Before getting to the second part of my Biblioracle favorites for fiction for 2022, I want to express some end-of-year gratitude for the people who make this weekly exercise in book-related nonsense possible — the writers, editors and publishers who put the books into the world; the folks at the Tribune who hone and distribute these words; and of course you, the readers who continue to send me your list of recent reads so I can tell you what to read next.
Truly a dream job for a know-it-all who reads a lot of books.
I’ll see you all in 2023.
I Laughed and I Cried Book of the Year: “Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance” by Alison Espach manages to be a book about grieving that is also frequently funny, which is ultimately what makes it such a deeply rewarding reading experience. Told by Sally Holt in the 20 or so years after the sudden death of her sister, Espach’s rendering is a perfect capture of what it’s like to live with the constant presence of the absence of someone you love. There is no such thing as healing. There’s only moving on, one step at a time.
Not the Kind of Book I Usually Read, But Holy Cats Am I Glad I Did Book of the Year: I don’t know that I was necessarily fully aware of the genre of “alternative fantastical history” before reading R.F. Kuang’s “Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution,” but who cares what the label is when a book is this inventive and gripping? Centered on the life of Robin Swift, a Cantonese orphan, who is swept into a world of magic and intrigue inside the walls of the Oxford Institute of Translation (Babel), where the combination of the properties of silver and the mysteries of language provide the fuel for the expansion of the British Empire of the 1800s. I wasn’t sure what that meant when the person who recommended it to me described the book, so I’ll just say what they said, “Read it, you’ll see.”
Dang It, She Did It Again Book of the Year: Having been one of those readers who was thoroughly transported by “Station Eleven,” every time I pick up a new book by Emily St. John Mandel, I’m expecting to be disappointed, but somehow she keeps delivering, in this case, what I think is her best book, “Sea of Tranquility,” clearing an already high bar. The story is spare and suggestive, and manages to gather power as the seemingly different stories of characters spread across centuries come together in a climax that both satisfies the mysteries of the novel’s story and deepens our appreciation for the mysteries of life.
Not Sure I Recommend It, but I Can’t Forget It Book of the Year: Todd, a single father of a young boy, is thrown into turmoil by the sudden appearance of his teenage bully who assumes a kind of friendship and intimacy Todd does not understand, but also cannot seem to resist. I’m not even sure if I liked this novel, but as I sat down to write this column, I couldn’t deny it an award because whenever I think about what I read, this book is there. I wanted to put it down, but couldn’t. If that sounds good, “Hawk Mountain” by Conner Habib is the book for you.
Just Start Reading Everything This Guy Publishes Book of the Year: Percival Everett’s “Dr. No” is a different book from last year’s “The Trees,” which is different from 2020′s “Telephone.” But just trust if Everett has written a book that year, it’s going on my list.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate
2. “A Burning Obsession” by Mike Omer
3. “Once Upon a River” by Diane Setterfield
4. “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton
5. “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles
— JoAnn S., Schaumburg
For JoAnn, I’m recommending a book that combines a bit of mystery with history, Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life.”
1. “The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation” by Rosemary Sullivan
2. “Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging” by Julie Ryan McGue
3. “Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation” by Maud Newton
4. “Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation” by Erika Krouse
5. “Here & Hereafter: How Wisdom from the Departed Can Transform Your Life Now” by Tyler Henry
— Rita H., Aurora
For Rita, some good, satisfying nonfiction narrative history, “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” by Daniel James Brown.
1. “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett
2. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
3. “The Dream Lover” by Elizabeth Berg
4. “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar
5. “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee
— Mary T., Chicago
For Mary, a book that captures a very specific place in a powerfully moving story about living through a war, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra.
Get a reading from the Biblioracle
Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to [email protected].