Best books 2022: Maureen Corrigan picks her favorite books of the year Some years, this annual book list falls into a pattern: like stand-out memoirs or dystopian fiction. But 2022 could not be contained, and these titles sprawl all over the place in subject and form.

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Maureen Corrigan's favorite books of the year: 10 disparate reads for a hectic 2022

Maureen Corrigan's favorite books of the year: 10 disparate reads for a hectic 2022

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Some years, my best books list falls into a pattern: like a year that's dominated by dystopian fiction or stand-out memoirs. But, as perhaps befits this hectic year, the best books I read in 2022 sprawl all over the place in subject and form. Here are 10 superb titles from 2022:

 

  • Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun

    Also a Poet
    Grove Atlantic

    Also a Poet is a moving account of Ada Calhoun's attempt to connect with her elusive father, art critic Peter Schjeldahl, by trying to complete his abandoned biography of the beloved New York poet, Frank O'Hara. Calhoun recalls how, one day, in the basement of the East Village apartment house where her parents lived for decades, she stumbled upon a treasure trove of cassette tapes from the 1970s; interviews that her father conducted with O'Hara's painter friends and fellow poets. Ultimately, the book Calhoun writes isn't an O'Hara biography either: It's a genre-defying memoir and work of criticism, as well as a love letter to O'Hara's poetry and to the city that inspired it.

  • Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

    Constructing a Nervous System
    Penguin Random House

    Renowned critic Margo Jefferson's book, Constructing a Nervous System, is also a virtuoso fusion of different forms: memoir, quick riffs and cultural criticism. As one of the few prominent African American female critics of her generation, Jefferson tells us she was "always calculating — not always well — how to achieve; succeed as a symbol, and a self." The pieces collected here range from a sharp consideration of the significance of Ella Fitzgerald's sweat during her television performances to the challenges Jefferson herself faced in teaching Willa Cather's work — along with its racist passages — to her majority white college students. Jefferson writes: "I wanted them to feel chagrined ... And I wanted them to be disappointed ..." That last response is one I'm certain Jefferson's own readers will not experience.

    Interview: Margo Jefferson's new memoir is like a kaleidoscope into someone's life

  • The Facemaker by Lindsey Fitzharris

    The Facemaker
    Macmillan

    The Facemaker, by medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, tells the story of British surgeon Harold Gillies' pioneering work in reconstructing the faces of some of the estimated 280,000 men who suffered facial trauma during World War I. Those soldiers' faces were shattered and burned by the new technologies that that war ushered in: machine guns, chemical weapons, flamethrowers, shells and hot chunks of shrapnel from explosives. To cite the poetic words of one battlefield nurse, before Gillies came along, "the science of healing stood baffled before the science of destroying."

    Interview: With no textbooks or antibiotics, this WWI surgeon pioneered facial reconstruction

    Review: 'The Facemaker' profiles the British surgeon who treated WWI's disfigured soldiers

  • The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacey Schiff

    The Revolutionary
    Little, Brown

    Stacy Schiff's biography of Samuel Adams is a thrilling, timely account of how the American Revolution happened: how the colonists were radicalized and came to think of themselves, not as Bostonians or Virginians, but as "Americans." It also tells the story of how Samuel Adams, the so-called "forgotten Founder," played an essential role in that transformation through countless conversations, clandestine meetings and newspaper essays written under 30-some pseudonyms.

    Review: Author reminds Americans that Samuel Adams was a revolutionary before he was a beer

  • Signal Fires: A Novel by Dani Shapiro

    Signal Fires
    Penguin Random House

    Dani Shapiro's profound new novel jumps around in time to piece together the story of three teenagers, a car accident, two families and what persists even after neighborhoods change, people grow old, relationships fray and collective memories fade. The "signal fires" of Shapiro's title are the stars in the ancient night sky as seen through a lonely boy's computerized astronomy device. The boy shares his device with our protagonist, an elderly doctor, who's strangely comforted by the vastness: "The stars, rather than appearing distant and implacable, seemed to be signal fires in the dark, mysterious fellow travelers lighting a path ... "

    Interview: Dani Shapiro on her new novel 'Signal Fires'

  • If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

    If I Survive You
    Farrar, Straus & Giroux

    Jonathan Escoffery's debut collection of eight interconnected short stories overwhelmed me with its originality, heart, wit and sweeping social vision. Escoffery's aspiring, mostly Jamaican-born immigrant characters keep getting knocked down: by racism, the 2008 recession and, most literally, by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which reduces their house to its "skeletal frame." But, in its largest sense, the "You" his characters are trying to survive is America itself.

    Review: 'If I Survive You' is a sweeping portrait of a family's fight to make it in America

    Interview: Acclaimed short-story collection 'If I Survive You' explores Jamaican-American immigrant experience

  • Foster by Claire Keegan

    Foster
    Grover Press

    Survival, of sorts, is also the subject of Claire Keegan's matchless novella, Foster, in which a young girl in the Ireland of the early 1980s is palmed off by her parents for a summer with relatives she doesn't know. None of the adults explains much: the girl's father takes his leave of her by curtly saying, "try not to fall into the fire, you." Keegan, who's a writer who revels in emotional tension, has a sharp ear for mundane meanness; but she has an even keener appreciation for the complications of kindness.

    Review: With 'Foster,' Claire Keegan asks that readers look outward

    Review: Small in scope, Claire Keegan's 'Foster' packs an emotional wallop

  • Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

    Young Mungo
    Grove Atlantic

    Young Mungo is a disquieting work of fiction about the dangers of being different. In working class Glasgow, Scotland in the 1990s, a 15-year-old Protestant boy named Mungo falls in love with a Catholic boy. We readers know none of this will end well, but it's a testament to Stuart's unsparing powers as a storyteller that we can't possibly anticipate how very badly — and baroquely — things will turn out. Young Mungo is a suspense story wrapped around a novel of acute psychological observation.

    Review: Brace yourself for 'Young Mungo,' a nuanced heartbreaker of a novel

    Interview: 'Young Mungo' tells the love story of 2 boys — one Protestant, the other Catholic


  • Trust by Hernan Diaz

    Trust
    Penguin Random House

    Trust is an ingeniously constructed historical novel with a postmodern point: namely, that readers can't wholly "trust" any of the slippery stories we read here, especially the opening one about the rise of a Wall Street tycoon much like Charles Schwab or J.P. Morgan. Throughout, Hernan Diaz makes dazzling connections between the realms of finance and fiction. As one character, an anarchist, says: "Money is a fantastic commodity. You can't eat or wear money, but it represents all the food and clothes in the world. This is why it's a fiction. ... Stocks, shares, bonds. ... That's what all these criminals trade in: fictions."

    Review: You can't 'Trust' this novel. And that's a very good thing

    Interview: Hernan Diaz's anticipated novel 'Trust' probes the illusion of money — and the truth

  • Lucy by the Sea: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout

    Lucy by the Sea
    Random House

    I was reluctant to put Elizabeth Strout's latest novel Lucy by the Sea on this best of the year list. After all, her novel Oh William! was on last year's list. But it's no use to hold out against Strout, she's too good. Lucy by the Sea transports Strout's familiar heroine, Lucy Barton, out of New York City and into a ramshackle house in Maine with her ex-husband, William. The two shelter in place there during the worst months of pandemic, months Lucy recalls as having about them "a feeling of diffuse grief" and "mutedness." Strout's spare sentences and her simple pacing constitute her own idiosyncratic take on Hemingway's famous "iceberg theory," in which a depth of meaning and emotion lurks beneath the surface of the words on the page.

    Review: 'Lucy By The Sea' succeeds at capturing disruptions, anxieties of pandemic

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