Ten Best Books of 2022

While those familiar with other Best of 2022 lists will recognize some of the titles below, we hope the California Review of Books’ Top 10 will also nudge the curious to check out some lesser known work. Once again, we found it was a great year to be a reader.

Hidden Cargoes by Chris Arthur

Hidden Cargoes showcases the work of one of the most deft practitioners of the art of the essay. Our reviewer, Walter Cummins, writes: “Hidden Cargoes—like Chris Arthur’s previous eight essay collections—is a book that can change your life, not so much your behaviors and beliefs but how you relate to the world around you. That is, to the objects in the room in which you read his pages and to all you encounter as you observe what passes through your immediate perceptions—a young woman’s ear when riding on a bus, long-eared owls in a thicket, an oystercatcher flying under a bridge, a tulip tree leaf, a photo snapped on a cruise ship.” (EastOver Press)

In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the author’s husband wants to end his life through assisted suicide before the disease takes its terrifying toll, and he enlists his wife to take care of all the tedious and tortuous details. Our reviewer, David Starkey, writes: “Similar to a person facing their own mortality, In Love eschews the inessential. It is the sort of book—like John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud, or Ann Hood’s Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, or Cory Taylor’s Dying: A Memoir—that is so gripping, and so honest about our greatest societal bête noire, that while you are reading it, everything but the narrative melts away to insignificance.” (Center Point Pub)

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Trust is about the power of money and the power of fiction, and how inextricably intertwined the two are. David Starkey writes: “When you finish reading the exquisite short novel Bonds by fictional author Harold Vanner, it’s hard to imagine where Diaz might go with his story, but the three narratives that follow—another of which is the length of a short novel—amplify, undercut, rewrite and rewire the opening section. Imagine Don DeLillo, at his peak, collaborating with Jorge Luis Borges, at his, and you’ll have an inkling of what transpires in one of the year’s most ambitious novels.” (Random House)

The Last Days of Roger Federer by Geoff Dyer

Once again, prose maestro Geoff Dyer manages to move in and out of nonfiction genres—essay, memoir, history, biography, philosophy—seamlessly and with great elan. Our reviewer, George Yatchisin, writes: “He’s smarter than you, but he never rubs your nose in it. He asks at the end of the first section, ‘Wouldn’t it be marvelous if it were possible to be a serious writer without taking oneself at all seriously? … I mean while doing the actual work.’ If anyone pulls this task off, he does.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Anthem by Noah Hawley

This dystopian novel draws heavily on tropes from fantasy and video games. David Starkey writes: “Whatever minor flaws it may have, Anthem is frightening, funny and far-seeing. As the novel picks up speed, it does begin to seem more like the script for an action-adventure TV show and somewhat less like a literary novel, but it would be silly to blame Hawley, the Emmy award-winning showrunner for Fargo, for making his novel exciting: that’s just what he does.” (Grand Central Publishing)

American Midnight by Adam Hochshild

Adam Hochschild is that rare historian who combines rigorous research and clear prose. American Midnight is a compelling history of America in the turbulent early decades of the twentieth century. Our reviewer, Brian Tanguay, writes: “American Midnight is a deeply researched and brilliantly written book that arrives when many Americans seem skeptical or suspicious of their governing institutions and leaders. It’s unfortunate that most Americans have no awareness of this fraught period, but it’s also why this book is consequential.”  (Mariner Books)

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire & Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernández

No book in recent memory shows more clearly the intimate and complex relationship between Mexico and the United States than Bad Mexicans. The book focuses on El Plan de San Diego, one of the largest—and deadliest—uprisings against white settler supremacy in U.S. history. Brian Tanguay writes: “Kelly Lytle Hernández brings Ricardo Flores Magón, his times and his cause to life; it’s a compelling story of a man who courageously faced long odds, persecution and imprisonment, but never ceased fighting tyranny or galvanizing others to do the same.” (W. W. Norton)

Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrota

It’s kind of wonderful to have the obnoxious, self-righteous, but hilarious Tracy Flick appear in middle-age; the fact that her election as high school president all those years ago has not panned out, is a bittersweet irony for both Tracy and us. David Starkey writes: “Perrota should be commended for the skillful way he manages to skewer his characters without ever making us feel that he’s being unfair to them. Indeed, the more comic foibles the characters reveal about themselves, the more human they become.” (Scribner)

Field Notes from the Flood Zone by Heather Sellers

While there has been plenty of apocalyptic fiction written about the likely effects of global warming, poets have been somewhat slower to the game. No more. David Starkey writes: “I wish I could quote every line of Heather Seller’s brilliantly bleak yet bravely sardonic book of prose poems about impending climate catastrophe in South Florida. Towards the end of the book, Sellers writes: ‘At night in my bed, almost every night, I dream I’m underwater. Sometimes I breathe underwater. Sometimes I drown face down.’” (BOA Editions, Ltd.)

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout has an uncanny ability to transform the mundane into literature; her characters quickly get under a reader’s skin. David Starkey writes: ” If Lucy by the Sea sometimes seems haphazard in its plotting, the actual experience of reading its pages is addictive. It’s Strout’s faithfulness to the very dailiness of life that ultimately make Lucy Barton—and her creator—so appealing. To paraphrase W. H. Auden, ‘though one cannot always remember why one has been happy…reading this novel, there is no forgetting that one was.’” (Random House)