10 Books I Loved In 2022

For the second year in a row I hit my goal of reading 100 books, I inform you with great smugness. 35 were romances, 8 were Stephen King novels, and more than one were comics volumes. The true MVP of 2022 is my library card, which saved me a lot of cash. 

I decided to break up my Best Of list into categories this year, since I truly don’t know how to rank my favorites. As always, I have included affiliate links to purchase the books from Bookshop.org — any purchase you make will support me as well as local indie booksellers. 

Without further adieu, here are 10 books I loved in 2022!

Best Essay Collection

Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer, Rax King

This year I strove to embrace my love of tacky shit, and Rax King is my role model. Her book reads like a collection of love letters to the derided culture of my youth, from Hot Topic’s glory days to the cultural force that was season one of MTV’s Jersey Shore

The mark of a great media critic, Rax is able to seamlessly switch gears between thoughtful analysis and horny teenage joy. She writes about sex and relationships with effortless vulnerability and cool. Her essay about Guy Fieri and leaving an abusive marriage clicked with me in a way few abuse narratives do: she captures the banal horror of dating someone who is an embarrassing, violent dickhead. Here’s a great paragraph: 

“His movie-villain behavior embarrasses me now. How dull, to be mistreated in so predictable a way; how dull I must have been to fall for it. But at the time, as I squirmed and sobbed and begged him to please-please-please drop it, as I tried to walk away only to have my exit blocked at every turn, he was all I could see. He’d reduced the dimensions of my world to his height and weight. I had no room for anything else.” 

Read the book, you fools. Order it here.

Best Literary Fiction

Kaleidoscope, Cecily Wong

I rarely read literary fiction, but my editor over at Dutton Books sent me Wong’s new novel and it blew me away. Kaleidoscope is a story about grief, travel, Chinese-American identity, and loving and resenting your sister. 

This is also very much a book about New York City pre-recession, from tucked away dumpling shops to “exotic” midtown boutiques that cater to rich white people. It’s vivid and colorful, told in fragments and scraps of fabric. 

Wong explores the timeless question: how do you figure out who you are both within and beyond your family? 

Order it here.

Best Memoir

Heretic: A Memoir, Jeanna Kadlec

I’ve written at length about my love for Heretic, Jeanna Kadlec’s fiercely beautiful debut. As I said in September, “It’s a devastating and generous deep dive into growing up in an evangelical, Midwestern family, as well as Jeanna’s grief as she wakes up to the painful, discriminatory systems that governed her community. She pushes through the shame of religious trauma to share her experiences with divorce, losing her faith, and coming out as queer.” 

Jeanna and I talked about the book on Instagram Live, which you can still watch here. Make the time to read it — order your copy here.

Best Nonfiction Book

Been There, Done That: A Rousing History of Sex, Rachel Feltman

Rachel is a great science writer, and her book Been There, Done That is lovably bonkers and brilliant. She writes about the great lengths prudish scientists have gone to in order to cover up the “depraved” behavior of penguins, among other weird nuggets from the history of sex. 

Her voice is curious, clever and kind as she explores the weird science of human and animal friskiness. Her research asks: Did medieval chastity belts even exist? Are bison actually gay icons? What is with James Joyce’s thing for his wife’s farts? It’s an empathetic and relentlessly entertaining read. 

I love Rachel’s work as someone who has a sexually transmitted infection and gets sick of journalists writing about herpes without an understanding of how viruses work. Rachel knows what’s up. 

Order your copy here.

Best Blockbuster Romance

Seven Days In June, Tia Williams

I’m woefully late to Williams’s mega popular contemporary romance about two black authors who fell in love as teenagers and have been writing about each other ever since. 

Seven Days In June is the perfect novel for readers who are new to the romance genre. Williams tackles intellectually meaty topics (The nuances of writing black characters for primarily white audiences! The dismissal of genre fiction by the literary establishment! Living with chronic pain! Addiction recovery!) while never for one second neglecting the wounded heart of Shane and Eva’s bond. I wish I could go back to college just to take a course about this book and what it has to say about pop culture, family, love, and mental health. 

A feast of a book. Order it here.

Best Queer Romance

A Lady For a Duke, Alexis Hall

Arguably one of the most important romance novels of 2022, A Lady For A Duke is a radiantly unique historical that puts a transgender woman front and center. 

Prolific genderqueer author Alexis Hall gives us the story of Viola Carroll and her childhood best friend, the Duke of Gracewood. It is a swooning, delightfully brooding novel with all of the queer heart of Hall’s other books, but it takes itself more seriously, and for good reason. Viola’s characterization is deft, moving, and unforgettable, and her happily ever after is radical for both the Regency era and for modern readers. 

This is 2022’s best example of how genre fiction creates space for marginalized folks by taking beloved tropes (secret identities, second chance romances) and using them to assert our shared humanity. Order it here.

Best Horror

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix

2022 was the year I fell in love with horror films and fiction. While I’ve always been a Stephen King mega-fan, I’d never read anything in the genre outside of his backlist. 

Grady Hendrix was the perfect re-introduction to horror; his novels effortlessly blend comedy, classic horror tropes, and relentless gender politics. Hendrix writes female characters so well it is absurd to me. By the time the year ends I’ll have read all of his currently available fiction, but The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is far and away my favorite. It’s a very slow burn that might make some readers want to scream as they wait for the violence to break out, but I sank deep into the social politics of the book. 

Patricia Campbell is a normal, basic stay-at-home mom in Charleston, bored and busy and hungry for intellectual stimulation. When she joins a true crime book club, she finally finds the social connection and fun she’s been craving. But when a new neighbor moves in next door, her life falls apart… and her low-key misogynist husband doesn’t believe a word she says. 

It’s The Feminine Mystique meets Dracula meets Big Little Lies. Order your copy here.

Best Short Read

Several People Are Typing, Calvin Kasulke

I read Calvin’s debut novel at the beginning of the year and I keep thinking about it constantly. 

Told entirely through Slack messages, Several People Are Typing captures the weirdness of our increasingly cyborg existence as workers tethered to our computers and cellphones all damn day. It’s the perfect book for when your shitty ad agency job has taken over so much of your life that your consciousness gets sucked into Slack and you can’t escape. 

I urge you to set aside a few hours for this anti-capitalist little page-turner, which is as funny as it is triggering for those of us who have written PR crisis brand tweets. Order it here.

Best Long Read

The Dark Tower series, Stephen King

Why didn’t I read Stephen King’s magnum opus until 2022? Heck if I know. 

I can’t in good conscience recommend this series to folks who aren’t already fans of King, but holy smokes is it a delight if you’re already invested in his world. It’s basically a gigantic good vs. evil showdown with elements of horror, westerns, adventure, sci-fi, and lots of weird nostalgia for American culture. The series is a delicious mess: the pacing is all over the place, the plot choices are uhh… daring, and the racist stereotypes leap off the page. Things get really nuts in the last few books when Stephen King writes himself into the series as a side character. And the ending! 

I loved every word of this uneven and bizarre series (except for all of Detta’s dialogue). I cried many times. I named a stuffed animal after Oy the adorable Billy-Bumbler. I want to reread all 4,000+ pages as soon as possible. 

Order the first book in the series here if you want to derail your entire 2023.

Best Short Story Collection

Isolation: The Horror Anthology, edited by Dan Coxon

I picked up a copy of this collection at Little Ghosts Bookstore in Toronto, drawn to the subject matter and its introduction about COVID-19. I’ve been playing with an idea for a horror short all year about a woman social distancing during the pandemic with her controlling boyfriend, like The Yellow Wallpaper meets The Invisible Man (2020). Isolation: 

The Horror Anthology scratched that itch for me perfectly, diving into the complex terror of feeling, or being, alone in the world. It’s a diverse and inventive collection of horror shorts ranging from speculative sci-fi to monster classics. I loved “Solivagant” by A. G. Slatter, the story of a young woman with a depressing job at a grocery store and an abusive vampire boyfriend. 

Order your copy here.

Honorable Mentions

Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy, by Jessica Fern (Buy link)

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix (Buy link)

The Belle of Belgrave Square, Mimi Matthews (Buy link)

Funny You Should Ask, Elissa Sussman (Buy link)

The Other Side: A Memoir, Lacy M. Johnson (Buy link)

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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