grand and sweeping novel, her first since 2015’s much-lauded A Little Life, Yanagihara crafts a symphony from three disparate stories, each one set in an alternate America. In 1893, the scion of a wealthy family resists an arranged marriage as he falls for a penniless music teacher; in 1993, a young Hawaiian paralegal hides his past from his much-older lover; finally, in 2093, a woman in totalitarian, pandemic-ridden New York uncovers the mysteries of the men she’s loved. Resounding across these narratives, linked by a Greenwich Village townhouse, are themes of family, fate, and national identity. To Paradise is yet another masterwork from a visionary writer who never fails to surprise and astound.

10

How Civil Wars Start, by Barbara F. Walter

In the past twenty years, the number of active civil wars around the globe has doubled—and now, a leading political scientist insists that we’re on the verge of one of our own. In this urgent guide to how countries come apart at their seams, Walter reveals the warning signs of civil unrest, arguing that the United States is now an “anocracy,” somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state. If we’re to come back from the brink of collapse, Walter argues, we’ll need to shore up the American experiment by protecting voting rights, reforming campaign finance laws, and curbing extremism on social media, among other changes. Rigorously researched and lucidly argued, How Civil Wars Start is an arresting wake-up call.

11

How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Maybe you’ve had enough of pandemic novels by now, but hear us out: How High We Go in the Dark is exactly the white-hot missive of hope, humanity, and compassion you need. This pyrotechnic novel opens in 2030, when an archeological dig in the Arctic Circle unleashes an ancient plague destined to reorganize life on Earth for generations to come. Through a formally dazzling novel-in-stories structure, Nagamatsu envisions how life goes on. Each story is a marvel of imagination: this plague-riddled world contains euthanasia theme parks for terminally ill children, talking pigs raised for organ farming, and robo-dogs programmed with the memories of the dead. By the time mankind takes the stars in search of a new, plague-free home, you’ll be long bewitched. Rich in scope and vision, with each nested story masterfully rippling across others, this is a visionary novel about grief, resilience, and how the human spirit endures.

12

Notes on an Execution, by Danya Kukafka

“Average men become interesting when they start hurting women,” Kukafka writes in the preface to this mesmerizing novel, sure to be one of the year’s most lauded. “I am tired of seeing Ted Bundy’s face. This is a book for the women who survive.” As serial killer Ansel Packer awaits his execution on Death Row, Notes on an Execution counts down his final twelve hours through remembrances from the women who survived knowing and loving him—as well as those who didn’t. Through characters like the teenage mother who abandoned him and the determined detective who brought him to justice, Ansel comes into view, but so do we, the crime-hound readers, indicted in the funhouse mirror of our own dark obsessions. Why do we seek meaning in the lives of violent men, while overlooking the lives of women who pay the ultimate price? At once blistering with righteous anger and radical empathy, Notes on an Execution is destined to become a contemporary classic.

13

South to America, by Imani Perry

The American South is often cast as a backwater cousin out of step with American ideals. In this vital cultural history, Perry argues otherwise, insisting the South is, in fact, the foundational heartland of America, an undeniable fulcrum around which our wealth and politics have always turned. Fusing memoir, reportage, and travelogue, Perry imparts Southern history alongside high-spirited interviews with modern-day Southerners from all walks of life. At once a love letter to “a land of big dreams and bigger lies” and a clarion call for change, South to America will change how you understand America’s past, present, and future.

14

Vladimir, by Julia May Jonas

“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.” With this suggestive salvo, so begins Vladimir, a deliciously dark fable of sex and power set amid the contemporary minefields of academia. At a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, we meet our unnamed narrator, a fifty-something literature professor whose husband, the charismatic chair of the English department, is under investigation for sexual misconduct with students. Into this powder keg enters Vladimir Vladinski, a hunky new faculty member with a wife, a young daughter, and a dark past of his own. Alluring and forbidden, Vladimir becomes the object of our narrator’s sexual infatuation, as well as a lightning rod for her musings on the discontents of aging and womanhood. Earmark an entire afternoon to devour this propulsive story of obsession, scandal, and transgressive desire.

15

The Employees, by Olga Ravn

Transporting and ephemeral, The Employees is among the year’s most memorable novels, even though it clocks in at just 136 pages. On a ship hurtling through deep space, humans and humanoids work together under a rigid hierarchy, pitted against one another by a nameless corporation. On a planet called New Discovery, crew members retrieve mysterious objects that exert a strange power over man and machine alike, awakening dreams, memories, and longing. Humans mourn their lost connections on Earth, thousands of light years away, while their humanoid colleagues yearn for connections they’ve never known. Constructed as a series of witness statements from the crew, gathered after tensions with their oppressive employer boil over, The Employees is an unforgettable novel about the psychic costs of labor under capitalism. Yet it also reaches deeper to explore science fiction’s animating questions—what makes us human? Which of us is more human, person or robot? Is a synthetic life still a life? Dreamlike and sensual, The Employees shouldn’t be missed.

16

Thank You, Mr. Nixon, by Gish Jen

One of our finest practitioners of the short story form returns with Thank You, Mr. Nixon, a spiky collection distilling five decades of Chinese-American life into eleven remarkable short stories. In the title story, a Chinese girl in heaven pens a cheerful thank you note to “poor Mr. Nixon,” postmarked to his address in the ninth circle of hell. In another standout, Hong Kong parents go to desperate lengths to make contact with their “number-one daughter,” now in self-imposed exile across the globe; in another; a glamorous young woman’s romance with an older Chinese-American man is squashed by his watchful mother, to hilarious effect. Wry and wise, these big-hearted stories of immigration, identity, and exile linger.

17

Moon Witch, Spider King, by Marlon James

In the second volume of his epic Dark Star Trilogy, James masterfully flips the first installment on its head. Sogolon the Moon Witch, the legendary adversary who tangled with Tracker during his search for a vanished child in Black Leopard, Red Wolf, now takes center stage in Moon Witch, Spider King. Here, Sogolon tells her own tale of what happened to the child, and remembers her century-long feud with Aesi, the king’s fearsome chancellor. Through Sogolon’s roving journeys across landscapes and decades, James makes the mythic tantalizingly real. Pick up this titanic story of empire, adventure, and power to see why the trilogy has earned the title “the African Game of Thrones.” Read an exclusive interview with James here at Esquire.

18

Groundskeeping, by Lee Cole

Who doesn’t love a campus novel? Groundskeeping, a stellar addition to the canon, is a tender novel of precise pleasures. At Kentucky’s Ashby College, two young writers collide: Owen, a local ne’er-do-well working as a groundskeeper in exchange for free creative writing classes, and Alma, a prestigious writer in residence. Alma, the devoted daughter of Bosnian immigrants seeking her own American Dream, struggles to understand Owen’s ambivalence about his Trump-loving family. When a secret romance blossoms between them, Owen and Alma must navigate both the vicissitudes of love and the growing pains of their own becomings. At once a bittersweet coming-of-age story and a lovely romance, Groundskeeping shines brightest in the messy in-betweens.

19

Trust the Plan, by Will Sommer

Want to learn more about QAnon, but don’t know where to start? In Trust the Plan, a journalist who’s reported on the group for years (and come into its crosshairs) explains all you could ever want to know about this radical far-right movement, from its origins as a fringe online conspiracy to the fateful day its supporters ransacked the Capitol. Through sobering and studied reportage, Sommer unpacks the past and looks ahead to the threatening future, arguing that the growing danger of Q must be stopped, before it’s too late.

20

How to Take Over the World, by Ryan North

Comic book fans will fall hard for this delightfully daffy guidebook to supervillainy from an award-winning Marvel Comics writer. After a career spent dreaming up “increasingly credible world-domination schemes,” no one is better prepared than North to write this practical guide to designing death rays, constructing a secret underground base, and hiring dependable henchmen, among other musts. North takes the outlandish seriously, laying out the science behind even the most farcical maneuvers. But this gimlet-eyed Trojan horse of a book has a trick up its sleeve: what if some schemes from the supervillain playbook, like extending our life spans and controlling the climate, could actually save the world? Exuberant, optimistic, and just plain fun, How to Take Over the World will both surprise and delight.

21

Ancestor Trouble, by Maud Newton

Who are our ancestors to us, and what can they tell us about ourselves? In this riveting memoir, Newton goes in search of the answers to these questions, spelunking exhaustively through her frustrating and fascinating family tree. From an accused witch to a thirteen times-married man, her family tree abounds with stories that absorb and appall, but taxonomizing her family history doesn’t satisfy Newton’s hunger for meaning. Just what do the facts of a life tell us about who we are or where we come from, and what can our personal histories tell us about our national past? Masterfully blending memoir and cultural criticism, Newton explores the cultural, scientific, and spiritual dimensions of ancestry, arguing for the transformational power of grappling with our inheritances.

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