Hello guys gals and nonbinary pals! This year I read 105 books, which I feel proud of given all the other stuff going on in my life. While I loved several of the books in this top ten and deeply enjoyed all of them, this year’s selection does not feel as strong as previous years. The books I read in the second half of 2022 didn’t impress me much. Here’s hoping to better reads in 2023, which your recommendations could help shape! As always, I’ve included links to my full Goodreads reviews of each book and you can see all of my previous years’ lists at this new page I created.
Top 5: Fiction
5. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. An entertaining novel about a young Punjabi woman, Nikki, living in West London who takes a job teaching writing to a group of older Punjabi widows. To our protagonist’s surprise, the widows’ stories take a turn toward the erotic. While at times salacious and humorous, this novel also addresses important themes related to sexism, internalized sexism, and feminist solidarity and empowerment. I also enjoyed the healthy romance between Nikki and Jason, two people of color doing their best to grow into their own people and as a couple.
4. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang. A funny yet heartrending novel about Joan, a thirtysomething ICU doctor whose parents immigrated from China to give their children the American dream. When Joan’s father suddenly dies, she’s forced to think about what matters most in her life. While I found Joan a distant narrator at first, over time I grew to cherish her unassumingly clear-eyed view of the world. Weike Wang captures complex Asian family dynamics without falling back on stereotypes and tropes (e.g., tiger parenting). At its core, though, Joan is Okay is about an Asian American woman defining her life on her own terms, centering her career and pushing past racist and sexist bs with quiet determination. I got teary-eyed in the airport reading this one, especially its powerful ending.
3. Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley. A harrowing novel about seventeen-year-old Kiara Johnson, a young Black teenager who turns to sex work to pay her family’s rent and care for the abandoned nine-year-old boy next door. Leila Mottley does an excellent job portraying the many forces of oppression that affect Black girls and women, including abuse from the police and from within their own community. At the same time, Mottley highlights Kiara’s capacity for joy and love, in spare yet moving scenes that speak to power of connection even in bleak circumstances.
2. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. One of the best works of fiction I’ve ever read. The story follows two brothers in India, one who moves to the United States and one who stays and joins the Naxalite rebellion. In simple yet stunning prose, Jhumpa Lahiri shows how these brothers’ decisions echo down through the generations, affecting the bonds between wife and husband, parent and child, and child and the world. Lahiri’s ability to capture nuanced family dynamics and the quiet yet piercing moments that shape relationships is unparalleled. This novel speaks so much truth to how intergenerational trauma and resilience shapes who we are even when we may not know it. The characters’ love for one another, while messy at times, fuels much of The Lowland‘s impact. I screamed on my couch and at my job while reading this book and loved every second of it.
1. The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. The first fantasy novel to ever take my #1 fiction spot, The Sword of Kaigen follows Misaki, a housewife who married into the legendary Masuda family for a more secure future for herself and later her sons. We soon learn about Misaki’s past as a skilled and fearsome fighter when her family’s home base faces a terrifying invasion. I first loved the writing in this novel: M.L. Wang’s prose kept me so immersed in the story, with excellent world-building and fight scenes that never felt boring or excessively violent for no reason. What elevates this novel to the top of this list, though, is Wang’s excellent characterization of Misaki and her husband Takeru. Not only do we witness an older Asian woman step into her power while delving into a bevy of complex emotions, we also see an Asian man reckoning with the impact of toxic masculinity, who takes accountability for his actions and leans into healing and growth. More fantasy and sci-fi like this, please.
My honorable mentions in fiction go to Chulito by Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou, The Partition by Don Lee, I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee, and Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka.
Top 5: Nonfiction
5. Stay True by Hua Hsu. A nostalgic, poignant memoir in which Hua Hsu recounts his close bond with Japanese American college friend Ken, as well as Ken’s untimely, awful murder in a carjacking. I loved how this book captured a tight friendship between two Asian American men without solely being about being Asian American. Hsu writes with emotional intimacy and self-awareness about his grieving process and the lasting impacts of Ken’s friendship on his life. I liked how Stay True centered friendship, grief, and elements of the Asian American cultural experience, all topics underrepresented within literature.
4. Asian American Dreams by Helen Zia. This book shed so much light on Asian American history in the United States. Helen Zia writes about anti-Asian violence (e.g., murder of Vincent Chin), Asian and Black race relations (e.g., 1992 L.A. uprising, racist media portrayals of Asian Americans throughout history, and much more. She intersperses her own life story and activism efforts throughout this comprehensive recounting, which made the book feel more personable and alive. Asian American Dreams reinforced for me the long history of injustice against Asian Americans in the United States, while at the same time inspiring me to follow in the footsteps of Asian American activists who have mobilized for change despite encountering challenges.
3. They Were Her Property by Stephanie Jones-Rogers. This book did an excellent job of showing how white women owned enslaved Black Americans during the period of slavery. Stephanie Jones-Rogers highlights white women’s capacity for anti-Black racism and dismantles stereotypes of white women as helpless and fragile. With thorough research and intelligent writing, They Were Her Property speaks to the importance of examining the intersection of race and gender within an anti-Black capitalist system.
2. Tastes Like War by Grace Cho. A thoughtful, bittersweet memoir about Grace Cho’s relationship with her mother and her mother’s experience of schizophrenia. One element I appreciated the most: how Cho describes broader systems of oppression (e.g., U.S. imperialism in Korea) as well as gendered racism against Asian women both abroad and domestically as determinants of her mother’s mental health and wellbeing. Despite how dark this memoir may sound, Cho writes with grace and deep love for her mother, portraying her as a woman with so much heart and spirit. Tastes Like War does a lot to destigmatize topics such as severe mental illness and sex work. The running theme of food and the bonds created by food adds a layer of poignancy to this already evocative memoir.
1. What My Bones Know by Stephanie Foo. A powerfully honest and vulnerable memoir about Stephanie Foo’s experience with post-traumatic distress disorder and her journey to recover. I appreciated Foo’s realness about the physical and emotional abuse she faced as a child, as well as the challenges she encountered along the way to seeking help, such as the difficulty of finding an affordable or competent therapist. She writes, too, about intergenerational trauma in a beautiful way that acknowledges the tremendous hardships her parents faced without using those hardships to justify how her parents treated her. As someone who has received and provided therapy myself, I most loved Foo’s relentless determination to heal. She writes about the ugly parts of herself and the process, as well as the beautiful moments of connection (e.g., with her therapist Dr. Jacob Ham) that carried her through to the other side.
My honorable mentions in nonfiction go to You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar, I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, How the Other Half Eats by Priya Fielding-Singh, What Doesn’t Kill You by Tessa Miller, Belly of the Beast by Da’Shaun Harrison, Why Do I Do That? by Joseph Burgo, and Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp.
Have you read any of the books on this list, and if so what did you think of them? Or, what were your favorite reads of 2022 and what are you looking forward to reading in 2023? I always appreciate books written by people of color especially LGBTQ+ people of color, books about interpersonal relationships and interpersonal drama, and books related to social justice topics. I hope everyone has a fabulous transition to 2023 and until next post.
6 responses to “Thomas’s Top Ten 2022 Reads”
I’m always amazed you have time to read and write reviews with your very busy schedule. Thanks for sharing your recommendations. I wish you good health, happiness and success in 2023!
Reading and writing reviews helps me destress for sure! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and I hope your 2023 has been going as well as possible so far. (:
Thanks for taking the time to make this list! It introduced me to several books I had never heard of and now want to read.
It was my pleasure! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment and I hope your 2023 has been great so far in terms of books you’ve read as well as life in general. (:
What a great set of books and I was particularly excited to see Erotic Stories … on there – I really enjoyed that one but felt it was very British, so it’s really interesting to see how much you enjoyed it from over there! I read a good selection myself but as I’m lagging behind in my blog reading I know you’ve already seen that list. Happy reading for 2023!
Erotic Stories was amazing, people from my Asian book club in Boston recommended it and it lived up to the hype. Happy reading in 2023, I hope both reading and life in general has been going well. (: