All fifteen books are rewarding reads. I hope you find some you’ll enjoy!
Note: Audiobooks are starred* and highly recommended if not otherwise noted.
Most titles are in the category of literary fiction, distinguished by the exceptional quality of writing and stories crafted in highly original ways.
Celeste Ng, Our Missing Hearts
Celeste Ng (pronounced “Ing”), the author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, again displays her quiet and exceptional skill. I didn’t expect to like it due to the subject matter. And—it just blew me away.
The context of the story is a dystopian America governed by PACT, an authoritarian regime that emerged after a chaotic, economically disastrous period called the Crisis. This led to Chinese Americans being wrongly accused, books being removed from library shelves, and children being taken from families…a little too close to real events, and who wants more of that?
But—it’s brilliant! A story told largely through the eyes of a 12-year-old Chinese American boy, who is brave and wonderful. Ng’s writing is calm, possessed, and profound. Our Missing Hearts is a story of dystopia and courage, heart, and love that I found deeply moving.
*Elizabeth Strout, Lucy by the Sea
Strout’s Olive Kitteridge is one of my favorite books of all time, a portrait of a not-very-likable, rather awkward woman who is—surprise!—deeply empathetic, remarkably alive on the page, and really great.
Lucy by the Sea is a step further, a book of sublime maturity. Lucy’s thoughts, dilemmas, sweetness, inconsistencies, kindness, confessions, confusions, turnabouts, loves, and fears—in short, the voices of her interior life—are more accessible than in any book I’ve ever read. Set during the pandemic, chock full of the reality of her situation, the ups and the downs, this book was, to me, a sweet revelation of an inner soul.
*Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here
The New York Times review of this book starts out, “Good Lord, I can’t believe how good this book is.” I can’t top that, and couldn’t agree more.
The plot, briefly outlined: Lillian, a young woman with a lackluster life (the backstory is interesting) receives an invitation from her blueblood friend Madison, whom she met at a fancy boarding school, to take care of her twin stepchildren for the summer. The catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated—creating numerous unexpected and nutty opportunities for the revelation of deeply human traits—some of them laugh-out-loud funny, some sad, and some, well, beautiful.
*Claire Keegan, Foster
A perfect novella. Keegan is a top writer in this form, and Foster is a gem polished by a lapidary. A young girl starved for food and love is sent to foster parents while her mom nears the birth of yet another baby. Your heart will grow in the reading.
Note: Originally published in 2010, there’s a handsome new and expanded edition just out on November 1, 2022. And a movie is on its way! Entitled The Quiet Girl. Watch the trailer.
*Geraldine Brooks, Horse
Outstanding! A beautifully performed audiobook with a cast of well-drawn characters in a gripping, history-based story, a melange of horse racing lore, painting, science, mystery, the Smithsonian, slavery, the Civil War, contemporary Washington, DC, and romance whipped up into an informative and satisfying read. And it’s skillfully done, one of those books that manage to go back and forth in time without jarring the reader. I’m not going to say anymore, except to suggest that you read, or better yet listen, to this book.
*Jhumpa Lahiri, Whereabouts
Pulitzer prize-winning author Lahiri’s first book in nearly a decade, received more attention for the fact that it was her first written in Italian and translated into English than for the writing itself. I mean, interesting, but in a way, who cares? I thought it was really lovely! A series of evocative sketches—a stream of impressions, moments, and flavors that make up a life. I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook.
Kathryn Schulz, Lost & Found
In which, the author lost her father and found her wife. A superb example of a life well examined, with unusual depth of skill and art. And although it’s an intimate story of her own life, so well has she captured and explored the human experience of loss and love, we can all relate to and gain in the reading. She and her wife Casey Cep are both New Yorker writers (in case you’re a reader). The most exquisitely written book I read this year.
Abigail Balfe, A Different Kind of Normal: My Real-Life Completely True Story about Being Unique
I’m sort of in love with Abigail Balfe! Her creative skills, curiosity about her own neurodivergence, and joyous self-expression have resulted in a rich and chewy graphic book. It’s a tremendous gift to read about the experience of autism from the inside out. As an empowered woman, writer, and illustrator, she has empowered us. 🙂
*Charmaine Wilkerson, Black Cake
A terrific debut novel, with an intricate, captivating story of love, secrets, murder, ocean swimming, twists, and turns, woven together with the Caribbean flavor of a prized family recipe for black cake. Secrets meant to protect have instead caused misunderstandings and loss—until the ingredients of a fascinating and troubled history are at last revealed. A page-turner. 🙂 (Note: also on Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2022 list.)
Peng Shepherd, The Cartographers
Utterly captivating from start to finish—wonderful characters, a plot that keeps thrilling and surprising, the fascinating world of cartography, plus the setting in the New York Public Library’s Map Division, kept me fully engaged. Magical, fantastical—wow! And I’m not, typically, a fantasy fan. But now I’m a Peng Shepherd fan. 🙂
*Brendan Slocumb, The Violin Conspiracy
Another excellent debut novel, and an intro into the rarefied world of classical music. Ray, an exceedingly gifted young Black violinist, experiences the heartbreaking hardships of racism and difficult family relations side-by-side with successes and support from his grandmother and a wonderful teacher. It’s been called a deeply personal work of fiction, and the author provides an illuminating note at the end.
Ted Osius, Nothing is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam
I LOVED THIS BOOK by Ted Osius, the former US Ambassador to Vietnam from 2014 to 2017 and only the second openly gay career diplomat in US history to achieve the rank of Ambassador.
Osius’s book is part history, part memoir, and part scrapbook, with lots of photos of the author with top US and Vietnamese officials, on bike trips across Vietnam, and on many occasions with his husband and children. He lays out the challenges, and the careful, thoughtful, and artful steps forward to peace and friendship between the two countries, once engaged in all-out war.
Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones of Happiness
Buettner has written many books about his National Geographic research on the Blue Zones, places in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives. With its specific focus on the happiest places in the world and fascinating details about cities in the US that he and his team have “blue-zoned,” this book made me happy just to read it!
I unexpectedly experienced a blue-zoned city when visiting my son and daughter-in-law in Hermosa Beach last spring. On my first morning walk, I was bowled over by the remarkably vibrant and cheerful community of folks out walking, bike-riding, rollerblading, wheelchair and stroller-pushing on the Strand, a paved path adjoining the beach. Sure enough—when I looked it up, I found out it had been blue-zoned! So cool.
Christina Feldman, Boundless Heart
My favorite Buddhist book of the year, Boundless Heart, on the Brahma Viharas or Sublime Abodes (Immeasurable Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity), has beauty, sustenance, and wisdom on every page, indeed, in virtually every sentence.
I was fortunate to attend the Insight Meditation Society’s virtual book club with the author, who mentioned that her writing for this book just flowed out, without hesitation, with hardly any editing—inspiration and wisdom clearly hand-in-hand. I purchased both the printed and audiobook and enjoyed both for a wonderfully immersive experience, and no doubt shall do so again and again.
*Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Assuming we live to be eighty, we have just over 4,000 weeks. This is a very effective wake-up call with a powerful nudge to accept the reality of impermanence and get on with having a splendid life! Philosophical, humorous, entertaining, and practical, this is well worth your time. My friend Scott texted me with an enthusiastic recommendation right after finishing it, and another friend has listened to the audiobook five times! It’s that good.