Doodle: The Best Books from 2022
Last week a friend shared the 26 Best Fiction Books in 2022 with me, published by The Times. Since I’m not a subscriber, this was all I got to read: “Tis the season, so get your nose stuck into a great novel….Whether you like the sound of lesbians in a submarine, forbidden love in Troubles-torn Belfast or hunkering down in a crumbling country house for a few generations or so, you’ll find a perfect escape from you extended family here.”
Now, I was feeling particularly cynical when I received that on Friday. Furthermore, Cape Town was doing its best Durban imitation, serving up a viciously humid day. No doubt, this made me more cranky than usual. So after reading the above introduction I jotted down three quick thoughts about the best 26 books from 2022.
1. I Doubt 26 Books from 2022 Warrant Reading
Firstly, it’s highly unlikely that 26 works of fiction worth reading were published in one year. As the words to a Taylor Swift hit originally went: ‘publishers gonna publish.’ Apparently that wasn’t quite as catchy as the eventual lyrics. Nevertheless, haters gonna hate. And I resent the fact that the the state of modern publishing is more akin to a McDonald’s than the printing press.
Thousands of books were published in 2022. Undoubtedly, among them are a handful of decent books and maybe even one or two great ones. However, the vast majority of them are average, at best. So I wouldn’t waste your time or money working through the 26 served up by The Times—or other lists like it.
2. Most of the Best Books Have Already Been Written
Secondly, following on from the previous point, most of the best books you’ll ever read have already been published—the vast majority of those were written before the turn of the century. Am I a literary prude? Maybe. Do you believe that canonical works became that for a reason? You should. Can you name 26 seminal, canonical, or plainly outstanding books written before 2022? I hope you can.
One more question, before we move onto my final point. Have you read The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Rings or Frankenstein; what about Dostoyevsky, Albert Camus, Marilynne Robinson or Kazuo Ishiguro? Maybe—and that’s a sizeable “maybe”—one of The Times’ 26 books from 2022 will become a classic, like the books and authors I’ve just mentioned. The rest will be forgotten
3. Great Books aren’t for Escapism
Finally, returning to the blurb quoted at the beginning of this doodle, books aren’t “a perfect escape.” If it’s escapism you’re looking for, can I recommend Netflix? If you want to get away from the extended family, shove in some AirPods and listen to whatever music the kids are suffering through these days. But don’t denigrate literature with the label of escapism. That might apply to the best books from 2022, but not the best books ever written.
Earlier this year I wrote a short post, asking if reading fiction is a waste of time. I said this: “The best stories aren’t those that take us out of our world but the kind that shed light on it and the human experience.” I’m all for enjoying books, even the occasional bit of escapist reading. But if the primary function of your fiction is escapism then you’re probably just not reading worthwhile books. And if you’re looking for more of those, then The Times has a list you might be interested in.