A few years ago I decided to read my books in order of a set of genres, with categories such as short stories, novel, memoir, queer, general nonfiction, new release, and more. One of my favorite categories is random (it’s the last one on my list of twelve). Because I have all my books on an Excel spreadsheet I export from Libib, a site for those who want to catalog their home libraries, I let my computer choose the random book.
Last year I stuck to my twelve categories, but I also read a lot of graphic novels and books about art at the same time, as I am a big fan.
Here are some of my favorite books I read in 2022, and the notes I took after reading each of them.
32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics by Adrian Tomine (comics zines)
This artist-writer was brilliant at age seventeen, when he began these Optic Nerve zines. I love when he writes and renders a female protagonist. He played around with style in lettering and rendering over these four years. There was not a clunky issue among the seven, and I truly enjoyed the experience traveling back to the early nineties.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (short stories)
Nine remarkable short stories come to life in this late author’s collection. Every single one is magic. I even choked up reading the acknowledgments. What a gift this writer had.
Belonging by Nora Krug (graphic memoir)
Heimat, or belonging, is a sense of loss one feels for one’s place or home. The author boldly tried to discover things about her family’s past during Nazi Germany so that she can understand and hopefully heal. The drawings—in pencil, colored pencil, marker, and collage—are spectacularly rendered to fit this story, and the writing is cogent and almost like a mystery. Excellent, loving, probing, moving.
Block Print for Beginners by Elise Young (art technique)
Much better than I initially thought. Although the author is a novice, she packs a lot into the book and it is all very helpful—every little tip and trick is limned for the beginner to feel more comfortable approaching all the aspects of this art form. Her thick cardboard registration is something I will definitely try for multicolor prints.
The Book Tour by Andi Watson (graphic novel)
A polite man’s book tour goes awry when the police start to suspect him of murder. Shades of Kafka abound in this graphic novel about a man whose book sells only because he has been suspected of murder and has signed a confession under false pretenses. The cartooning is simple; the dialogue, complex. I’m glad I sat down with this.
The Bradley of Him by Connor Willumsen (graphic novel)
In this mesmerizing graphic novel, the runner is on a journey but not really one of self-awareness. He seems to be a famous person staying at a Las Vegas hotel. Is it supposed to be Bradley Cooper, who just won an Oscar playing Lance Armstrong, or is it Murray, the superwealthy alter-ego? The images are all rendered in graphite pencil, and the words seem to be in marker. There is linearity, but it is always being called into question with possible flashbacks (or are they fantasies?). All in all, I dug it and really grooved on the style.
Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York by Samuel R. Delany, illustrated by Mia Wolff (graphic memoir)
A relationship is exquisitely illustrated in ink and lovingly written. I savored every word and explored every image. This memoir upturns all expectations about love, desire, homelessness, and friendship. And the author and his man are still together!
Companion Piece by Ali Smith (novel)
After reading Ali Smith’s glorious four seasons novels, I felt I had to read this, her latest. Also glorious. She captures the zeitgeist to a tee by juxtaposing the current pandemic against the 17th-century plague. Magical and genius. Her wordplay is infectious. Some loose ends, but I did not ind a bit.
Dis-similarities by Craig J Calhoun (art)
What a fantastic book of art photography by this estimable artist. Reality-bending images allow you to see things askew. Beautiful, with a thoughtful and provocative artist’s statement wending its way throughout.
The Domesticated Afterlife by Scott Finch (graphic novel)
The definition of original. I can’t say I understood it completely, but I understood it well enough to really dig this graphic novel about submission and spirituality. Our vulpine hero, Enaid, accepts a Faustian bargain to become domesticated in order to eat and sleep freely without care, but the bargain is not what it seemed like from the beginning. My god, what a world Finch creates. Truly one of a kind. Sui generis.
Elizabeth and Monty by Charles Casillo (biography)
This account of their relationship is thorough, insightful, and generally well written. The author focuses on the psychology of his subjects, and this pays off in a huge way: it gives the book a sense of characterization, which is paramount in biographies. I learned so much. And his use of amalgamating quotations from other sources works to his advantage to help paint a complete picture. Very moving.
Falling Water by John Koethe (poetry)
These poems about loneliness and feelings of displacement in middle age in an indifferent world reverberate strongly. I underlined so much that I felt attuned with, and they put me in a mood of uncertainty, which is what I think the poems are written to do. Philosophical and also heartfelt. The final poem, “Falling Water,” is the longest and encompasses life in a matter of pages. “Morning in America” resonates strongly, politically especially, today.
The Follies of Richard Wadsworth and Streakers by Nick Maandag (graphic novellas)
Three graphic novellas: The Follies of Richard Farnsworth, Night School, The Disciple. The first was the best, but all of them have a wackiness and challenge political correctness in such a funny way: these characters cannot help themselves because they are so driven by lust. I really dig his work. ¶ Streakers is a hilarious graphic short story about a club for streakers. The three men currently involved are all working-class guys who are a bit creepy, but somehow Maandag makes us care for them. I love the renderings of body hair and genitals. Lovely pen and ink work.
Francis Bacon by A. E. Bethea (graphic essays)
Francis Bacon is just the jumping-off point for this comic in which the artist/author philosophizes about their position in this world. They will mention something on one page, such as the moon, and riff on the moon landing on the next page. The drawings are jagged and febrile. A wonderful juxtaposition against the poetic and philosophical texts. I was smitten.
Gateway to the Moon by Mary Morris (novel)
I love Morris’s writing: the five senses exploited to their fullest, characters fully developed who conjure instant faces in your mind, and plot devices that keep you turning the page. In 1992 small-town New Mexico, its denizens have had family there for over 400 years who do not eat pork and light candles every Friday. We trace the family from 1492 to the present to learn why. Breathtaking.
Index Cards by Moira Davey (essays)
These interconnected essays seem desultory in their telling, but that is on purpose, allowing a cumulative effect that took my breath away at times. I feel a kinship with the author, especially in her essay “The Problem of Reading,” of what to read and the dilemma in choosing one’s next book to read. I love how reading and writing are forever linked, and how she quotes famous and not-so-famous authors regarding the subject. So many connections here, and she writes about those connections as though she read my mind.
The Journey by Indira Ganesan (novel)
The word and world building are exquisite in this compact gem. Such a visual, sensual writer. I underlined many phrases and passages.
The Man without Talent by Yoshiharu Tsuge, translated by Ryan Holmberg (graphic novel)
I could not out this down and read it in one sitting. Tsuge is a master of pen and ink, and he knows how to tell a story and use flashback and manga-style reactions. The ending made me laugh—so fitting—as the main character does not recognize he is like all those men without money (but he really does have talent!).
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman (graphic novels)
The first book, A Survivor’s Tale, was a devastating and emotional retelling of his father’s time during World War II. The narrative is meta, and works perfectly: the son in the present asking the father about his experiences, all while dealing with his father and his father wife’s matrimonial problems. ¶ Part II, And Here My Troubles Begin, is probably the best graphic novel ever written. The author struggles with his father’s story of surviving the Holocaust while dealing with his father’s old age and infirmities, and inner turmoil. The love/hate relationship between the two is what makes this brilliant. Also included is a chapbook/pamphlet of earlier works that inspired Maus.
My Dead Book by Nate Lippens (novel)
Good things come in small packages. A novella about a hustler looking back on his life, remembering the dead who once breathed life into his world. Unsentimental, quietly philosophical, and lovingly told. I underlined and starred so many passages!
Pangs of Love by David Wong Louie (short stories)
These stories pretty much keep you guessing till the end, where everything comes to gather not in a crystalline moment of understanding but in waves of increasing understanding. “Inheritance,” the last story, was deep, oh so deep, and excellent. Not all the stories are about the Chinese-American Experience; Louie was a writer first, and a man writing about his people, it seems, second. He could not be pigeon-holed: so many of the stories seems to emanate from different places. I remember buying this thirty years ago because one of the stories had a gay character. Only one. But I am so glad I bought it and had the chance to soak up the author’s talent.
Peculiar Heritage by DeMisty D. Bellinger (poetry)
I loved this poetry collection. It is written by a Black woman who puts herself, her body, her mind in the bodies of other Black women, some of them slaves escaping to the north, as in her group of poems called Lunar Journey. These poems question everything—especially imbalance in our society—and are just magnificent and moving on many levels.
Please Continue by Frank Basloe (play)
Remarkable and stunning play about the Milgram experiments at Yale in the early sixties. These scenes are interwoven with another storyline about a young teenager girls rape by a multitude of Yale men. It is unsettling and perfect. Themes of culpability and forgiveness abound.
The Pleasure of the Text by Sami Alwani (graphic stories)
Anticapitalist cartooning at its finest: erudite, self-effacing, perpetually questioning, erotic, mundane, all using different styles and media but focusing on the artist–writer, as a dog! Brilliant!
Prayer to Saint Therese by Alabaster Pizzo (graphic novella)
This is a beautifully written and thought-out graphic novella about the future (2040), the narrator an expat in Amsterdam, and how she seeks connection and meaning but is afraid of the things she wants. At its core, it’s about how bleak yet hopeful every moment is.
Rusty Brown by Chris Ware (graphic novel)
This sad opus about unfulfilled lives is quite a journey, twenty years in the making. I was moved by all the characters, and all the little details in their hardscrabble lives make this opus soar. I so look forward to part two.
Staring at the Sun by Julian Barnes (novel)
This book moved me on many levels: emotionally, philosophically, as literature. A woman who lives to be 100 questions her life from the moment her uncle gives her bulbs when she is ten, telling her that they will grow into flowers, but they are in fact golf tees. Fear, bravery, success, the meaning of life, the uncertainty of god and afterlife, the follow of religion, suicide—all and more are explored fully in only 197 pages. Barnes is a brilliant writer.
They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey (novel)
Another stellar novel by Howrey, and this time she returns to the milieu of ballet. A family drama that runs very deep and bounces around in time. I was spellbound by her narrator’s interiority and would have underlined half the passages in the book if I had read with a highlighter. All the characters are indelibly imprinted in my mind. I wept several times at the beauty of the passages; from the joy, longing, pain, and forgiveness; and especially from Carlisle’s self-discoveries she makes along the way. This should be required reading.
Tooth Box by Jenny Irish (poetry)
These prose poems pack gigantic punches. Girlhood, dislocation, the feeling of not belonging or fitting in, women and their relationship with their bodies—I was mesmerized. So much in thirty-one poems. The last line of “Wolves” made me gasp and nod.