Best book picks for 2022
You don’t need to have read Egan’s Pulitzer-winning “A Visit From the Goon Squad” to jump feet first into this much-anticipated sequel. But for lovers of the 2010 book’s prematurely nostalgic New Yorkers, cerebral beauty and laser-sharp take on modernity, “The Candy House” is like coming home — albeit to dystopia. This time around, Egan’s characters are variously the creators and prisoners of a universe in which, through the wonders of technology, people can access their entire memory banks and use the contents as social media currency. The result is a glorious, hideous fun house that feels more familiar than sci-fi, all rendered with Egan’s signature inventive confidence and — perhaps most impressive of all — heart. “The Candy House” is of its moment, with all that implies.
The Furrows, by Namwali Serpell
Perhaps the most painful moment following the death of a loved one is the split second after you reflexively pick up your phone to give them a call, or the instant after you tuck away an anecdote to share the next time you see them. These are the moments when the finality of death—previously ephemeral, almost unbelievable—finally registers.
For most people, anyway. Some, though, find themselves suspended between here and there, between the unthinking action and the devastating realisation that follows. You might even spend years of your life treading back and forth between these two poles. This is the emotional realm in which The Furrows, Namwali Serpell’s knotty, prismatic sophomore novel, resides. The book traverses many genres and points of view, but it is primarily concerned with exploring one of the most enduring human impulses: the inability to accept death as the last word on a loved one’s life; the desire to hold on, to imagine, to desperately dream that the end is not the end.
An Olive Grove in Ends, by Moses McKenzie
A dazzling debut novel about love, faith and community by an electrifying new voice, and there is an impressive depth to Moses McKenzie’s storytelling. His debut novel, set in his home town of Bristol, is a celebration of community, from domino-playing uncles to drug-addled down-and-outs, the inhabitants of a city on the brink of change. The action moves from Bristol’s St Paul’s neighbourhood to Stapleton Road (“Stapes”), where the struggle is between crime and legitimacy, staying out of trouble and getting caught. It’s a landscape enlivened by the police lurking, ready to pounce, and gentrification knocking on the door.
Afterlives, by Abdulrazak Gurnah
“Afterlives,” by the winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in literature, is set in East Africa in the early 20th century. It demonstrates how gracefully Gurnah works in two registers simultaneously. The story is at once a globe-spanning epic of European colonialism and an intimate look at village life in one of the many overlooked corners of Earth. Deftly inverting the old Western narrative, it renders the Europeans as background characters and places East Africans in the forefront, moving fluidly between the complicated lives of its characters and the reckless actions of old empires.
Checkout 19, by Claire-Louise Bennett
“Checkout 19,” ostensibly the story of a young woman falling in love with language in a working-class town outside London, has an unusual setting: the human mind — a brilliant, surprising, weird and very funny one. All the words one might use to describe this book — experimental, auto-fictional, surrealist — fail to convey the sheer pleasure of “Checkout 19.” You’ll come away dazed, delighted, reminded of just how much fun reading can be, eager to share it with people in your lives. It’s a love letter to books, and an argument for them, too.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong
Yong certainly gave himself a formidable task with this book — getting humans to step outside their “sensory bubble” and consider how nonhuman animals experience the world. But the enormous difficulty of making sense of senses we do not have is a reminder that each one of us has a purchase on only a sliver of reality. Yong is a terrific storyteller, and there are plenty of surprising animal facts to keep this book moving toward its profound conclusion: The breadth of this immense world should make us recognise how small we really are.
Trust, by Hernan Diaz
Diaz uncovers the secrets of an American fortune in the early 20th century, detailing the dizzying rise of a New York financier and the enigmatic talents of his wife. Each of the novel’s four parts, which are told from different perspectives, redirects the narrative (and upends readers’ expectations) while paying tribute to literary titans from Henry James to Jorge Luis Borges. Whose version of events can we trust? Diaz’s spotlight on stories behind stories seeks out the dark workings behind capitalism, as well as the uncredited figures behind the so-called Great Men of history. It’s an exhilarating pursuit.