My Favorite Books of 2022

Last year held a few memorable reads for me, even though I finished fewer books than I normally would have. When I looked through my diary, I noticed that my favorite titles ran the gamut from travelogues to novels, with short stories and poetry in between. Putting together the list of my favorites below was a pleasure, as I recalled what I read and why I was inspired to pick up these books. I hope that you will find my selection compelling, and in turn I look forward to hearing about the books you read and liked.

Elisa Shua Dusapin, Winter in Sokcho (French: Hiver à Sokcho)

A winner of the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a debut novel from the French-Korean author Elisa Shua Dusapin. It’s the story of a meeting between a young French-Korean woman who works as a hotel receptionist and a comic strip artist who arrives looking for inspiration. The emotional gap between the characters in the novel, the alienation, and the unsaid words leave a lasting impression after reading this book. The writing exquisitely evokes the wintery atmosphere of a small port town with its neon lights, fish market and endless snow.

Chōmei, Hōjōki. Kenkō, Essays in Idleness, translated by Meredith McKinney

The book contains two works, Essays in Idleness written in 1330-1332 by Yoshida Kenkō and Hōjōki, The Ten Foot Square Hut written in 1212 by Kamo no Chōmei. Both authors were Buddhist monks, but their perspectives are different, even if complementary. Chōmei describes how he decided to withdraw from society and live as a hermit. In Essays in Idleness, Kenkō shares his observations on life, nature and beauty. He stresses the impermanence of things and their allure. Intriguingly, he has a profound fascination for earthly matters. For instance, he writes, “No matter how splendid in every way, there is something dreadfully lacking in a man who does not pursue the art of love. He is, to coin the old phrase, like a beautiful wine cup that lacks a base. The elegant thing is for a lover to wander aimlessly hither and yon, drenched with the frosts or dews of night, tormented by fears of his parents’ reproaches and the censure of the world, the heart beset with uncertainties, yet for all that sleeping often alone, though always fitfully.”

Or here is another observation pertinent to the perfume lovers among you: “Aroma, for instance, is a mere transient thing, yet a whiff of delightful incense from a woman’s robes will always excite a man, though he knows perfectly well that it is just a passing effect of robe-smoking.” Those who enjoy The Pillow Book will find the style of Essays in Idleness familiar as the author was clearly inspired by Sei Shonagon’s book.

Lea Ypi, Free: Growing up at the end of history

A story of a girl growing up in the 1990s in Albania, Free is a moving narrative about one family and the meaning of freedom. I very much enjoyed this memoir for its poignancy, since I myself had similar experiences growing up in Soviet Ukraine. Communism lasted even longer in Albania and the regime isolated the country from its neighbors. Ypi describes the world in which she grew up and then its sudden collapse and the chaotic aftermath that followed. Illuminating and powerful.

Songs of Kabir, translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Kabir was a 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint. Born in the city of Varanasi, he criticized religion and organized religious practices, but that didn’t prevent both Hindus and Muslims from claiming him as their own. Little is known about his life, although it’s believed that he grew up in a family of weavers. What is left behind are his poems. Full of acute insights into the problems of human existence and acerbic observations, they have inspired Kabir’s followers for centuries.

The translation of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra is striking in its use of modern language and slang. The effect, however, is bold and punchy, exactly how Kabir would have intended.

I’m waiting for the ferry,
But where are we going,
And is there a paradise anyway?
Besides,
What will I,
Who see you everywhere,
Do there?
I’m okay where I am, says Kabir,
Spare me the trip.
(translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra)

Irene Vallejo, Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World

A book for those who love reading and are curious about the history of books. The Spanish historian and philologist Irene Vallejo takes her reading from Alexandria to Oxford as she describes how books shaped the world and affected those who read them. Papyrus is based on thorough research, but it also includes the elements of a memoir. It’s an absorbing book that makes you appreciate even more the power of printed word.

Yukio Mishima, The Sound Of Waves (Japanese: 潮騒)

The Sound of Waves is a 1954 novel by the Japanese author Yukio Mishima that tells the story of a young fisherman, Shinji, and his affection for a pearl diver Hatsue. This coming-of-age story is set on an island off the coast of Japan and the nature plays an important role in creating the mood of the narrative. The romance is star-crossed and Shinji must risk his life to prove that he’s worthy of Hatsue. Will he be up to the task? Will Hatsue’s wealthy father agree to the marriage? Or will vicious rumors destroy the young people’s chance of happiness? A moving story with enough suspense to maintain one’s interest.

Ismail Kadare, The Palace of Dreams (Albanian: Pallati i ëndrrave)

The Palace of Dreams is a masterful indictment of totalitarianism disguised as a fantasy tale set in the Ottoman Empire. It follows a young Ottoman Albanian official Mark-Alem as he becomes employed at a ministry that gathers and interprets the dreams of the empire’s subjects. Written in 1981, it’s so obviously a criticism of the Albanian Communist regime that the book was briefly banned.

If you are new to Ismail Kadare’s work, I recommend starting with Chronicle in Stone, but The Palace of Dreams holds its own in the writer’s impressive oeuvre. Rich in sensory details, it plunges you into a surreal world where the wrong dream can mean certain death.

Aoko Matsuda, Where the Wild Ladies Are (Japanese: おばちゃんたちのいるところ)

Traditional Japanese tales are recast as feminist and quirky in this marvelous collection of stories by Aoko Matsuda. There are foxes and spirits, magical trees and wondrous wells, lovers and revenge seekers. Women make the most powerful and frightening ghosts in Japanese folklore, especially women who were mistreated in their lifetime, but Matsuda offers a different interpretation. Her ghosts may console and comfort the humans or they may point out the error of their ways. In either case, their personalities are complex and their actions are unpredictable, which makes the stories gripping and memorable. 

Alev Scott, Ottoman Odyssey: Travels Through a Lost Empire

After Alev Scott was denied entry into Turkey, she decided to write a book about the influence of the Ottoman Empire on its neighbors. Exploring the countries on Turkey’s borders as well as the lands where the Ottoman Empire was in control–Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Greece, and Armenia, Scott put together a fascinating travelogue. Through her peregrinations, she lets us understand how old history retains a hold over the present and how the past has the potential to shape the future.

My favorite parts of the book included the author’s story about her grandparents, such as her great-great grandfather who was a doctor in Egypt. He eventually left for Cyprus to fight malaria and remained there. After her family left Cyprus and established themselves in London, they still retained a deep longing for their homeland. I also found touching the story of how Scott’s grandmother in London conserved dried olive leaves from her native Cyprus and burned them on special occasions to banish dark spirits. In my family, it’s the cherry leaves from our garden in Ukraine that serve the same function of vivere memento.

Also mentioned in: Three Travelogues To Read This Fall

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

What books did you enjoy reading last year?

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36 Comments

  • Marsi: I’m looking forward to putting your new book on my favorites list for 2023, Victoria. I’m so looking forward to reading it this summer! ❤️

    Off the top of my head, some of my 2022 favorites were:

    Sovietistan, Erika Fatland

    The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz

    The Latecomer, Jean Hanff Korelitz

    Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon, Kate Anderson Brower

    Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, Lawrence Leamer

    Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

    Wishing you a much happier and peaceful 2023. January 6, 2023 at 10:22am Reply

    • Sandra: If you love Elizabeth Taylor and Taylor Jenkins you should check out 7 Husband of Evelyn Hugo January 6, 2023 at 2:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: I enjoyed reading through your list. Thank you for sharing. I also liked Sovietistan. January 12, 2023 at 8:55am Reply

  • Madaris: Demon Copperhead was my favorite book of last year. Very different from Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, but equally compelling and fascinating. Also I enjoyed The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. January 6, 2023 at 10:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your list! January 12, 2023 at 8:55am Reply

  • Joyt: We were talking about bookstores in another thread, so this post seems especially aprosos. The store I mentioned is called Globus Books (https://www.globusbooks.com/) – though I live in San Francisco, and we have several great bookshops.
    I would put Lea Ypi’s Free on a list of my favorites this year also. Adding Winter in Sokcho and Ottoman Odyssey: Travels Through a Lost Empire. I’m currently reading Mstyslav Chernov’s The Dreamtime and bought Mathias Enard’s Compass last night 🙂 January 6, 2023 at 10:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Mathias Enard’s Compass is one of my favorites. January 12, 2023 at 8:55am Reply

  • Alice: My favorit book of 2022 is The Ginger tree by Oswald Wynd. It was among the selection of books proposed by the library I visit.
    The story of a young Scottish women in China and Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. January 6, 2023 at 11:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds fascinating. January 12, 2023 at 8:56am Reply

      • Alice: Yes it is. January 12, 2023 at 10:08am Reply

  • Zazie: Thank you so much for this Victoria – and happy new year!
    I love it when you share your book recommendations, I have found many wonderful treasures thanks to you.
    One is the pillow book, mentioned here en passant… so now of course the Essays in Idleness tops my to buy list!
    I love book recommendations in general, but as with all reviews, including perfume reviews, the most difficult part is to find a reviewer that is inspiring and trustworthy! Even when tastes may occasionally differ – a good reviewer will tell you what you need to know to decide for yourself.
    That is why your book reviews get me so excited, I guess – I find them incredibly helpful and touch on subjects and authors that I would not have sought or stumbled upon otherwise! January 6, 2023 at 1:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s true. I have a good friends whose advice I always trust, and it’s easy to build a good reading list this way. Hope that you will find something interesting. January 12, 2023 at 8:57am Reply

  • Sandra: I read some dark and heavy reads in 2022 all Fiction last year….starting with A Little Life and then To Paradise, both by Hanya Yanagihara

    Then Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo and his booker prize book Shuggie Bain.

    I am a fan of libraries so I enjoyed Personal Librarian, a book about JP Morgan’s personal librarian who passed as white.

    I am adding a few to yours to my list V! Your book posts are some of my favorites. I remember years ago you recommended Spring Snow and it is one of my favorites. January 6, 2023 at 2:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much! I’m glad to hear that you like them. January 12, 2023 at 8:57am Reply

      • Sandra: I loved The Sound of Waves. Mishima is a brilliant author. Winter in Sokcho was also very good. I am reading through Papyrus, it’s a bit dense so I am giving myself time. January 25, 2023 at 9:12am Reply

  • rainboweyes: Happy New Year, dear Victoria! Lea Ypi’s memoir was one of my favourite readings of 2022, too. My feelings about it were similar to yours – I saw many parallels, but also many differences comparing it to my own experiences in communist Poland.

    I also finally finished reading “In Search of Lost Time” which turned out to be one of my favourite books ever. I found Proust’s power of observation, his profound knowledge of human nature and poignant wit so impressive.

    Other memorable reads included Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque and The Wall by Marlen Haushofer.

    Ismail Kadare’s Chronicle in Stone is already waiting on my bedside table… together with Serhy Zhadan’s Boarding School and Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses… January 6, 2023 at 4:54pm Reply

    • Sandra: Wow..how long did it take you to read all of Proust’s books? It took me a whole winter to read Swann’s Way January 6, 2023 at 4:58pm Reply

      • rainboweyes: I think I started in March 2021… so it took me nearly two years 😊 January 6, 2023 at 6:06pm Reply

        • Marsi: Same here. I began reading it in September 2001 (right after 9/11) and finished in May 2003. I took a month off between books to read other things. It was a wonderful reading odyssey. January 7, 2023 at 10:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Her account is very interesting, especially if you know something of that same Communist period.

      Congratulations on finishing “In Search of Lost Time”. That’s an impressive endeavor. January 12, 2023 at 9:01am Reply

  • Peggy: Victoria–I have ordered Ottoman Odyssey on your recommendation. You always help me be less ignorant about parts of the world that I have not seen, and I so appreciate your reading lists, as well as your perfume suggestions. I hope your new year is happy! My best read of 2022 was The Poetry Remedy, an anthology by William Sieghart. January 6, 2023 at 7:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Taking a look at that anthology. January 12, 2023 at 9:01am Reply

  • Ewan: I have ordered and look forward to:

    Gods in the Word: Archetypes in the Consonants – Margaret Magnus.

    Drawn to Trouble by Eric Hebborn, an artist who tricked experts into wrongly attributing sketches and paintings he had made; delightful deception

    Jenny. A Novel by Roy Horniman January 7, 2023 at 3:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m curious about the second title on your list. January 12, 2023 at 9:02am Reply

      • Ewan: It’s a very interesting book. To get an idea you might try: Eric Hebborn – Portrait of a Master Forger on Youtube.
        Hebborn disagrees that he was a forger, he stated that the Art dealers etc ‘wrongly attributed’ his work, which is of the finest quality.
        His ‘ The Art Forgers Handbook’ is free online and a good read. He does have a particular sense of humour. January 12, 2023 at 3:21pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: Hello Victoria, thank you for your reading suggestions. I was thinking of you when I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s book Translating Myself and Others. It’s a series of essays on her experience learning a new language and then writing a novel in that language and also translating her own writing and works of others.

    Also Alberto Manquel has written a number of very interesting books on the history of reading and libraries. Two that I can recommend – The Library at Night and also The History of Reading

    Thank you, Victoria, for a most interesting website. I wish you a very Happy New Year January 7, 2023 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: I really enjoy books about books, so your suggestions are wonderful. Thank you. January 12, 2023 at 9:02am Reply

  • Lydia: Hello Victoria,
    Your book posts are a pleasure and always add interesting additions to my reading list.

    Uncertainty about covid as NYC continued to relax restrictions kept me at home a lot this year, which did nothing for my fitness level, but gave me more reading time than usual. Here were some I especially enjoyed:

    Berlin by Jason Lutes. I’m not normally that enthusiastic about graphic novels, but this one was enthralling.

    The Dancing Bear: Berlin de Profundis by Frances Faviell. A good follow-up to Lutes’ Berlin.

    Shanghai by Yokomitsu Riichi. It took me a long time to read because it was so dense with images, action, and characters, but after I’d finished, I knew I’d want to reread it someday. At times, the imagery was almost poetic.

    Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley. A beautiful evocation of a close-knit rural English community in two different centuries.

    As It Turns Out: Thinking About Edie and Andy by Alice Sedgwick Wohl. A fascinating counterpoint to Jean Stein’s Edie Sedgwick biography.

    -Parties by Carl Van Vechten
    -Manhattan When I Was Young by Mary Cantwell
    -Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
    -Letter From New York by Helene Hanff
    -Here is New York by E. B. White.
    (I’ve been feeling very nostalgic for past/lost NYC.)

    Nada by Carmen Laforet. I loved this. The narrator reminded me a little of the one in Duras’ The Lover (like her more innocent, hopeful sister). January 8, 2023 at 1:04am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m going to add Shanghai by Yokomitsu Riichi to my list. Thank you! January 12, 2023 at 9:03am Reply

  • WARA: Dearest Victoria, thank you for your generosity!!! Your list is a great gift as another crisis engulfs our souls (Brazil). The moment I read your descriptions of the books that touched your heart, I was filled with hope and gratitude. There are more of us that are HELPERS who share and heal. I read everyday but Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste are special treasures. Sending you all the community love and light for 2023! January 8, 2023 at 9:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Much love to you too, Wara! I know that it’s a difficult period. January 12, 2023 at 9:03am Reply

  • Michele Nrown: Blessed new year to you Victoria. My favorite book this yr was “The Book of Lost Names” by Kristin Harmel. It is about a women, who with the help of a French resistance fighter and the parish priest in a French village in the Alps to write names of Jewish children in code in a religious text in a Catholic Church library to preserve them for when war is over during WW11. The children are then secreted thru the Alps to Switzerland to safety. Their parents would be able to find them by coming to the church where they would be able to get help from the church to reunite them with their young ones. This book so moved me to cry several times throughout, especially the ending.
    I was a history major in college specifically Western Civilization. My father was on Omaha beach on DDay and for this reason this specific time period is dear to me. He was severely wounded and came home to heal. He never spoke of his experience.
    I have pre-ordered you book, “The Rooster House” and can not wait to receive it. January 10, 2023 at 6:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Michele! I hope that you will enjoy it. January 12, 2023 at 9:04am Reply

  • Dao: Thanks for your list Victoria! will definitely check them.
    My top 3 in 2022
    – Pachinko , finished in 3 days, very powerful ( a drama has been released out of the book, but it doesn’t compare)
    – White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht. Very deep and new take on Korean-Japanese war
    – Journey into the midnight sun by Keigo Higashino. the intrigue is a (dark) masterpiece, and it’s the kind of novel that you want to end and at the same time want to stretch it.. I discovered this novel because in China Jo Malone did a local campaign based on the novel to stage a fatale woman..(for Scarlett Poppy). This has been adapted in Japan, Korea, China into movies and dramas.. A modern classic. I have read 2 more novels from him since and haven’t been disappointed January 12, 2023 at 6:22am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m intrigued by all of your favorite books, so they all go onto my reading list. Thank you! January 12, 2023 at 9:05am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I’ve added these books to my list of books to read. The best book I read this year was Ismail Kadare’s “The General of the Dead Army.” Kadare is such a brilliant writer. Thank you so much for introducing me to his writing. January 30, 2023 at 12:27am Reply

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