How is it the end of the year? I mean…how? It feels as if I just wrote one of these, and yet here I am, writing another one. What I can say for 2022 is that I survived it. But it’s been a low-hanging thing, more endurance than thriving. Despite that, my year was brightened by books and television and music, so let’s focus on the sparkles.
What follows is a list of cultural artifacts that I consumed this year and that I thought were pretty cool. As always, this isn’t a best of list because I simply don’t read, watch, or listen to enough stuff to write one of those. According to my Goodreads challenge, I read 56 books in 2022. That’s decent, but I read across genres enough that I don’t think I could–with a straight face–tell you what the best books of this year were. These are the just the ones I really liked. (And the same goes for music, TV, etc.)
Music and Podcasts
My top 100 songs on Spotify are pretty much a catalogue of my comfort listens. And my friends, that means sad girl indie pop. It’s just who I am. As a result, I didn’t do much music discovery this year. However, when filmmakers in the future want to evoke 2022, they should cue up “As It Was“/Harry Styles, “BREAK MY SOUL“/Beyonce, “Anti-Hero“/Taylor Swift, and “About Damn Time“/Lizzo.
I haven’t had any new to me podcasts that hooked me this year, but I did listen to half of Mike Duncan’s History of Rome, so you know, I’m only ten years late to that party.
Genre Fiction and Romance
The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy/Megan Bannen: when I think about the notable romances I read this year, this tops the list. It’s an enemies to lovers PNR with some heavy mythological and neo-western overtones, and the letters that Hart and Mercy exchange are filled with some of the most visceral longing I’ve ever read.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches/Sangu Mandanna: in contrast, this is like a warm mug of cocoa in book form. There’s very little plot, everyone is lovely (even the grump), and there are cute children and a magical garden. Basically, I want to live in this book, and I suspect if you read it, you will too.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty/Akwaeke Emezi: the premise of this one (she’s falling for her sort of boyfriend’s father) put me off, but the persistent glowing reviews got me to pick it up, and I’m so glad I did. The writing is AMAZING, the romance is steaming, and the commentary on art and grief is brilliant.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club/Malinda Lo: a Sapphic love story set against the mid-century gay club culture of San Francisco? only yes please! It’s angsty–I mainly prefer angst to fluff–but I couldn’t put it down. I’m dying to see this on screen.
Lore Olympus/Rachel Smythe: I’ve been into Hades/Persephone retellings lately (have I bragged that we saw Hadestown on Broadway yet?), and this webcomic netted me with its gorgeous art. But it kept me reading–and had me buying all the books–because of the revisionist take on the story’s politics and the swoony romance. I loved every frame.
Lit-Fic and Non-Fic
Bloodlands/Timothy Synder: I’m loath to list a reread, but I grabbed this from the library again when Russia invaded Ukraine, and it was even more relevant the second time. A history of Nazi and Soviet exploitation and genocide in eastern Europe, this isn’t a light read. But by putting together historical events that are frequently treated separately, Synder gives us a new way to think about human violence, culpability, authoritarianism, and resilience.
The Book of Delights/Ross Gay: on the other end of the spectrum, each of these micro-essays on a scene or observation that gave the poet author joy is like a chip of stained glass. Taken together, it’s a rainbow of happiness, insight, and contemplation.
Crying in H Mart/Michelle Zauner: this is a meditation on watching a parent die, on surviving endless waves of grief, on being a second-generation immigrant, on the healing power of food, but also on falling in love and on trying to make a career in art. What I adored most about it is how none of the relationships are easy, but all of them are real.
The Persuaders/Anand Giridharadas: one of my final reads of the year, this book was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. If you’re afraid for democracy because it feels as if no one listens anymore, you too may need this book. It made me hopeful, not because it gave me simple truths or patted my hand, but because it showed me people doing the hard work and persisting.
Movies and Television
Ms. Marvel/Disney+: I’m over superheroes, if I was ever into them in the first place. If that’s you too, let me assure you that Ms. Marvel can be enjoyed in spite of its super heroic elements as a terrific coming of age story about a Muslim girl in Jersey City who’d just like to go to a comic con, who doesn’t realize her best friend is in love with her, and whose parents don’t always understand her but who love her deeply all the same. I’ve watched it three or four times start to finish, and it’s better on every viewing.
Severance/Apple TV+: I’m skeptical of content that’s described as “high concept,” because I typically find it to be light on characterization and, frankly, gimmicky. But nothing else I’ve watched this year has been as high concept as Severance, and yet it has deep and twisting characterizations, plus a stunning use of production design and riveting performances. The final two episodes were quite simply the most tense hours of TV I watched this year.
Andor/Disney+: let me say at the start that the rapturous reaction to this show is, well, odd. It carries the definite air of “finally a good Star Wars product,” when Andor’s main difference from most of the SW universe is the slower, more deliberate pacing. And the titular character is also an absolute cipher–thanks entirely to the writing and not the solid performance by Diego Luna. But despite those limitations, when this show was on, it was ON. I only wished it had been on for more than three or four of the twelve episodes. But I’ll keep watching because those episodes were utterly top shelf.
Heartstopper/Netflix: one of the great joys of this year for me has been enjoying content with my kids as their taste is increasingly more sophisticated. They introduced me to this series (developed from the YA graphic novels of the same name), and it is adorable. If I feel a bit like the crypt keeper watching these British teens fall in love and come to terms with who they are, I’ll deal with it because it’s just so darn happy.
Top Gun: Maverick/Paramount: I saw one movie in theaters this year, and it was awesome. Yes, this is military propaganda. Yes, Miles Teller and Glenn Powell should have switched parts. Yes, there’s something absurd about the third act. But I can’t think of another film from the last decade that’s better captured the joy, fast pacing, and frenetic excitement movies used to have. More of this, please.
A League of Their Own/Amazon Prime: But while we’re on the subject of reboots from my childhood, along comes A League of Their Own to solve that puzzle in a completely different way. Rather than retell the tale of the Rockford Peaches with different actors in the same roles, the creators went back to the source material to tell a different, more inclusive, story. I don’t care about sportsball, but I cared about this show. I loved how it handled race and queerness, and I’ll be beside myself if we don’t get a second season.