Although there are quite literally hundreds of books on my “to-be-read” list, I can’t help but gravitate towards the latest releases that fellow readers are already predicting to be the best books of the year. Whether it’s a new work from a favorite author or debuts that have been picked up by celebrity book clubs, readers are already finding their favorites of 2022 so far.
In 2016, Canadian journalist Matthieu Aikins went undercover, forgoing his passport and identity, to join his Afghan friend Omar who was fleeing his war-torn country and leaving the woman he loved behind. Their harrowing experience is the basis for Aikins’ book The Naked Don’t Fear the Water, which chronicles the duo’s dangerous and emotional journey on the refugee trail from Afghanistan to Europe. As they are confronted with the many realities of war, Aikins spares no details in his urgent and empathetic narrative. Matthieu Aikins, a journalist living in Kabul, decides to follow his friend. In order to do so, he must leave his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail with Omar. Their odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brings them face to face with the people at the heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women, and children fleeing war in search of a better life. As setbacks and dangers mount for the two friends, Matthieu is also drawn into the escape plans of Omar’s entire family, including Maryam, the matriarch who has fought ferociously for her children’s survival.
The latest novel from Douglas Stuart shares a lot in common with his first, the Booker Prize-winning Shuggie Bain. In both, young men live in working-class Glasglow in the late 20th century with their alcoholic mothers. This time, the narrative focuses on the love story between two boys, Mungo and James, and the dangers that surround their romance. It’s a piercing examination of the violence inflicted upon queer people and a gripping portrayal of the lengths to which one will go to fight for love.
In this deeply intimate second poetry collection, Ocean Vuong searches for life among the aftershocks of his mother’s death, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it. Shifting through memory, and in concert with the themes of his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong contends with personal loss, the meaning of family, and the cost of being the product of an American war in America. At once vivid, brave, and propulsive, Vuong’s poems circle fragmented lives to find both restorations as well as the epicenter of the break.
The author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, winner of the 2016 Whiting Award, the 2017 T. S. Eliot Prize, and a 2019 MacArthur fellow, Vuong writes directly to our humanity without losing sight of the current moment. These poems represent more innovative and daring experimentation with language and form, illuminating how the themes we perennially live in and question are truly inexhaustible. Bold and prescient, and a testament to tenderness in the face of violence, Time Is a Mother is a return and a forging forth all at once.
The first pages of Amy Bloom’s memoir set up the book’s devastating ending: It’s January 2020 and Bloom and her husband are traveling to Switzerland, but only Bloom will return home. Her husband plans to end his life through a program based in Zurich. He has Alzheimer’s and wants to die on his terms. Bloom introduces these facts swiftly and then packs an emotional punch: The next time she’s on an airplane, she’ll be flying alone. From there, Bloom details her husband’s wrenching decision and all that led up to their trip abroad. Though In Love is rooted in an impossibly sad situation, Bloom’s narrative is more than just an expertly crafted narrative of death and grief. It’s a beautiful love letter from a wife to her husband, rendered in the most delicate terms, about the life they shared together.
One of the most anticipated books of the year, The Candy House is Jennifer Egan’s follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2010 novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. That book was hailed for its innovative structure—one chapter was written as a Powerpoint presentation—and the new narrative follows suit in its impressive construction. This time, Egan spins fresh commentary on technology, memory, and privacy through 14 interlinked stories. In them, a machine called Own you are Unconscious allows people to revisit any memories from their past whenever they want—if only they make those memories accessible to everyone else. It’s a thrilling concept brought together by Egan’s astute hand, offering a powerful look at how we live in an increasingly interconnected world.