Books can offer comfort in a time that is still characterised by uncertainty and destruction, as well as, possibly, some solutions to the most important issues that occur when enduring crises. Here are the top books so far in 2022.
Constructing a Nervous System By Margo Jefferson
Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic, invites us to rethink our relationship with art while finding resonance in moments she shares from her own life. Shoving aside old ideas about memoir as mere biography, her approach is an almost poetic presentation of fragments of her experiences as they ricocheted off artists whose work and lives she has found meaningful. She exudes charisma on the page with a voice that commands attention, drawing us into her thoughts about particular artists she admired in youth and then saw anew with the perspective of age.
The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change By Geoff Dembicki
A Canadian investigative journalist named Dembicki has penned a bleak account of how money corrupts politicians and stifles public outrage. He demonstrates how, in the 1970s, climate science research was given top priority by the oil industry. Executives received a briefing and were urged to address the issue swiftly. Instead, the fossil fuel industry worked to mislead the public and waged a protracted battle against the science of global warming, which, ironically, it had played a key role in developing. This is a must-read for everyone looking for a straightforward explanation of how we came to be on the edge of a climate catastrophe.
Stay True By Hua Hsu
The potential of meaning in tragedy is questioned by Hsu in this perceptive, moving work. In college, Hsu made an odd friendship with Ken, whose popular interests and tastes were utterly unrelated to his. In 1998, unidentified stranger thieves killed Ken in the early hours of the morning. Hsu uses heartbreaking emotional detail to illustrate the consequences. Nevertheless, Stay True, while tragic, succeeds as a humorous account of young fears as well as of college life and society in the 1990s. Hsu has created an outstanding, devoted gesture of friendship with warmth and humour.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us By Ed Yong
With this book, Yong set himself the difficult challenge of persuading readers to look beyond their sensory bubble and consider how animals perceive the world. But the great challenge of understanding senses we do not possess serves as a reminder that everyone of us has a limited grasp of reality. The depth of this vast planet should make us realise how little we truly are, and Yong is a fantastic storyteller, so there are enough of fascinating animal facts to keep this book moving in that direction.
Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us By Rachel Aviv
Aviv begins writing about persons in great mental suffering in this complex and nuanced book by sharing her own experience of being diagnosed with anorexia at the age of six. She was particularly sensitive to how stories can both clarify and misrepresent what someone was going through because of her own personal past. This isn’t a book that’s anti-psychiatry; Aviv is too aware of the particulars of every circumstance to fall for something so general. She explores a variety of stories rather than acting on the need to rationalise them away, holding space for empathy and doubt.
The School for Good Mothers By Jessamine Chan
After her husband left her for a younger woman, Frida Liu, a single mother in her 30s, is struggling to balance raising her 18-month-old baby and juggling the responsibilities of her office work. On Frida’s worst day, when her lack of sleep has produced a breakdown in judgement and she leaves her infant at home alone for two hours, we first meet her in Jessamine Chan’s frightening debut novel. Soon after, Frida and other women who have been labelled failures by the state are taken to a government-run facility. This chilling page-turner, which is reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, is a compelling portrayal of a dystopian society that seems perfectly plausible. In addition to telling the compelling tale of Frida’s personal struggle, the book offers thought-provoking criticism on American parenthood.
The Candy House By Jennifer Egan
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2010, is one of the most eagerly awaited books of the year. This time, Egan weaves fourteen interconnected stories to provide new comments on technology, memory, and privacy. If only they made those memories available to everyone else, people could visit any memories from their history whenever they wanted thanks to a device called Own your Unconscious in them. It’s a fascinating idea that Egan skillfully brings together, providing a striking look at how we live in a society that is becoming more connected.
Life Between the Tides By Adam Nicolson
In this expertly researched book, historian Adam Nicolson dissects every facet of marine life to offer impassioned observations about crabs, people, and the planet in which we all inhabit. Nicolson concentrates on the tide pools he builds in a Scottish bay, which he recounts in poetic and captivating prose, in Life Between the Tides. Nicolson’s book defies genre classification as the author works to answer the most important issues about humanity by studying a small portion of the sea’s inhabitants. The book combines scientific research, philosophy, and moving commentary on what it means to exist.
The Books of Jacob By Olga Tokarczuk
As her novels are being translated from Polish and published in English, Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk’s entire catalogue has been a delight to read. The most recent, which Jennifer Croft translated, is possibly the author’s most ambitious work. In The Books of Jacob, a self-styled Messiah wanders the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires in the middle of the eighteenth century. The book is a mammoth endeavour at more than 900 pages, but Tokarczuk packs each chapter with amazing prose to create a portrait of this complex man, based on a real-life figure, from the viewpoints of the people in his life. By doing this, Tokarczuk forges an intriguing psychological portrait of an enigmatic leader that deftly swings between comedy and tragedy.
Time Is a Mother By Ocean Vuong
After losing his mother to breast cancer in 2019, Ocean Vuong grapples with grief in his second poetry anthology. This collection, like his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a sensitive examination of memory, sorrow, and love. Vuong presents his distinctive voice in twenty-eight poems while posing important questions about the limitations of language and the value of poetry during difficult times.