This was a good year for reading. I’m on track to read 78 books; 130% of my goal. I’m a sucker for reading challenges, which probably began in the 1980s with the summer reading program at the Chelmsford Public Library. I loved recording the books I read each summer. Prizes may have been involved, but that wasn’t my motivation. My top CliftonStrength is learning, so the process of absorbing new information is exciting to me. The modern version of the summer reading program is the dopamine hit I get from recording a finished book on Goodreads.
I usually have 2 or 3 books going at the same time. Typically, I have a novel on my bedside table that I read before going to sleep. I sometimes I have a nonfiction book that I read whenever I have the time. I almost always have an audio book waiting for me on my phone when I am doing dishes or laundry or when I am in the car. I use the Libby app and have library cards from my local library and the Boston Public Library. Having three books going at once (and, particularly, listening audio books) contribute to my ambitious Goodreads challenge accomplishment.
As I was compiling my list of books that I rated with five stars this past year, I noticed some themes. They are memoirs, historical fiction, narrative journalism by Patrick Radden Keefe, thought-provoking fiction, and nonfiction. Links are to my Bookshop.org bookstore.
I read memoirs of six very different people. Katie Couric’s Going There was a light, well-written, mostly fun look about her rise to Today show co-host. Randy Rainbow’s Playing with Myself is a funny and heartfelt journey from an awkward child to a show-tunes-wielding-political-satirist viral sensation. Jenny Lawson’s hilarious Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things digs deep into life with mental illness. I began the year with singer Michelle Zauner’s poignant memoir of her complicated relationship with her mother, Crying in H Mart. I started the summer with Praying with Jane Eyre: Reflections on Reading as a Sacred Practice. This was a fun and intriguing story of atheist Vanessa Zoltan who used Jane Eyre as a sacred text while studying at Harvard Divinity School. Then there was Will, a fascinating memoir of Will Smith’s family background and rise to stardom (FYI – the slap happened after the book was published).
Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network was so good I had to also read The Diamond Eye. Quinn’s writing about courageous heroines is magnificent. The Alice Network is about women who served as spies during WWI and WWII. The Diamond Eye features badass history student and young mom Mila Pavlichenko who becomes Lady Death – the most feared sniper of WWI. Both novels are inspired by true stories.
Salt to Sea is a young adult novel by Ruta Sepetys that fictionalizes the horror of the real sinking of a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety during WWII.
In early summer I dove into Sophie’s Choice, the well known intense tragedy by William Styron. I need to watch the movie.
I’ve always been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver. Her newest novel Unsheltered tells the stories of two families who lived a century apart but shared some of the same societal issues.
Narrative Journalism by Patrick Radden Keefe
I’ve become a fangirl of Patrick Radden Keefe. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland and Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty are impeccably researched, riveting tales of two very different phenomenon. Say Nothing documents lives torn apart during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The narrator of the audio book had an Irish brogue, which was a bonus. The Empire of Pain documents the secret Sackler family dynasty behind OxyContin. No punishment is harsh enough for what three generations of the Sackler family did to enable the opioid crisis. I’ll now step off my soapbox.
Our Missing Hearts, Celeste Ng’s latest, started out kind of meh but took my breath away as it progressed. You can read Stephen King’s NYT review of the book (you can read it even without a NYT subscription). Cloud Cuckoo Land has to be included even though I only gave it four stars because when it was described to me by a local bookseller I thought I would never enjoy it. Just like Anthony Doerr’s other books, it was truly amazing. I also reread Jane Eyre, one of my all time favorites.
A good indication that a book is a favorite of mine is that I give copies to people who I think will also appreciate it. Several of you received a copy of the short, compelling On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Yale historian Timothy Snyder. It is a must read for anyone concerned about the state of American democracy.
Three books in this list were so good I am sharing them with like-minded women college administrators through my occasional book discussions. Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo was amazing (join us for a discussion on February 8, 2023!). We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers and The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart both provided new perspectives on women in the workplace and in the economy, among many other things.
C. K. Gunsalus’s The College Administrator’s Survival Guide offers fundamental guidance that a trusted mentor shares in the hallowed halls of the academy. If you are missing the mentor experience, try this book.
If you have made it this far you must also be an avid book lover! So, there you have it – my favorite books of 2022. I would love to connect with you on Goodreads and for you to share your favorite books in the comments below. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Instagram or email me. Wishing you a 2023 that is filled with good books and lots of reading time.