Kimmery's Top Ten Reads of 2022
2022 was a weird one for me. Looking back, many of the books with an outsized impact on me—the life-changing ones, the ones I cannot stop thinking about—were nonfiction. My Top 10 wound up being an even mix of fiction and nonfiction and some were quite old. The absolute best book I read in 2022 was published years ago and fell down behind my book cabinet before I had a chance to read it. I fished it out in 2022 and that’s why The Heart’s Invisible Furies is on this particular list.
I enjoyed many, many, many books not on the list. I also read many books I didn’t enjoy, but if I’ve learned anything from being an author, it’s that one’s opinion of literature is the ultimate form of subjectivity. I’m not keen to drag those books. I include about 75% of what I read on my website (sans commentary) because even if they’re not for me, someone is bound to love them.
So— in no particular order, here are my top 10 reads for 2022:
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (literary/speculative fiction)
The gorgeous writing, unparalleled creativity, and absolutely massive amount of historical research required to write this masterpiece landed it on my top ten. (It’s set in space in the far future, and during the 15th century siege of Constantinople, among other locales and times). There are multiple timelines and POVs, but also a compelling mystery keeping me hooked until the end. Anthony Doerr deserves his reputation as one of the finest novelists alive today.
Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene (physics/nonfiction)
Since I'm a monumental nerd, I actually read quite a few pop-culture physics books. While I retain very little understanding from them, I like the ride. I also dig an explanation of how stuff happens, even though sometimes that comes across a little dry. This book, though, qualifies as superb literature in its own right. Consider this meditation on the nature of death:
“In the fullness of time all that lives will die. For more than three billion years, as species simple and complex found their place in earth’s hierarchy, the scythe of death has cast a persistent shadow over the flowering of life. Diversity spread as life crawled from the oceans, strode on land, and took flight in the skies. But wait long enough and the ledger of birth and death, with entries more numerous than stars in the galaxy, will balance with dispassionate precision. The unfolding of any given life is beyond prediction. The final fate of any given life is a foregone conclusion.”
It’s unfair that one individual can comprehend the bizarre, arcane underpinnings of the quantum world—and all the hellish math involved—and also possess the ability to generate brilliant, insightful and poetic prose about the meaning of life. Brian Greene—whose name, appropriately enough, I keep mistyping as Brain, is that guy.
The Other Dr. Gilmer: Two Men, a Murder, and an Unlikely Fight for Justice by Benjamin Gilmer (sociology/nonfiction)
Benjamin Gilmer is a family medicine doctor extraordinaire, who became my friend when we happened to sit next to each other at a literary festival. At first, the book seems as if it’s a real-life whodunit—or, rather, a whydunit—because Dr. Ben Gilmer takes over the rural family medical practice of another Dr. Gilmer, who has been convicted of a brutal and stunning murder. No one understands why the other Dr. Gilmer, a beloved local physician, would commit such a violent and treacherous act. Dr. Benjamin Gilmer is drawn deeper into the mystery as he slowly uncovers the answer—and then spends years fighting for a more appropriate form of justice.
Lost and Found by Kathryn Schultz (memoir)
I read this one because Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, said this: “I will stake my reputation on you being blown away by Lost & Found.” Challenge accepted, Anne! (And of course you were right.) This memoir by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist explores love and loss when the author nearly simultaneously gains a lover and loses a loved one. It especially blew me away because, like the author, I also unexpectedly lost my beloved father and struggled for several years with wild, sometimes unassailable grief.
The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord (nonfiction/science)
I don’t know why but for several years I’ve been obsessed with existential threats to humanity. This book, along with Josh Clark’s excellent podcast, The End of the World, are two resources I'd recommend on the topic.
The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise by Colleen Oakley (contemporary fiction)
If you are somehow still slogging through this list, by now you must be thinking I’m a gloomy egghead with no friends. Correct! Or partially correct: I swear I can be fun! And I do have friends. One of them is Colleen Oakley, who wrote this sunny, witty, endearing road trip romp about an aimless Gen Zer who is coerced into aiding the escape of a cantankerous elderly woman who is most likely responsible for a major jewel heist. Tanner & Louise releases this coming March and for your own well-being, you must preorder it now. It’s a hoot.
Haven by Emma Donoghue (historical fiction)
I just love books set in 7th century Ireland, don’t you? Yes?
No. You don’t, actually, because aside from this one by Emma Donohue, have you ever read one? If you have, I doubt it’s as immersive and realistic as this novel, which is about the journey of three Gaelic monks who set out across a treacherous sea to establish a tiny monastic outpost on a remote Irish island. It's creative beyond anything I can describe. Brilliant.
The Banker's Wife by Cristina Alger (thriller)
This book is also a few years old but I reread it recently and enjoyed it so much I immediately reached out to the author and pestered her to be my friend. It’s my favorite sort of thriller: a glitzy page-turner that has enough insider info about complex subjects (financial fraud, law) that you know the author didn’t just lazily google a few things and throw together a story. It’s hard to write a wildly entertaining book that’s also smart, ya’ll. So many thrillers feel cheap and mass-produced and unreal to me. Alger’s books are the opposite.
Flights of Fancy: Defying Gravity by Design and Evolution by Richard Dawkins with illustrations by Jana Lenzova (science/nonfiction)
This is a smallish coffee table book that you need in hardcover for the sake of its sheer beauty. A tome about the mechanics of flight in the natural world, it boasts lush, exquisite illustrations of critters and easy-to-understand explanations of that most mysterious of animal and human superpowers.
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne (literary fiction)
Aaahhh. What can I say? This book is my kryptonite: it incorporates wit and creative scenarios and heartrending, poignant humanity into a truly epic tale of one man’s life. Beginning in 1940s Ireland through the turn of the century, we follow Cyril Avery, a deeply flawed protagonist who somehow still manages to be compelling and almost transcendent, from his birth onward. Beautiful, beautiful writing.