Now, I’m not sure how I’ve managed to read 100 books in 2022. Being a try-hard literature major might have something to do with it. I’ve read some mediocre books, some terrible books and some truly wonderful books this year. As 2022 comes to a close, here are five of the best books of the year.
1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Before reading this book, whenever someone would ask me what my favorite book was, I wouldn’t have an answer. Now I do. This is the perfect book; its subject matter is incredibly ambitious and Steinbeck pulls it off. “East of Eden” follows the generations of two families in the Salinas Valley, California at the turn of the 19th century. They seem fated to repeat their familial trauma, mimicking the fall of Adam and Eve.
The prose is gorgeous, the narrative pacing is deliberate without buckling under its own weight and Steinbeck is a master of characterization. I’ve never read anything more brilliant and evocative than this.
I read “East of Eden” out loud to my family over the course of a year, whenever I was home for breaks. My copy has been squished into a backpack while hiking the North Cascades, stuffed in a glove box, slipped in a suitcase and lovingly held around a campfire. I simply cannot recommend it enough; the characters are tangible and the story is so carefully crafted it’ll stick with me for the rest of my life.
2. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Published in 1989, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” follows narrator John and his best friend Owen as they grow up in a small New Hampshire town.
At first, the book confused me because of the stream-of-consciousness style narration, but I quickly settled into prose so rich and insightful, nearly every page is covered with highlighter marks. The book deals primarily with religion; in the first sentence John declares ‘I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.’ John is a fairly passive narrator, and the story is really about his relationship with Owen, who is no ordinary boy.
Owen is described as a prophet and unnerving; he has a voice wrecked by growing up in a granite mine; his dialogue is marked with all caps, so you know HE TALKS LIKE THIS.
“A Prayer for Owen Meany” is layered, intricate and compelling, with an ending so spectacular it took my breath away. At over 600 pages, it’s no speedy read, but the payoff will have you starstruck for weeks.
3. A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab
Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, if not my favorite. “A Gathering of Shadows” is the second book in V. E. Schwab’s series, “A Darker Shade of Magic.”
Without giving too much away, I can say that this book perfectly launches itself off the worldbuilding from the previous novel and gives the reader a plot they can truly relish. The characters are consistent and believable, and the stakes are raised to a perfect degree.
My roommate and I read this series at the same time last semester, and nothing was more fun than hearing each other gasp across the room, our faces inches away from the page. This book has some fantastic elements such as the fantasy tournament, elemental magic, a slow-burn adversaries to lovers, dark forces, a conspiracy and the coolest magic system since Paolini’s “Eragon.”
If you’re looking for a solid fantasy series to read over break, “A Darker Shade of Magic” won’t disappoint.
4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
For fans of “Pride and Prejudice,” Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” is sure to delight. It was written before “Prejudice” but not published until after Austen’s death.
Cartherine Morland, Austen’s very first heroine, is naive at first, and grows into an intelligent woman. Austen’s sass is dialed to eleven in this novel, and her wit jumps out of every page. Catherine navigates her first social season in Bath and falls in love with the mysterious Henry Tilney.
However, romance wasn’t the first thing on Austen’s mind when she wrote “Northanger Abbey.” Betrayals of friendship, growing out of naivety and becoming discerning are the main things Catherine must learn. I loved this book because the experiences Catherine had while traveling, trying to navigate love and friendship, could’ve come right out of my high school.
Dripping in wit and humor, “Northanger Abbey” is an underrated novel of Austen’s and ought to be on everyone’s radar.
5. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
“A Court of Mist and Fury” is the second book of a five-book series, and it follows the truly underwhelming “A Court of Thorns and Roses.”
My main issue with “Roses” was that the narrative didn’t give anyone consequences for their actions. Well, “Mist and Fury” might as well be titled “The Consequences.”
I’ve never read a series that had such consistent storytelling between books. Pretty much everything was developed well, and what I hated about the first book wasn’t present. The characters went through their emotions on a realistic timeline, and Maas introduced an ensemble cast incredibly deftly; I had to take notes for my own attempt at a novel.
I’m the kind of reviewer who can appreciate a wonderfully crafted novel like “East of Eden” while also loving a book for the simple reason that I had fun. “Mist and Fury” is nothing if not fun, and it makes for an entertaining read.