The hot books of 2022
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One of the best parts of working at a magazine? The piles of books that arrive months before the rest of the world gets to see them. But the influx can often be overwhelming, so when something rises to the top, we like to take note. We have been collecting and curating our favorite titles all year; here we present our selection of the best books that have been published in 2022.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (January 11)
The confounding, brilliant, intricate, beautiful, horrific To Paradise is—if this string of adjectives did not sufficiently convey it—an extraordinary book. Divided into three seemingly distinct sections, positioned 100 years apart, the book is one part historical fiction (set in 1893), part present-ish-day chronicle (1993), and part futuristic sci-fi story (2093). (That last chapter, which must have been informed by, if not fully drafted within, the pandemic, presents a dystopian future filled with “cooling suits” required to venture outside and “decontamination chambers” to ward off the ever-present possibility of infection.) Those who consumed Yanagihara’s most recent work, A Little Life, will not be surprised that this book, like its predecessor, is interested in pain and suffering more than joy and happiness. But it is also a book full of gloriously painted scenes and tantalizing connection—and despite all its gutting turns, one that maintains an abiding hope for the possibility and power of love. (That may just be the only paradise truly on offer.) In and of themselves, some sections feel in some ways quite conventional, but taken together—with all of their extreme cliffhangers and unanswered questions—the stories seem to be asking: What do we want from a novel? Resolution is not available here, but some of the most poignant feelings that literature can elicit certainly are. —C.S.
Admissions: A Memoir of Surviving Boarding School by Kendra James (January 18)
For years, the world of elite prep schools was thought of in only the most romanticized terms; lacrosse games, leaf-festooned campuses, and, of course, educational values that prepared America’s next generation of winners to ascend their thrones. Kendra James’s Admissions (Grand Central) is a thorough, necessary, and overdue repudiation of that trope. In the memoir, James—now an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for independent prep schools—looks back at the three years she spent at Taft, a private boarding school in Connecticut, recalling the insidious yet not particularly subtle racism she faced as the first African-American legacy student at the predominantly white institution. Admissions is a tale in the mold of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, but instead of relegating the racism that is so often found in “well-meaning liberal” space to a parenthetical, the book addresses it head-on, boldly naming the confusion, fear, and trauma that can so often come with being the only person who looks like you in any given room. —Emma Specter
Vladimir by Julia May Jonas (February 1)
The smartest take on campus culture comes by way of Julia May Jonas’s slyly hilarious Vladimir (Simon & Schuster). Don’t be dissuaded (or erroneously excited) by the romance-novel aesthetics of the cover. It’s the story of a somewhat lonely and embittered, and yet eminently appealing, English professor whose husband has been felled by a series of sexual assault allegations. But just how real were those allegations? It’s a question almost impossible to ask in real life, but deliciously explored here through our acerbic narrator, who has a quite pre-MeToo view of power, consent, and sexual politics. The titular Vladimir is a new professor in town and the subject of a crush on the part of the narrator that also veers off into deeply inappropriate territory. The novel works on several different registers at once, deftly layering comedy with subtle commentary in an entirely engrossing read. —C.S.
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang (February 1)
For Asians in America, the perpetual foreigners, it’s the eternal question regardless of birthplace: How exactly does one become American? This interrogation is keenly felt by immigrants and their children in particular, as Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, explores in-depth in The Family Chao (Norton), the story of the tyrannical proprietor of a small-town Wisconsin Chinese restaurant (The Fine Chao) and his three unhappy but obedient American-born sons (The brothers Karamahjong). When a scandal engulfs the Chaos, they’re forced to reconsider their place in the society they’ve toiled in and called home for decades, as well as their roles within the family itself. At times scathing and hilarious, the rollicking tale considers the thorny themes of assimilation, identity, pride, filial piety, transracial adoption, and interracial relationships. It’s a fine chaos indeed; you’ll never look at Chinese restaurant families the same. —L.W.M.
The Arc by Tory Henwood Hoen (February 8)
In her debut novel, The Arc (St. Martin’s Press), Tory Henwood Hoen has woven a bracingly entertaining antidote to the hellscape of online dating. Thirty-five-year-old branding wiz Ursula Bryne is in the grip of a third-life crisis, ambivalent about her job and unable to sustain a lasting relationship with anybody other than her cat. That is, until she is tapped to visit the lab of The Arc, a mysterious place that promises lasting love to those lucky enough to spend a week at its unnervingly glossy lab. Ursula is paired with Rafael, an improbably modest and handsome Yale grad blessed with a sense of humor and killer dance moves. The book wears its sci-fi lightly, focusing instead on anatomizing a whirlwind romance that begins to fray around the edges. As the duo’s faith in the arc’s highly proprietary pairing methodologies begins to falter, they are left to determine if they still buy into each other. Set in a privileged slice of pre-pandemic New York, the story has a sunny feel and a rich supply of semi-satirical backdrops, making pit stops at bro-infested tech conferences and members-only temples to fourth-wave feminism. With its intelligent and unfussy bent, the novel is foremost a plucky city romance that recalls the work of Laurie Colwin. Beneath the dystopian veil lies a thoroughly modern love story with old-fashioned heart. —Lauren Mechling