Here are the divine debuts, vivid historical fictions, and shocking show-business memoirs that top this year’s reading list.
By EW Staff December 07, 2022 at 05:34 PM EST
In this crazy mixed-up world, there’s still nothing quite like the forever pleasures of a quiet corner, a few undisturbed hours, and a great read. Whether they found their way via the breathless testimonials of BookTok or the old-fashioned face-to-face recommendations of a friend, the best novels and nonfiction of 2022 all come back to the same principle: Stories that touch on something true and captivating from the first page.
Below, a highly subjective list of EW staff favorites — including surprising sequels, cinematic fiction, and even fiction that started as cinema (see No. 8 on our list).
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
The most juicy, enveloping, tenderhearted novel of 2022 is…. about video games? It is but it isn’t, of course; just trust that you don’t need to know a PS5 console from a Commodore 64 to fall for Tomorrow from the opening paragraphs — a tart meet-cute between two college students that foretells not a romance, necessarily, but a lifelong bond. Sam is a junior at Harvard and Sadie goes to MIT; they’re both brilliant and both constitutionally lonely, and their shared love of gaming will bring them from the chilly campuses of Cambridge to the early-aughts tech incubators of Venice Beach. Thorny questions of creative ownership and personal redemption swirl across 400 wildly readable pages, but the takeaway is, in the purest and most platonic sense, a love story, one that transcends both time and pixels. — Leah Greenblatt
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
Sequels are by almost every definition a diminishment; even as they expand on the world-building of their source material, they tend to lose something of the original’s ineffable magic. Not Candy, Jennifer Egan’s long-game followup to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2011 triumph A Visit from the Goon Squad. Here, Goon‘s wild tapestry of tech lords, gutter punks, and tennis-club moms are woven once again into a sweeping postmodern narrative (wherever social media is headed, Black Mirror hasn’t even begun to imagine). But the novel — with its prismatic plotting and ever-shifting chorus of seekers, kooks, and visionaries — feels less like a house than a honeycomb full of fantastical rooms, each one alive and thrumming with bright, weird humanity. — Leah Greenblatt
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
After her bestseller Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell returned with another work of thrilling historical fiction, this time centered around a little-known daughter of the powerful Medici family in Renaissance Florence. Lucrezia sees the world through the delicate eyes of a painter, but while a man of her station might have apprenticed to one of the great Italian artists of the time, Lucrezia is sold off like cattle once her older sister dies —forced to be the replacement bride of a powerful duke. O’Farrell’s lyrical prose illuminates Lucrezia’s artistic temperament, and all the mysteries that spring from a death declared in the first paragraph. — Lauren Morgan
Trust by Hernan Diaz
Trust’s title might strictly refer to the financial term, but as a verb, it won’t you serve you to believe a thing in Hernan Diaz’s Rashamon-like tale of a reclusive early Wall Street tycoon and his troubled, aristocratic bride. Diaz — whose 2017 debut, In the Distance, earned him a Pulitzer nod — explores one man’s ruthless pursuit of capital in four distinct forms (a novel, a manuscript, a memoir, a diary), though the classic Great Man narrative itself turns out to be a Trojan horse for something far more feminist, subversive, and strange. (Recently, HBO announced that Kate Winslet will produce and star in a limited-series adaptation.)
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Celebrity memoirs are a dime a dozen, but few manage to combine show-business bombshells with a well-written story as compellingly as former iCarly star Jennette McCurdy. I’m Glad My Mom Died seized the zeitgeist upon its release, and not just because of that eye-popping title: McCurdy’s revelations about the backlot realities of 2000s Nickelodeon sitcoms became a moment of catharsis for the millennial generation who grew up with them — an extreme portrait of difficult mother-daughter relationships, and a thought-provoking lesson on the harm that child acting can wreak behind the scenes. — Christian Holub
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Matthews
Coming-of-age stories rarely come as fully formed as Different, Matthews’ dazzling and wholly original debut. It’s the early days of the second Obama administration, and 22-year-old Sneha — brown, queer, stranded in wintry Wisconsin — is attempting to navigate her first post-college corporate job, dating in the Midwest, and the ongoing legacy of her immigrant parents. Happy endings are as elusive here as a fat 401K or a balanced meal, but Matthews writes about things great (shame, poverty, identity) and small (drunk texts, dive bars) with such mordant wit, insight, and specificity, it feels like watching a new literary star being born in real time. — Leah Greenblatt
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
In the opening pages of Jessamine Chan’s riveting dystopian debut, exhausted single mom Frida Liu leaves her toddler daughter alone for two hours, only to come home and be arrested for child endangerment. Frida’s guilt for leaving little Harriet behind is genuine, but every step she takes to demonstrate repentance is interpreted as more proof that she’s not fit to be a parent, and soon she lands in what is essentially a penitentiary for so-called bad mothers — a place where women are forced to parent a robotic child in the hopes that one day they might be reunited with their own. Under constant surveillance from the school’s cameras and its exacting instructors, Frida knows she’s engaged in a losing game, and Chan’s chilling prose offers sharp commentary on modern motherhood and the impossible expectations it creates. — Lauren Morgan
Heat 2 by Michael Mann
Nearly three decades after his now-iconic heist thriller Heat hit theaters, filmmaker Michael Mann returns to the scene of the crime in unexpected form: a novel. Co-penned with Edgar-winning writer Meg Gardiner, Heat 2 jumps around in time, exploring the before-and-afters of characters like Al Pacino’s relentless LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and Val Kilmer’s slippery thief Chris Shiherlis. For a director so well known for his visual impact, he turns out to be a propulsive prose stylist as well; Mann fans will find connections and parallels with many of his films, but any crime reader can feast on the meaty storytelling. — Christian Holub
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Emily Henry (Beach Read, People We Meet on Vacation) has a gift for crafting love stories designed to hit readers right in the solar plexus; her novels are packed with banter and screwball scenarios, but underneath it all is always the fading bruise of melancholy. Book Lovers, with its prickly literary agent heroine, Nora, and standoffish editor, Charlie, is perhaps her most effective rendering of that yet: When Nora accompanies her sister, Libby, to the Hallmark-worthy town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for a getaway, she’s plunged into Charlie’s orbit, and the secret wounds of their pasts. But the pair finds a balm in their mutual love of words and storytelling, making Henry’s yarn a love letter to bibliophiles — an ode to the risk of sharing one’s heart, and the power of books to both expose and heal them. — Maureen Lee Lenker
Blood, Sweat, and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan
New York Times journalist Kyle Buchanan details the bonkers construction of director George Miller’s long-awaited and often seemingly-doomed fourth Mad Max movie via testimony from the filmmaker, Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and a host of others. The result is an epic and – when it comes to the Theron-Hardy on-set relationship – acrimonious tale no less jaw-dropping than the movie itself. — Clark Collis
Also on our list: Stay True by Hua Hsu, Vladimir by Julia May Jonas, Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet, The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken, If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery, Demon Copperfield by Barbara Kingsolver, In Love by Amy Bloom, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout, Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald, Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perotta, The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney, Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman, This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson.