Seth’s Favorite Books of 2022

I read over 100 books on my Goodreads challenge this year, but about half of those were probably collected editions of comics. I read some great prose, though, some of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I went back to some old reliable authors but also branched out to books and genres I hadn’t really tackled before. For 2023, I’m considering choosing an author whose work is rated very highly and working my way through their bibliography. I might challenge myself with Cormac McCarthy now that we have what are likely his final two books. That’s a hefty challenge. I was also thinking about someone like Richard Powers or exploring some female authors I’ve criminally neglected from the late 1970s/80s. On to my favorite reads of 2022.

Fiction

Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

I am a book snob; I admit I turn my nose up at Young Adult lit. I can hear you now. Yes, I am sure there are great YA books out there, and I am missing out; that is a burden I will have to live with. I will say that this is an excellent YA novel. I read it in preparation for the Luca Guadagnino adaptation, and it is very different from the film. Thematically, both the book & movie touch on the same things. This is a story of young people searching for guidance and finding the world and the adults in it to be very dangerous & cold. While set in the 1980s, it could be happening right now in the United States. If you don’t know, it tells the story of a teenage girl named Maren, an Eater, a subset of humanity that must eat human flesh from time to time. She’s abandoned by her mom and starts wandering. She meets other Eaters, some are nice, and others are bad. You can substitute “queerness” or any Othered identity here, and it works. Bones and All is the story of lost people who aren’t sure if they will ever find what they are looking for but know love will be a part of it.


Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

I didn’t see this one on my bingo card for 2022, but I loved it. Somewhere between A Wind Willows and Wallace & Gromit, we have Skunk and Badger. Now, I wonder if a middle-grade reader (ages 9-12-ish) will get how funny this book really is. As a 41-year-old man, I was laughing from the first chapter. Badger is staying in his aunt’s brownstone apartment (she’s abroad). A knock at the door. It is Skunk. Badger assumes he’s a salesman and slams the door. Unfortunately, Badger did not open the letters his aunt had been sending. Now he does and learns Skunk is the son of a dear friend, and he will be living in one of the spare bedrooms. Badger is very particular and loves to spend his days polishing and categorizing his rock collection. Skunk loves to cook and brings many chickens into the home. This animal Odd Couple is so charming; Skunk, in particular, seems so oblivious most of the time to Badger’s annoyance that I could not help but love them. Add illustrator Jon Klassen to the mix (my consistently favorite picture book creator working today), and it’s a big win for me.


Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke

A novel set entirely in a corporation’s Slack channels does not sound like the most appealing book, but by god, this is incredibly funny. Taking a very surreal approach, Calvin Kasulke gives himself a significant challenge. It’s a book that is made up of chats between coworkers. He livens it up by starting out with one worker realizing his consciousness has been transferred into Slack, leaving his body empty. Two coworkers are screwing around at the office, as with covid going on, they are the only ones actually going in. There’s also one worker in Slack who may not actually exist and is being hallucinated by another. Unpredictable in the best ways; very light reading, though. It won’t win major awards or be your favorite novel of all time, but I would be surprised if people did not have a blast reading this fun book.


Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

America is scary right now. There’s never been a place quite as frightening in that country as the suburbs. Sarah Langan knows it and delivers a twisted, chilling story of one street losing its minds throughout a summer. There’s nothing exceptional about Maple Street. It’s just another place on Long Island. That is until the sinkhole opens up, and it keeps growing. One morning something awful happens that ends with Shelly Schroder falling into the hole. They never recover a body, and her mother, Rhea, a community college professor, puts her reactionary mind into overdrive. She blames the motley crew of the Wilde family. Dad and mom are rockers from the 1980s and stand out. They are good-natured people, but they make easy targets. Told by the people who were there, looking back on what they remember, we get a fragmented narrative that doesn’t lay out all the answers. We just have to listen and understand which people tried to be good and maybe failed, which people succumbed to mob mentality and are haunted forever by what they did. Not as brutal as I anticipated but still a very stark read with a violent conclusion.


The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud

I’m a special boy. I read this on NetGalley months before it was released. Now, you could make an account on NetGalley and do the same thing, but that’s beside the point. Nathan Ballingrud is one of my all-time favorites, and I was chomping to read his first full-length novel. If I had to give it a genre, this is a science fiction-horror-western-adventure-alternate history. It’s set on Mars in a human colony in the past. Mars was colonized after a successful flight there during the American Civil War. Anabelle Crisp is 14 and helps her dad run their diner. One day a stranger comes in and rips off the place. It wouldn’t be so bad, but he steals a cylinder containing Anabelle’s mom’s last recording before she left for Earth. You see, there have been no communications from Earth in months. People on Mars have no idea what’s happening, and supplies are dwindling. Anabelle strikes out to get the cylinder back, leading her on an incredible adventure where she learns the true nature of The Strange, an ore being mined out of the planet’s center that has made automatons and unique technology possible. This needs to be a massive hit when it comes out in March 2023 because it is incredible. High, high recommendations.


Savage Night by Jim Thompson

I haven’t read much noir lit, but this one made me sit up and think I may need to explore more of Thompson’s works. Charles Bigger is a hired killer with an ironic name. You see, he’s incredibly short. People don’t know that because he wears platform shoes. He also wears a toupee, false teeth, and glasses. He’s a fake person. Bigger has been sent to kill Jake, a former mob member who is turning state’s witness. Bigger poses as Carl Bigelow and rents a room in the very boarding house Jake runs. Bigger even starts an affair with Jake’s wife while he bides his time, looking for the right opportunity. But the person Bigger is really interested in is Ruth, the housekeeper at the boarding house. She was born with one leg shorter than the other, and this “imperfection” draws the incredibly flawed man to her. Like all of Thompson’s work, this is some dark shit, and you are not getting a happy ending. Told from the perspective of Bigger, it’s hypnotic, though. You want to keep reading to see how it ends, even though you know it will go down badly.


Last Days by Brian Evenson

This is also noir-ish but also horror. Brian Evenson’s short stories have been some of the best I’ve ever read in the genre. I was interested in checking out this novel to see if he translated to long-form, and he certainly does. Kline is a detective who has been brutally dismembered. How he lost some body parts and where that leads him makes up the story’s core. Members of a cult centered on amputation show up and abduct him. Kline appears to have some importance in their beliefs, and he will fulfill his role whether he wants to or not. No one will explain anything to the detective, leading him to make assumptions about cult members’ true agendas. It gets even more complicated when a rival cult with scripture about Kline shows up. Like wandering through a literary maze, Evenson keeps things constantly surprising, leading to a horrific conclusion where not everything gets answered.


Darryl by Jackie Ess

I’ve never felt as much sympathy and frustration for book characters as I did for Darryl this year. He lives in a small Oregon town, living off the money he won from a lawsuit years earlier. He’s addicted to drugs and insists his wife cuckold him with other men. Darryl frequents a cuckold message board, but even though they are saddened by the guy, he’s going about it with a horrible mindset. There’s something deeply wrong with him that others can see, but he struggles to find. His longtime friend Bill is one of the men sleeping with Darryl’s wife, but Bill really cares for the guy. He doesn’t want to hurt him. Then there’s Clive, a “therapist” who turns out to be a guy hooking up with his wife and isn’t kind about it. Clive has a dark secret that has made him a pariah in their town. A few years ago, someone died, they wanted to die, and it was Clive who did it. That fucked him up, and he’s become a very negative person. In all of this, Darryl struggles to figure out his identity and his sexuality. Ultimately, he learns some things but is left with questions to ponder. Author Jackie Ess delivered the most powerful sense of voice I’ve read in a book in a long time. By the end of this slim novel, you will feel that you really know Darryl and are rooting for him to figure it all out.


Negative Space by B.R. Yeager

Some books are dark, and then some books are DARK. Negative Space is the latter. Told through three points of view, centered on a troubled teen named Tyler, this explores Lovecraftian territory. Amir is his best friend, and… he’s in love with Tyler. Tyler will make out with his buddy, but nothing more will happen. Amir is jealous of Tyler’s girlfriend, Jill. Jill is an average teenager, but her boyfriend’s influence begins warping her home life, eventually upending everything she could have clung to for safety. And then there’s Lu, a transgender girl whose Christian fundamentalist parents won’t acknowledge her identity. Lu finds solace online with people into the same creepy shit as her. The catalyst for it all is WHORL, a strange leafy drug that Tyler smokes and seems to make impossible things happen in reality. Teen suicides become rampant in this small New Hampshire town, and it all points to Tyler somehow making people do horrible things. Dripping with atmosphere & sprawling while never feeling overwhelming, Negative Space is a unique horror book. As you expect with Lovecraft-inspired fiction, this is not a happy ending sort of book. Not everyone suffers in the end, but the ones who do…oh boy.


Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter

The more I thought about it, the more this had to be my favorite fiction book read in 2022. Millions of Jack Levitts live in the United States, and this book could have been written today with minimal changes. Jack is the product of two young people fucking around, people who had no prospects. They brought a kid into the world who was immediately discounted as less than nothing. The book follows Jack from his teenage years to middle age through pool halls, nasty little hotels, prison, and an attempt at starting a new life. Don Carpenter doesn’t romanticize this struggle; it’s fucking ugly to have to live like this. But Jack is not a hopeless cause. He finds love in prison but loses it. He sees something new when he gets outside, but it goes sour. However, he doesn’t give in. He won’t deny the world is a harsh place for people like him, but by the end, he truly believes he can make something, even if it is minor; it will be his. We see that prisoners can find solidarity, and criminals can do good things. At a time when houseless people and those struggling are being dehumanized in American media & politics, this novel stands as a reminder that you are talking about human beings. They deserve as much respect as any wealthy son of a bitch, probably more.


Nonfiction

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

I was far too old for iCarly, but being a teacher, I knew of it. What I didn’t realize is how damn funny Jennette McCurdy was. While not a big reader of memoirs, she won me over with such a clever, blunt voice. McCurdy talks about the rough spots in her life with such a lack of embarrassment or shame; it is admirable. She embraces that this has been her life thus far, but she is ready to take control of it. We learn about her mentally unwell mother, who used Jennette’s child stardom to make herself feel more alive. McCurdy shares the chaos of her dysfunctional family and how she had such toxic romantic & sexual relationships because she was searching for acceptance from someone. After reading the book, I understand McCurdy is not interested in acting anymore; I would love to see her in a writer’s room for a show she was passionate about or writing more books. She clearly has a talent, and it sounds like it has been a passion for her since she was a kid. One of the big surprises of 2022.


Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Working in public education, I grew to hate fucking toxic positivity. People are constantly being handed platters of shit by the district or state and acting like it was a gourmet meal. This is especially bad in the Bible Belt south, where they act like Jesus will strike them down with lightning if they even hint at a frown. Barbara Ehrenreich is right there with me, and it was her cancer diagnosis that set her off on this exploration of a country where a bad mood is positioned as you not believing hard enough. She goes deep with the self-help industry, prayer as a form of medicine, evangelical preachers, and any & everything about Americans that denies that life there is shit. Ehrenreich never loses her sense of humor, but she isn’t putting up with any snake oil bullshit. This opened my eyes to just how deep the cult of American positivity goes, and it made me glad I don’t live there anymore. Equal parts funny and brutally honest. We lost such a treasure when Ehrenreich passed away this year. Cancer finally got her. But she left behind some brilliant work that would serve us well to study and take to heart.


The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Liggotti

I don’t enjoy Thomas Liggotti’s horror fiction, but I immensely enjoyed this nonfiction read. Liggotti delivers a series of essays with a very nihilistic bent on the human condition. I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas posited; I am a communist, so I hold out idealistic hope that this species can get its damn act together. But I see this as some fun philosophical nuggets to mull around. The first essay lays out a case, derived partially from the Gnostics, that God shattered himself into fragments which created the known universe. We are part of this design because God can die when all humans are finally dead, which is what he wants. The problem is that all we seem to do is fuck and make babies, which is prolonging the terminal point of God. This is why there is such angst, ennui, and suffering in the world as we are pushing against our intended purpose, which is to die already. We do a lot of killing, though, so we haven’t lost the plot. It’s all profoundly pessimistic (and funny if you aren’t really buying into it all). This is where Rust Cohle from True Detective got all his material. If you want to dive deep into a bleak way of thinking about the world while keeping your feet firmly planted in material reality, this makes for a very engaging read.


Blackshirts & Reds by Michael Parenti

I’m delighted that Michael Parenti is becoming more well-known. I was introduced to him through the TikTok account YellowParenti (referring to the color caused by the film aging of old clips shared). He is still with us at 89 and is one of the best communist writers & speakers I’ve come across. In such clear, succinct words, he can communicate complicated ideas in a way that even someone unfamiliar with theory can get on board. In this concise book (166 pages), Parenti tackles fascism, capitalism, revolution, and what actual democracy would look like. Without hedging, he talks openly & honestly about the failures of the Soviet Union, assigning some blame rightfully to U.S. interferences and the local communist party leaders. Parenti details how the arrival of Western “free markets” in Eastern Europe led to mass poverty, starvation, and misery. The people of these countries did not fully understand what would be lost from the communist system as they full-throated-ly embraced capitalism. My favorite thing about Parenti is that he can explain and articulate the concepts that come together to make communism in such a way it cuts through the Red Scare garbage and helps the reader see this is a perfectly valid economic system and, honestly, the inevitable next step of the human race towards equality.


The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World by Vincent Bevins

Do you want to really get mad at the United States? The Jakarta Method was one of my first reads of the year, and it will be a political book that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Author Vincent Bevins begins by laying out the 1965 violent purge of communists led by the CIA in Indonesia. We meet the survivors and families of survivors. The text presents what Indonesians were experiencing and what was happening behind the scenes with The Company. The result was millions dead, bodies stacked up throughout the country. To this day, being a communist is met with the harshest punishments in Indonesia. Then Bevins shows us how the lessons learned in Indonesia were imported throughout the globe during the anti-communist 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Central and South America were some of the most horribly affected by these destabilization policies against communist governments and leaders. The CIA was extremely successful in its missions, which is why today, so many nations we categorize as Third World or Developing are still languishing. If you are being intellectually honest, it is impossible to walk away from The Jakarta Method and think that anything the United States has done as a foreign power post-WWII was a source of good. People were refused the right to determine their society’s progress, and they will never get that back. Hundreds of millions were displaced who didn’t die in coups & purges. Reverend Jeremy Wright nailed it when he said, “God damn America!”


Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

In 2022 I dropped acid for the first time. And the second. I thought it was probably about time I read this seminal work on the use and effects of psychedelics. Huxley didn’t use LSD, but mescaline. He used it in May of 1953, recorded his thoughts while on it, and reflected afterward. The result is a brilliant text on how chemically altering perceptions can be profoundly beneficial but must be done with care. Huxley didn’t quite agree with Dr. Timothy Leary’s more liberal promotion of acid. He saw these as very powerful, almost religious substances that should be used with a lot of respect & thoughtfulness. I tend to side with Huxley on this one. The author talks about how drugs are already prevalent in Western life through sugar, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. He points out that these drugs are in complete dissonance with the tenets of Christianity, the dominant Western religion, and therefore are the source of social unrest. By the end of the text, Huxley posits that a psychedelic drug should be developed whose use is to be done in tandem with a religious ceremony. The drug would need to have no or extremely minimal adverse side effects on the user lest it becomes like a lot of what already exists. The purpose of this drug and the ritual it would be used in should be about opening the person’s mind to the greater angles of reality so that they can become more enlightened people. I think he’s right.


Unmasking Autism by Devon Price PhD

One of the most important books I have read for myself. If you follow this blog regularly, you know I’ve been very open about my autism. I understand if some people are more reticent, but it was a relief to find out. Devon Price is also an adult-diagnosed autistic, so reading about his journey helped me. Price’s background in psychology is a boon, too, because he can talk about the scientific and personal angles in equal measure, making for a fantastic read. It felt like with every page, something was brought up that stopped me in my tracks and made me realize a behavior or quirk I hadn’t thought much of was a display of my autism. The best thing for me is that the book helped sort me out in thinking about disability as not a weakness but a description of a lack of support. I also stopped beating myself up for things I believed were flaws and instead were just my mind operating on a different wavelength. I would highly encourage you, if you have been late-diagnosed or suspect you may be autistic or neurodivergent in any way, to check this book out. It is a core text that has started a process of self-discovery; it helped me become kinder to myself without being some shallow self-help text. There’s no higher praise I could give to an author & a book than this (plus the support of my wife) saved my life.

Advertisement

One thought on “Seth’s Favorite Books of 2022”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: