This year saw a moderate return to normal as we reentered the world and redrew the boundaries between our work and personal lives. It was a challenging and rewarding year for me personally, with a slew of academic challenges and successes, family health problems and new additions, and my faith being worked and reworked. Some memorable reading moments include: causing a stir on my Instagram with a poor review of Version Control by Dexter Palmer, finally getting a copy of Trung Le Nguyen’s graphic novel The Magic Fish, rage quitting It Ends With Us (sorry, Hoover fans), finding a copy of Robert W. Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee in an Airbnb with my mom, and going to book talks with Fredrik Backman (and finally getting to read the end of the Beartown series!) and William Kent Krueger. As always, I’ve taken a long look to narrow down 52 books into the 5 that you absolutely cannot miss (plus a few extras because I love you).
In 2023, be sure to follow along on my Instagram or Facebook pages as we embark on a year-long series entitled This Moment Only: A Year-long Conversation with the Saints. I’ll be exploring one Saint a week and how their life relates to the Liturgical season, and the season of life me and my people find ourselves in. Additionally, I’ll be releasing some audio projects in the spring and summer, and will hopefully finish my third book in time for a fall release.
I hope 2023 brings you peace, joy, and challenge, as it shapes you evermore into the person you’re meant to be. Without further ado, here’s my top five books of 2022.
#5: The God of the Garden by Andrew Peterson
Multi-talented writer, singer-songwriter, and Rabbit Room owner Andrew Peterson wrote this memoir during the pandemic, themed around his relationship to God and nature. After the chaos of the past few years, reading through this was a bit of cheap therapy. I sobbed, laughed, and left a little filler. I have a notes page on my phone filled with quotes from this book. If you’re in a season of waiting, grief, or harvest, this book has a little something for you.
If you prefer fiction, try Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga series (one of my picks for best books of the 2010’s). If you want something more theological, try Gentle and Lowly by Dane C. Ortlund (which I also read this year).
#4: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Reading (or, in my case, listening) through this memoir from iCarly star Jeanette McCurdy was a bit like watching the 2019 film Joker. It was an incredible artistic experience that was completely emotionally and psychologically overwhelming. I hope to never experience it again. McCurdy details her abusive childhood, eating disorders, codependent relationships, and other traumas encountered during her childhood and early adulthood. This isn’t trauma porn, though: there is some redemption in the end. McCurdy is a powerful narrator with a natural giftedness toward writing and comedy, even amidst horrific subject matter. This is a book that’s hard to recommend because it is as exceptional as it is devastating. Readers should use their best judgement in deciding whether to read this, and should take it in slowly, rather than all at once.
#3: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Reid’s 2019 novel about the rise and fall of a fictional 70’s rock band will have you looking up The Six on Spotify and Apple Music. After reading (or, again, in my case, listening) through this, you’ll be certain you’re confused. This isn’t fiction at all; it has to be a real story about real people. The Audiobook version is a must. You’ll feel like you’re listening to your favorite podcast and Judy Greer gives a career-defining performance as Karen. I can honestly say Daisy Jones and The Six is one of my favorite bands and it doesn’t matter that I’ve never heard their music. I love these people so much. If you’re sober, in love, heartbroken, married, or childless, this book is for you.
For another fiction book that reads like truth, try What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell. If you prefer a real look inside the music industry, try Sing for Your Life by Daniel Bergner. If you’re a fan of watching what you read, Daisy Jones & The Six is coming to Amazon Prime on March 2nd.
#2: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
A young woman in late 1700’s France makes a deal with a night spirit to save her independence, inadvertently cursing herself to an immortal existence in which no one can remember her. She spends 300 years alone, learning languages and traveling continents until she stumbles into a New York bookstore and a miracle – a boy who remembers her. I spent a long weekend devouring this and will always keep Addie and, strangely, her night spirit, deep within me. Schwab’s novel is a haunting exploration of what we’d do to save ourselves, and how much suffering true love requires of us. I recommend reading this one, as the jump between timelines might not come across well in audio form.
If you don’t like fantasy, but love sacrificial love, strong women, and the interweaving of historical events, try my sixth favorite book of the year, Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González.
#1: Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
Before you make a rush judgement about this book, I want you to consider that a lot goes into my decision on what makes the number 1 pick every year. The best book of the year has to be good, obviously, but it also has to stick with me. I have to notice it coming up in conversations unexpectedly. Until Proven Safe was that book this year, familiar to many of my coworkers because I just didn’t stop talking about it. You might expect this, given I work on projects related to COVID-19 and other pandemics, but none of that came up in my conversations. Manaugh and Twilley don’t just focus on quarantine where you might expect it, given your lived experience with COVID quarantines. They detail a thorough history and future of quarantine, including diseases such as COVID, but also as seen in nature with honeybees and the inevitable discovery of earth by alien lifeforms who need to avoid our nuclear waste sites. Until Proven Safe is interesting, compulsive, and entertaining, easily making it my best book of the year.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).
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