The Best Books We Read in 2022

Whew, that’s a wrap on 2022! As always, we’ve got some fun reading recommendations for you, courtesy of Duke University Press staff!

Your Body Is Not Your BodyExhibits Manager Jes Malitoris recommends Your Body Is Not Your Body—an anthology for horror lovers, full of rage and catharsis from over 30 trans and non-binary authors, poets, and artists. These speculative fiction short stories and poems are not for the faint of heart, full of body horror and transformation. The collection is precisely what Jes needed this year, and as a bonus it is produced by a small press, with all the proceeds going to Equality Texas to protect and support trans youth.

Eve's HollywoodMeanwhile, Senior Copywriter Chris Robinson offers Eve’s Hollywood. As Chris puts it, this is a collection of essays by journalist, socialite, model, artist, etc. etc. etc. Eve Babitz. She paints a picture of the wealthy and glamorous side of Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s that she ran with—rock stars, her rich Beverly Hills classmates. In one particularly poignant essay she recounts spending the night in the legendary Chateau Marmont while the Watts riots were raging: a picture of the complexity and multiplicity of Los Angeles. Babitz’s writing is scary good—her acknowledgement section alone is astonishing.


Next up: Business Systems Coordinator Arvilla Mastromarino gives praise for Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Alone but for the occasional appearance of a man known as “The Other,” the book’s protagonist, Piranesi, wanders a labyrinthine world caught between sky and water. He helps The Other’s research into A Great and Secret Knowledge, only to learn a terrible truth of his own. Clarke masterfully weaves a dream of a tale that Arvilla didn’t want to wake up from!

Dark EarthBooks Marketing Manager Laura Sell especially enjoyed Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott. Laura says she’s never given much thought to the “Dark Ages”—the period after the Romans left England and abandoned the city of Londinium, but before England was unified in the tenth century. This novel richly imagines that period from the point of view of two sisters. Laura was struck in particular by the beautiful and haunting descriptions of the decaying Londinium, about 150 years abandoned when the novel takes place. The earth is slowly reclaiming the city, with no one to repair the infrastructure. Reading this book from a crossroads in our own democracy and civilization is instructive. Take care, the most technologically advanced empire can be but a memory in a hundred years.

Secret LivesInternational Library Sales Manager Natasha De Bernardi loved Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, a debut collection of nine short stories featuring Black women protagonists. The church is a theme throughout, but really they are intimate stories of black women (and girls) dealing with their inner desires. The book was published by a small university press and won the PEN/Faulkner Award as well as being a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. A recent New York Times op-ed listed the book as an example of the kind of quality fiction that is coming out of university presses and that does not find a place among big commercial publishers. Slate has a great article that tells the story of how the book got published.

Black Was the RiverPublicist & Academic Exhibits Coordinator Ryan Helsel’s favorite book of 2022 was Black Was The River, You See by Welsh photographer Dan Wood. In her introductory essay, writer Rachel Trezise presents the Welsh expression “milltir sgwâr,” which, while translating directly to “square mile,” refers “more particularly to the patch of ground you make your own—the place that shapes you and which is shaped in return by your connection.” For Dan Wood, this describes the villages and rolling hills that line the banks of the “unremarkable” River Ogmore along its short passage to the sea in South Wales. Wood’s muted color photographs use the Ogmore as a thread to connect lyrical observations of landscape, people, and detritus, creating a sense of place that is highly specific yet familiar. Ryan adds that, after the past few years of staying very close to home and spending many afternoons walking the banks of the Eno River (which, at 40 miles is more than twice the length of the Ogmore) with his two young children, the reminder to embrace the landscape, people, and artifacts that make up our “square mile” feels more valuable than ever.

And finally, Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Ault simply could not settle on just one! The three best books she read this year were The Sentence by Louise Erdrich; The Trees by Percival Everett; and All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews. In each of these works, politics are fundamental to the workings of plot and narrative in a way that feels elegantly worked-through, rather than tacked-on (as was the case in some other post-George Floyd novels that Elizabeth has read and read about…). Elizabeth adds that the books all have a strong sense of place; Erdrich and Mathews both evoke the Upper Midwest she knows and loves (in their Minneapolis and Milwaukee, respectively) in its glory and its violence. Each of the authors does smart and interesting things with character, even as Everett’s novel is much more satirical than the other two, which are both really warmly peopled. In their own ways, each is actually pretty f’ing funny, and Elizabeth loves when that can coexist (as it must; as we know it does in our everyday lives!) with an urgent attention to the evils of racism, capitalism, homophobia, transphobia, and the many other threats to collective thriving and liberation.Pic Collage

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