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The Evanees - The Best of 2022
It's list season!!!
2022 is coming to a close, so why not wrap up the year that was. What follows is a necessarily imprecise list of the best books that came out in 2022, the best things I read in 2022, and some things to look forward to next year. Every list of art is a silly endeavor, and necessarily exclude worthy works; that’s just the nature of list or canon-making. I tried to rectify that with a list of things I missed this year that are probably at least worth checking out – there’s only so much time to get to everything in a calendar year!
I also think of year-end lists as more of a ‘favorites’ thing rather than a ‘historical best’ thing. Reading is intensely personal, and everyone’s tastes are different – these are just the ones that caught me this year. All that to say - don’t take it too seriously! I’m just trying to highlight some of my favorite books that I read this year, and hopefully give you a year in review that doesn’t recycle the same five or six books you see on every other year-end book list. (Trust and Rabbit Hutch, seriously, New York Times?) Without further ado, The Evanees!
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The Best Books that came out in 2022
If you’ve been reading the newsletter for a while, you’ve already read about these, but why not give them another shoutout. It’s the season of giving, after all. I don’t normally read that much contemporary fiction, but all you kind people signing up to read my work encouraged me to take some more chances, which led to some happy discoveries.
Haber’s novel about dueling art critics could be read in a day, but it lingers much longer than that – fitting for a book about obsession. The details in this book are just so, so right - the ridiculous university press names of Schimdt and the Narrator’s books about the painting they’re so intensely focused on, the internecine academic sniping between the two after their falling out, and the gonzo anti-inspiration of Count Hugo Beckenbauer as he produces the object of their obsession. The ending is something of a twist; unlike most twist endings, this one rewards re-reading, reframing the key theme of the book. Read more on the novel here.
For my money, Robin McLean is the best American prose writer going right now.1 These short stories present a truly panoramic vision of the US and all its attendant strangeness, but more importantly, they’re impeccably crafted on a sentence to sentence level. The dedication to making stories out of only good sentences - no filler - is Shirley Hazzard-like. The pleasure elicited by the stories is only matched by the thrill of seeing where McLean will go next. Read more on the collection here.
Something about the Norwegians captivated me this year – more on that later when I get to Jon Fosse. Øyehaug’s book, a parallel-universe book focused on a mother and daughter, has a central conceit that still beguiles me; I even had a dream recently about a World Cup game that split into two separate universes. The book’s playfulness and restlessness makes a relatively slim book into something full of almost infinite possibility, and beyond being a paean to the power of language, it’s also just a tremendously affecting mother-daughter story. Big ideas, small moments – a perfect match. Read more about the book here.
After a rare misstep with Must I Go, Yiyun Li came back this year with the excellent Book of Goose, which focuses on the intense friendship and creative production of two young French peasant girls. The plot of the book is nominally serious – and does provide many wrenching moments – but Li is also clearly having a lot of fun in the book, taking shots at the publishing industry, the British, and the general business of writing novels and the attendant expectations that come from succeeding at writing fiction. The novel may seem like a conventional ‘female friendship’ narrative, but there are so many more layers to the book, meta-narratives piling on meta-narratives. A secretly thorny wolf in the conventional clothing of a straightforward novel. Read more about it here.
The speculative-fiction workplace novel I didn’t know I needed. Ravn’s book follows the doomed crew of the Six-Thousand Ship in the far-off (but oh so near) future. It’s told in the disconnected fragments of different ‘reports’ or ‘testimonies’ about what happened, but despite the broken-up narrative, a sort of overwhelming feeling emerges from the book, appropriate for a book so focused on phenomenology and affect. The quotidian nature of the reports – workplace drama aplenty, despite the aliens and humanoids afoot – brings the far-off future that much closer to our own day-to-day. Read more about the novel here.
The Best Books I Read in 2022
Limiting things to a year is just silly; the great thing about literature is that the past - recent or distant - is always available to us, to be gotten to on our own time. Here’s the best stuff I got to thus year.
I don’t know if there’s anything new left to do with the novel; everything that’s touted as new usually has an antecedent somewhere back in the 17th or 18th century. But Jon Fosse’s Septology books - released in English as The Other Name, I is Another, and A New Name – meld their content and form (classic stream of consciousness) into something that is, if not new, at least thrilling: a complete breakdown of the very idea of character, a negative theology, an expanding world of transcendent empathy. Asle, the painter at the center of the books, and Alse, his doppelgänger, or perhaps just a projection of an Asle’s life not-lived, make for a trilogy that careens from intense darkness to ethereal beauty. I can’t really explain what they’re about, and I also can’t recommend them enough. Read more about the books here and here.
Impossible to pick between the two, one a major novel and one a defiantly minor novel, but all the better for it. All I can say is I took too long to read Morrison, and feel lucky to be reading her novels now. Read more on Sula here.
Like I said before, Robin McLean only writes good sentences. Pity the Beast yokes a traditional Western narrative – the community chase after an outlaw – to an untraditional, cracked narrative, filtered through the past, the future, philosophizing would-be Judge Holdens, cucked husbands, green deputies, and the beasts of many burdens. Read more on the novel here.
On the other side of Pity the Beast, which is full of action, there’s Home, which is almost a parody of literary fiction in its lack of plot. It’s just the story of a father and his two children, one devoted to goodness and the other inveterately drawn to evil. The attention to the day to day not only imbues small moments with grace, but also makes the final developments of the plot hit that much harder. A work of rare beauty and power. Read more on the book here.
I know, I know, crazy: the Dostoevsky freak of this newsletter hadn’t read Crime and Punishment before this year?? I decided to read Katz’s translation rather than Pevear and Volokhonsky’s (my usual Dostoevsky translators); I couldn’t tell you the difference besides a general vibe, but then again Crime and Punishment is different in its exploration of evil rather than The Idiot and Karamazov’s explorations of goodness. The book is a great exploration of mania and the endpoints of the Nietzchean will-to-power; it’s also frequently funny in how it portrays Raskolnikov as a bumbling criminal, ready to confess (out of pride or guilt) at any moment. Not my favorite Dostoevsky, but still undeniably great.
I read one volume of Proust a year; any more, and I think I’d go mad. The Guermantes Way is basically the book that people are making fun of when they make fun of Proust: not much is going on, the narrator’s encounters with women are so queer-coded as to make you wonder why Proust even bothered hiding it for so many books, and there are long, verbatim reproductions of boring society dinners. And yet… and yet… it’s still so good, so well-written, and the last scene pretty much makes up for all the parts that drag before it.
I called Norwood a “Southern riposte to On the Road” in my gift guide; even that is a little high falutin’. It’s just a good yarn, all around: Norwood, a southern yokel, gets drawn into a cross-country road trip by a shady crook. The comedy comes from so many different levels – Portis’s narration, Norwood’s naïveté, and the picaresque situations that he continues to find himself in. Though Norwood is the butt of many jokes, you do end up loving him for his essential, wizened earnestness. A wonderful starting point for an underappreciated American gem of an author.
The terrifying story of what happens when the Romantic meets the Modern. Conrad’s a contentious figure at the moment – or, at least, Heart of Darkness is – but whatever hangups you may have about him, you cannot deny his talent as a writer, and his totalizing, Melvillian drive to describe the world. Jim is a character that lives his life between two poles – abject cowardice and nothing-to-lose bravery; Conrad’s shattered narrative provides the many shades of grey necessary to see everything between those two poles. More on the book here.
I already told you it was great up there! Just wanted to reaffirm it here.
What a treat to discover a ‘forgotten’ book, and to get a perfect recommendation from a friend. Kramer’s debut, a flash in the pan in the 80s, follows Cyrus Quince as he grows up and learns the limits of discretion. There also may or may not be a war going on, and a lot of incest. It’s bonkers, but in just the right key. More on the book here.
Some Books That Came Out in 2022 That I’m Sure Are At Least Good But I Haven’t Gotten to Them Yet or I Want to Wait Till Everybody Stops Talking About Them
Here are some of the things that I just haven’t gotten around to yet, or are so enclosed by discourse that I need to let the dust settle before I read them.
I’m reading this book right now, but may not finish before the year is out; with some more time it may jump into the best of 2022. It’s relentlessly nasty, but also endlessly interesting. More on this soon.
Loved Hurricane Season, and everything I’ve read on this one makes me think I’ll enjoy it. Don’t let anyone tell you that contemporary fiction is obsessed with goodness and purity when writers like Melchor are out there.
Reznikoff-inspired testimonial novel about a life in horse racing? Sign me up!
Whatever you think about Moshfegh, it was clear that the critical knives would be out for her after the runaway success of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Critics were ready to pounce on this one; I’m guessing it’s better than they say.
People I trust have told me this one is no good, but I’ll give this one a try once you all stop talking about it. (Maybe sometime in 2023?)
The Longcut, Emily Hall
These sound very strange, and the readerly reaction has been so polarized that I’d like to read them just to see what 89 year old McCarthy is up to. (And I’m not even the hugest Cormac guy!) I’m not even certain I’ll enjoy them for anything other than being bugfuck weird.
Bonus: Favorite Albums of 2022
Ok, I’ll rank these ones! Maybe it’s the formative years of reading too many music websites, but ranking albums just feels right. A favorite track from each album is linked in the title.
Alvvays just put out good records.
Every time Joyce Manor put out a sub thirty minute album, you’ve struck gold.
They’ve still got it!
A reissue, sure. But the new track listing makes for a new listening experience, and the bonus unreleased / hard-to-find-before stuff is killer.
Some Books Coming Out in 2023 That I’m Actually Looking Forward to Reading
Biography of X, Catherine Lacey (March 2023)
Pew was one of my favorite novels of 2020 - one of the few Rachel Cusk inspired books that did anything interesting with form; this one looks to be even crazier.
People Collide, Isle McElroy (TBA 2023)
The Atmospherians is one of the best debut novels of the past couple years; I’m excited to see what McElroy does with the expanded scope of their second novel.
You know I liked Present Tense Machine - give me more Øyehaug!
Affinities: On Art and Fascination, Brian Dillon (April 2023)
Dillon’s Essayism and Suppose a Sentence are both excellent books; why not follow him down this particular rabbit hole.
The Fawn, Magda Szabo, translated by Len Rix (March 2023)
Every Szabo book is a gift. Doesn’t really matter what this one is about: she wrote The Door, so it doesn’t really matter. I’ll be reading it.
Battle Songs, Dasa Drindic, translated by Celia Hawkesworth
Drindic was one of the greats of recent world literature, a Sebaldian observer of history with more bile. This one follows a Yugoslavian immigrant to Canada in the 1990s; like all of Drindic’s books, I know it’ll be wrenching and urgent.
Voyager, Nona Fernandez, translated by Natasha Wimmer
Other 2023 Reading Goals
Putting these out in public to further encourage myself. Some are long overdue!
Continuing my yearly one volume of Proust, this time with Sodom and Gomorrah
Maybe I’ll just knock out all these long ones to start the year!
Thanks for reading! More to come before the end of the year. Thanks for subscribing; as always, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend!
This is surely hyperbole, but year-end lists are the place for hyperbole! All apologies to the old masters Joy Williams and Don DeLillo.