The past year boasted an abundance of riches when it came to reading. Sure, there were one or two books that were merely “meh” for me, but my reading life was bursting overwhelmingly with engaging titles. So many of my favorites seemed to defy categorization, spanning multiple genres.
My top 10 runs the gamut of subjects and styles that just might surprise and delight you. And the selections all are available at the Oakland Public Library (and probably most public libraries). I’ve compiled these unique, category-defying books of the past year keeping in mind a handy reader’s point-of-view. Don’t mind that I’ve cheated and included a picture book.
Here are my top 2022 books from a reader POV:
POV: All the feels
“Now Is Not the Time to Panic” by Kevin Wilson
Two bored teenagers in a small town create a simple phrase on a memorable poster that takes on a life of its own, and so too the novel encapsulates tremendous feeling within its terse pages. Wilson intimately captures the feeling of not fitting where you are, while illustrating how a powerful piece of art provides meaning in the world.
POV: Armed to retort the MAGA uncle during the holidays
“Allow Me to Retort” by Elie Mystal
Even if you are aware that an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution remains problematic, Mystal deftly dismantles the fundamental flaws of common right-wing arguments. Most importantly, he explains how such arguments gain currency and what we can do about it. “Highly readable” and “Constitution” don’t typically go together, but in this case they do.
POV: Awed by what may follow when a debut novel by a (now) 20-year-old is this good
“Nightcrawling” by Leila Mottley
Mottley was one of Oakland Public Library’s Youth Poet Laureates. Naturally, I was excited to check out her first published novel, set in Oakland and based on the 2015 Oakland Police Department sex scandal. Raw and vulnerable, it’s poetry on the page. Despite its heavy subject matter, I couldn’t put down the stunning debut. In complete awe that Mottley produced such beautiful work at such a young age, I’m very excited for what more is in store for Mottley in what I hope is a long writing career.
POV: You are captivated by pictures
“Berry Song” by Michaela Goade
“Berry Song” is picture-book illustrator Goade’s first authored book, and the story and pictures are both a delight. The gorgeous illustrations grabbed the attention of my story-time crowd, and I loved how the book celebrates nature’s bounty and appreciates the natural world. The message of gratitude makes it a lovely alternative to more problematic Thanksgiving tales.
POV: Wait, what did we just live through?
“Ain’t Burned All the Bright” by Jason Reynolds
Perfectly capturing the profundity of early pandemic life, this is a book to bury in a time capsule or tuck away on your shelves every so often, just to remember the surrealism of experiencing a global pandemic state of emergency. Reynolds and his friend, illustrator Jason Griffin, truly created a unique, beautiful book that defies categorization, but beautifully encapsulates a moment in history.
POV: LOL while trying to solve a murder mystery
“The Appeal” by Janice Hallett
You’ll chuckle and compulsively turn the pages as the murder mystery of this epistolary tale told entirely through texts and emails reveals itself. Its unique structure makes it a must to read in print or eBook; it’s a satisfying experience to enjoy every step of the way.
POV: The sex ed book you wish you had as a teenager (but you can as an adult)
“You Know, Sex” by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
This author-illustrator team has three books on the topic of sex ed, appropriate to different ages of youngsters. These books stand out for how inclusive they are of all bodies, sexualities and types of families. This one, geared for young adults, is a comprehensive reference and resource for everything from sexual activity, physical and emotional health and consent to gender and sexual identities. A must for any young adult, but really a helpful guide for any adult.
POV: Me encantó este libro!
“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water” by Angie Cruz
In a story told entirely through a series of required job counseling sessions, readers get to know Carla Romero, from her early hardships to job and relationship obstacles to her loves and hopes. Who knew career counseling could reveal such a heartbreaking and hilarious fictional memoir?
POV: Loving the series’ fourth book as much as the first (and second and third)
“Heartstopper #4” by Alice Oseman
I picked up the first book in the Heartstopper series on a whim. I didn’t have any expectations for a romance young adult graphic novel, but I fell in love with Nick and Charlie and eagerly devoured the series. For the first time, I had a visceral understanding of the pure magic of comics and the desire to hug a drawing right through the page. When the fourth book in the series is arguably your favorite, you know you’ve found something special. I loved (and dreaded) that Heartstopper was adapted into a Netflix series, but all reports are that the TV show has a special charm of its own.
POV: Wondering if you’d open your own Pandora’s box.
“The Measure” by Nikki Erlick
Would you open a mysteriously delivered box that contains a length of string that reveals how long you’ll live? Erlick explores the impact the boxes have on society by focusing on the separate and connecting lives of several main characters. Perfect for book club discussions, this is a novel I haven’t stopped thinking about since I finished reading it.