Another year, another top 50 book list from us. Hopefully you enjoyed all 50 of last year’s books because we have a fresh new top 50 list here. Say what you will about 2022 — it was a good year when it comes to books and reading.
From thought-provoking literature and world-expanding genre fiction to moving memoirs and deep-dive histories, we’ve gathered 50 of the year’s most notable books — from highly anticipated titles that lived up to the hype to hidden gems that punched above their weight. End the year on a high note and get a head start on your 2023 reading goals with the best books and audiobooks of the year.
Just in case you didn’t have enough options of books to read, we’ll play it safe and offer a few more based on genre:
TOP FICTION BOOKS
Kawakami, one of Japan’s most exciting literary minds, follows her award-winning Breasts and Eggs with a riveting tale of transformation and trauma. A lonely, disconnected freelancer in Tokyo is sick of her drab self and decides to make a bold change. Her transformation pushes boundaries as the moving narrative explores her journey and the stifling expectations of a patriarchal society.
This dazzling debut whisks readers away to a beautiful world full of mythological creatures and magic as Xingyin attempts to free her imprisoned mother, the moon goddess, and is forced to choose between family and the fate of the world. A new imagining of Chinese folklore, Tan’s epic adventure and coming-of-age tale leaves fantasy lovers eager to dive into the sequel, Heart of the Sun Warrior.
Kingsolver’s tale, inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, follows a young boy’s difficult coming-of-age in modern day Appalachia. Born to a teen mom, the protagonist faces poverty, the foster system, and eventual substance abuse as he navigates life and tests his independence. This Oprah's Book Club pick is a rich epic that explores the people and places forgotten by society.
Billionaire John Sill, an aspiring supervillain out for revenge, has a plan. He’s going to break into Fort Knox and steal a box of…nothing. Lucky for Sill, Professor Wala Kita is an expert on nothing. He’s also too naive to realize Sill’s dark intentions. Everett’s (The Trees, So Much Blue) farcical caper includes clever commentary on racism, and never before has a book about “nothing” packed so much substance.
While a grim read, How High We Go in the Dark offers glimpses of the power of the human spirit. In the near future, archeologists uncover the remains of an ancient girl, inadvertently awakening the dormant virus that killed her and unleashing it into the modern world. The following stories, independent but subtly connected, reveal the fallout and the end of mankind as we know it.
After losing her factory job during The Great Recession, Cara, a 50-something Dominican-American woman, shares her life story over 12 different sessions with a job counselor. Cruz (Dominicana) takes a simple concept and breathes life into a character who’s the true embodiment of an American. Cara’s experiences give every reader something to relate to, from love and motherhood to the dehumanizing nature of bureaucracy.
Escoffery, an award-winning writer and fellow at Stanford University, offers a linked story collection about a Jamaican American family struggling to overcome racism, poverty, and natural disaster — not exactly the lauded American Dream. Trelawney, the youngest son, is the most prominent character, and we see much of his family’s search for identity and belonging through his eyes. Escoffery draws readers into the rich vibes of 1970s Miami in this story of the immigrant experience.
History unfolds through the eyes of one ordinary man in the latest novel by Booker Prize-winner McEwan (Atonement). Roland Baines faces childhood trauma, single parenthood, and a lagging career — along with some of history’s most horrific events, from the Chernobyl disaster to the Covid-19 pandemic. Through each experience, readers glimpse how lives are shaped by small disappointments and major disasters alike. This sweeping story is moving and melancholy.
This unnerving, slow burn of a thriller made former President Barack Obama’s list of summer favorites in 2022. During a chance encounter, an old college classmate confesses to the narrator that he once rescued a powerful art dealer from drowning, only to become fixated on him. In the tradition of Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Mouth to Mouth grapples with the dark side of morality, opportunity, and obsession.
Named one of the best books of 2022 by everyone from The New York Times and Time Magazine to Publishers Weekly, who call it a “smart and gritty debut,” Night of the Living Rez offers a dozen interconnected stories that explore the life of narrator David and his childhood and early-adulthood on a Penobscot reservation. Themes of addiction and poverty play a strong role in David's stories, all of which give readers a glimpse of the Native American coming-of-age experience in modern America.
Bored of smalltown Tennessee life, artsy teens Frankie and Zeke create an offbeat poster with an eerie message, inadvertently sparking local and national attention. Over two decades later, their long-time secret is threatened when a reporter contacts Frankie about the “Coalfield Panic of 1996.” Wilson’s (Nothing to See Here) heartwarming latest bursts with 90s nostalgia, the promise of youth, and the power of art.
Gonzalez’s sharp-eyed debut captures the richness of Nuyorican culture, love, and family as well as what it means to be true to yourself. Here, a brother and sister have a lot to lose as they navigate family baggage, personal drama, and a near career-ending political scandal. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending here.
In the golden age of cinema, a young Chinese American woman will do anything in her pursuit of fame, even indulge in some sinister magic. If you love the glamour of Old Hollywood, strong queer protagonists, and a seamless blend of the real and the surreal, Vo’s (The Chosen and the Beautiful) newest release is a show-stopper.
All Skandar has ever wanted was to become a unicorn rider, but when his training finally pays off and he enters the Hatchery, nothing is as expected. Unicorns are brutal creatures, difficult to tame, and an evil presence threatens to destroy the world. Adventure, valor, friendship, and loyalty make this children’s fantasy an empowering page-turner.
Li’s masterful story is a dark and irresistible tale of obsessive friendship. Agnès and Fabienne grow up together in post-war France, where they entertain themselves by writing twisted fictional stories. Eventually, Agnès is propelled to fame while Fabienne remains behind in their village. But their ties are unbreakable, solidified by lies both white and sinister.
After winning a Pulitzer for A Visit From the Goon Squad, Egan is back with an incredible follow-up. Her story about a new platform called “Own Your Unconscious” — where users can upload their memories to the cloud — delightfully twists through various points of view (including cameos from beloved Goon Squad characters). This tongue-in-cheek commentary on the need for community and connection just may be another Pulitzer contender.
Family dysfunction abounds in this reboot of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov set among a Chinese American immigrant family. Between a reimagined murder trial (an update of the original) and real-life examples of anti-immigrant sentiment, Chao breathes new life into the classic immigrant tale and creates a story that reads like Succession if it were set in a Chinese restaurant in Wisconsin.
This prequel to Silvera’s They Both Die at the End (a favorite among YA fans and critics) travels back to the initial launch of Death-Cast — a technology that alerts people on the day of their death. Chronically ill Orion Pagan meets up-and-coming model Valentino Prince on Death-Cast’s opening day, but a single phone call changes everything. One may be living their final hours, but the two are determined to spend them together.
A New England-based writer travels to London to reflect on her mother, who recently died. McCracken’s book is written as fiction but veers close to memoir, as it mirrors much of the author’s own experiences with her mom. The Hero of This Book delivers gorgeous prose in an original style that defies genres.
The author of The Guest List gives us one of the best mystery novels of 2022. When Jess Hadley’s brother ends up missing, she asks the tenants of his creepy, but once elegant apartment building about his whereabouts and each one deflects her questions. She soon finds out the building tenants are members of the same family who share a dark secret. Between the eerie atmosphere and fast-paced plot, Foley sweeps readers away on an exciting thrill ride through Paris with plenty of unexpected twists and turns.
A scathing commentary on the assumptions and stereotypes about mothers and the government powers that separate families, Chan’s dystopian drama is a page-turner. Frida Liu’s recent divorce may be the last straw, but at least she has her 18-month-old daughter — until she doesn’t. When the single mom leaves her child home alone for two hours, she’s sent to a rehabilitation facility where she must be a surrogate mother to other children in order to earn back her own.
Dripping with desire, Vladimir has a romance novel veneer that’s window dressing for its tale about aging and sexual liberation. The unnamed narrator is an aging English professor who spends her time pining after new, flirty faculty member Vladimir, which serves as a distraction from student’s accusations of her husband engaging in misconduct. For fans of Lolita or Netflix’s The Chair.
The last thing Feyi expected after losing the love of her life five years ago was a flirtatious encounter with a stranger who understands her grief. And then falling in love with the stranger’s father? Definitely not in her plans, either. Emezi’s exploration of love, loss, and moving on is as beautifully written as it is divisive, and sure to provide some lively book club conversation.
Mungo, a 15 year-old living in an abusive Protestant household in early 1990s Glasgow, only knows violence, yet he somehow retains his gentle heart. The discovery of his verboten friendship with James, a Catholic boy and kindred spirit, leads to a powerful ending. Stuart’s (Shuggie Bain) exploration of masculinity among working-class men and the turmoil between Catholics and Protestants in Scotland is as beautifully written as it is tragic.
TOP NONFICTION BOOKS
This poignant memoir made countless best books of the year lists in 2022. Calhoun and her art critic father often clashed, but one thing that brought them together was their shared love of the poet Frank O’Hara. After her father died, Calhoun set out to finish his biography of O’Hara, but instead found herself taking a frank look at her father’s life, his unfinished legacy, and the complicated bond between parent and child.
America’s entry into the First World War marked a tumultuous period of the nation’s history marred by xenophobia and civil rights violations. Rather than stopping it, government leaders like J. Edgar Hoover only fanned the flames of violence and injustice. Hochschild, esteemed historian and author (King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains), recounts the chaos eloquently and confidently, driving home that democracy is fragile and should never be taken for granted.
The pandemic changed the world forever, but our understanding of COVID-19 is still evolving. In this National Book Award finalist, Quammen’s (The Tangled Tree) reporting is one of the most comprehensive yet, based on copious research and nearly 100 interviews with scientists and virologists. Breathless looks back to the virus’ start and to a future where it continues to adapt and spread. Free of politics, this scientific deep dive is educational and engrossing.
Butt. Backside. Bottom. Gluteus maximus. Whatever you call it, the human hindquarters (particularly women’s) are perhaps the most storied of all body parts. In Butts: A Backstory Radke, contributing editor of the Peabody-winning RadioLab podcast, covers the evolutionary and cultural history of the female butt, from fashion to fitness and beyond. Guided by Radke’s incisive analysis and wit, learn why we have butts — and why we obsess over them.
Burnham’s eye-opening history reveals how the legal system perpetuated slavery’s legacy of brutal racial control long after being abolished. Focusing on Jim Crow from 1920-1960 and extensively researched, By Hands Now Known documents how racially motivated violence against Black Americans — and a complicit legal system — reinforced white supremacy as de facto law of the land. Burnham also explores the early days of the civil rights movement and its deep roots in a long history of Black Americans’ “practices of dissent and resistance.” Critics call this book “remarkable,” “searing,” and “indispensable.”
The rise of technology and the IoT (internet of things) means more devices than ever are controlled by microchips. It’s no longer just computers and smartphones, but also cars, home appliances, solar panels, and more. In short, the world runs on chips. For years, America led in microchip innovation and advancement, but China is gaining ground. Miller explores the policies, both governmental and corporate, that led to the U.S. losing its lead, as well as the economic and political fallout we can expect if nothing changes. “Chip War” won the Financial Times Business Book of the Year award in 2022.
Fitzgerald’s inspirational memoir traverses the globe as well as the emotional spectrum. Each essay is an exercise in vulnerability as he explores topics like toxic masculinity and racism, ultimately proving that our pasts don’t define us and knowing oneself is an ongoing pursuit. Dirtbag, Massachusetts topped nearly every “must read” list of the summer and comes highly recommended by literary notables like Roxane Gay, Min Jin Lee, and Saeed Jones.
This gorgeous graphic memoir explores all kinds of contradictions: a woman working in the male-dominated oil fields, natural wonders of the remote wilderness being decimated to fuel our industrial addictions, and sexism and trauma awash in the Northern Lights. A remarkable work of illustration, memoir, and journalism.
Doctors warned Jones from an early age not to expect a normal life due to a rare birth defect that caused abnormal curvature in her lower spine. After enjoying a traditional college experience, becoming a mother, and being selected as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2020, she learned that success and being perceived as attractive don’t have to be at odds. Jones’ takedown of traditional beauty is razor-sharp and witty.
“It’s an eenie, meenie, miny, mo game of luck, relationships, chance, how long you’ve been out there, and sometimes talent,” says Davis when pressed to describe her professional triumphs. While the Oscar and Tony winner remains modest, her emotional memoir chronicling her journey from growing up in a rat-infested apartment to Julliard and beyond is an uplifting story of hard work and dedication.
In her 20s, Attenberg traded in a more “traditional” life for freedom, wanderlust, and adventure. She never looked back until her 40s rolled around and she started to envy her more “settled down” peers. In her witty and sparkling memoir, Attenberg reflects on the couch-surfing days of her youth as she vividly describes the ups and downs of living an unscripted life.
The biggest memoir of the year, I'm Glad My Mom Died immediately sold out in bookstores. McCurdy is an actress best known for playing Sam on the Nickelodeon sitcom iCarly. Her writing debut is an honest memoir of child stardom under the control of an abusive mother, and how those experiences led to eating disorders and substance abuse before her eventual recovery. Honest and darkly funny, McCurdy’s coming-of-age story offers hope to those struggling to overcome trauma.
This microhistory is a welcome addition to the canon of books about fascinating, and important, subjects you may never think about, like the back of a book or the everyday tools we use to find what we’re looking for. Informative and accessible, it belongs equally in a college course and a pub trivia night. (Did you know the first webpage was an index?) These captivating insights from more than 800 years of bibliophile history will have you racing to the end of every book faster than the most gripping whodunnit.
“One of the best books ever written on Native American history,” according to The New York Times. Indigenous Continent turns the conventional colonial-centric narrative of North American history on its head. Instead, Hämäläinen, an Oxford historian, prioritizes the perspective of the people who called the continent home for centuries prior to the pilgrims’ arrival. An eye-opening, essential history for us all.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Maraniss (When Pride Still Mattered) once again displays his acumen for breathing the fullness of life into people and places of the past. Path Lit by Lightning is a rich biography of Jim Thorpe, one of history’s greatest athletes and the first Indigenous American to win an Olympic gold medal. But Thorpe’s talents didn’t erase his challenges, including substance abuse and being stripped of his accolades. Maraniss takes readers far below the surface, doing justice to a figure that received little in his lifetime.
“I really believe that books might not save us from death, but they help us live,” says Azar Nafisi in Read Dangerously. Throughout history, fiction has served as a way to combat oppressive forces and help people believe in a better tomorrow. By evoking the wisdom found in the works of James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Margaret Atwood, and coupling it with her expert analysis, Nafisi’s excellent collection about the power of fiction ignites a much-needed flicker of hope, especially in a year that saw an alarming increase in the number of attempts to ban books.
Perry was born in Alabama, and while she’s spent much of her time in the North (she’s a professor of African American studies at Princeton and attended Harvard and Yale), her roots are in the Deep South, which she argues is the heart of the nation. A combination of an astute personal travelog and a scholarly sociological study of the South’s complicated relationship with race and more, South to America won the 2022 National Book Award for nonfiction.
Aviv, a staff writer for the New Yorker, puts her journalistic prowess to use in this examination of mental health and identity. Relying on her own childhood experiences along with profiles of several other individuals, Aviv discusses how mental health diagnoses can shape a patient’s sense of self. “Strangers to Ourselves” dives into the nuances of psychology and psychiatry, proving how far these sciences still have to go and how the very treatments meant to free us from suffering often entrap us in more misery.
Amid rising inflation and a tumultuous housing market, The Bond King explains some critical history about bond trading and the Great Recession. Childs, the host of NPR’s podcast Planet Money, tells the story of Bill Gross, the titular bond king, and the grueling demands and outsized returns he managed as the co-founder of Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO). It’s a witty, accessible, and eye-opening read.
In 1944, Rudolph Vrba made a daring escape from Auschwitz, not to save his own life, but to raise the alarm to stop countless Jews from being rounded up and transported to death camps. Vrba hoped to spark action by the rest of the world, but, tragically, his story mostly fell on deaf ears. An astonishing account of heroism in the face of unimaginable evil and ordinary indifference.
After witnessing the devastating disfigurements soldiers endured during WWI, surgeon Harold Gillies developed groundbreaking techniques for facial reconstruction. His instrumental work evolved into modern-day plastic surgery. Fitzharris’ biography of Gillies balances extensive research with engaging storytelling, offering accounts of Gillies’ surgical advancements along with humanizing stories of the soldiers he saved from a lifetime of pain and shame.
Historian Greenidge follows two sides of the Grimke family, including sisters and suffragettes Sarah and Angelina but also their sadistic brother, Henry, who fathered several children with a Black woman he enslaved. Greenidge reveals the prevalent racism on both sides of the Grimke family, offering accuracy in a previously white-washed story of American history.
Mukherjee, a Pulitzer-winning author, physician, and biologist, already offers deep dives on cancer (The Emperor of All Maladies) and genetics (The Gene). Now, he turns his attention to those tiny units of matter that make up all living things: cells. This fascinating study unites history and scientific research, covering the discovery of the cell, the resulting scientific advancements, and the near-endless potential that cells offer for future medical breakthroughs. Mukherjee’s jargon-free prose is accessible to all.
Viruses like Covid-19 and HIV pose a much greater risk to minority populations (including the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities). This has nothing to do with biology or lifestyle choices, asserts Northwestern professor Thrasher, and everything to do with our dysfunctional social structures. The Viral Underclass takes a hard-hitting look at the failings of capitalism through the lens of public health and safety, and the book balances data with real-world stories of injustice.
A rollicking tale of Ireland’s history, told by a working-class kid from Dublin blessed with the gift of gab. The New York Times named this “inventive narrative” one of its 10 best books of 2022, writing “You’ll be educated, yes — about increasing secularism, the Celtic tiger, human rights — but you’ll also be wildly, uproariously entertained by a gifted raconteur at the height of his powers.”
About the Author: Katie Winters
Katie is the Senior Editorial Associate at Scribd who digs bikes, beers, baseball, and — surprise, surprise — books! She loves putting her librarian training to work connecting readers with fantastic books.