Here go, skipping off into a brand new year. But before we travel too far into 2023, I’m continuing my tradition of my first blog post each year being a retrospective of the books I dwelled within the year before.
Two novels topped my list as favorites in 2022. Both were written by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past, and both were long journeys, one involving 592 pages and the other weighing in at a whopping 640 pages.
But enough about their bulk. What are their titles?
I’ll start off with my #2 favorite read of last year: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. I had listed one of his other novels as a favorite of mine a few years ago–A Gentleman in Moscow. Such a masterpiece and wonder of a book!
So I had to check out The Lincoln Highway to see if Towles exceeded the joys of A Gentleman for me. But I soon found that to compare the two is like comparing a Golden Retriever to a Border Collie. Both are wonderful companions, but their personalities are a wee bit different.
Here’s a brief listing of the book’s acclaim:
- #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
- More than ONE MILLION copies sold
- A TODAY Show Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
- A New York Times Notable Book, and chosen by Oprah Daily, Time, NPR, The Washington Post, Bill Gates and Barack Obama as a Best Book of the Year
Any book that can sell 1,000,000 copies in its first year, well, that’s a lot of reader enthusiasm.
What’s it about?
Here’s a summary of the story:
In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head to California where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future, one that will take them all on a fateful journey in the opposite direction—to the City of New York.
What makes this my #2 favorite read?
First, that Towles wrote a story about as far afield as one can imagine from A Gentleman in Moscow. The Lincoln Highway shows that the author is a great storyteller who can take a catalog of complex characters and move them through their journey to New York with each explaining what happens next in his own voice.
Second, the book mines the strengths of the best journey books: The Odyssey, The Iliad, Huckleberry Finn, and Of Mice and Men. Each of Towles’s characters unveils what makes him tick, both the good influences and the bad, and tells the story with a strong, unique voice. There’s no confusing the characters; you know right away which one’s point-of-view you’ve just moved to.
I found Towles exploring the idea of nurture or nature through each character. What makes that individual respond to the hills and valleys of the road trip showcases a consistency of character development that reveals a cascade of choices leading up to the latest bump in the journey.
The conclusion of the trip for every one of them feels inevitable. Considering that person’s response to stresses, detours, and intersections with others, of course the trail he traveled had to end where it did.
The Lincoln Highway is worth all 592 fat-free pages. I never felt bored, impatient, or lost. Instead, I found each corner the characters turned opened up new vistas of who we are–both the good and the bad. But also shows that the choice is always ours as to which side of our face we’ll turn toward others.
#1 favorite read in 2022
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, author of All The Light We Cannot See, is a marvel. The complexity of the book’s structure showcases how Doerr has not yet reached the heights of his writing career. What a tour de force!
What’s so great about it?
- On the New York Times bestseller list for over 20 weeks
- A New York Times Notable Book
- A National Book Award Finalist
- Named a Best Book of the Year by Fresh Air, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Associated Press, and many more
- Currently has 23,878 Amazon reviews with a 4.5 rating.
What’s it about?
Okay, brace yourself. It’s sprawling, coming in at 642 pages. It’s a tough book to get into because it spans hundreds of years, with different protagonists in each era. At first, keeping track of each story as you jump around the time periods is seriously challenging. I’d encourage the reader to start the book by keeping track of the characters from each era because, as you move from one to another, it’s hard to remember where that part of the story left off. And who was each person again?
Here’s a brief summary of the story
In the 15th century, an orphan named Anna lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople. She learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds what might be the last copy of a centuries-old book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the army that will lay siege to the city. His path and Anna’s will cross.
In the present day, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno rehearses children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege.
And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father.
What makes it my #1 favorite read?
I can only explain to you how I responded to this tome. I started out enjoying each story but feeling adrift every time the era switched to another. What, I wondered, holds this book together beyond the story of Aethon, which, trust me, isn’t enough to hold the book together?
I was so caught up in the present-day story that I sifted through the pages to continue with the present-day peril.
When I was able to take a breath, I then went back and read the book as Doerr intended. Soon I began to see that the progression of the book wasn’t a muddle but actually quite elaborately woven and a thing of beauty. The deeper I advanced in my reading, the more the author unveiled how it all fit together. And my breath was snatched away.
The concept that holds the novel together?
It’s an ode to books and to libraries and what they contribute to our lives and culture in particular.
The book’s dedication reads: “For the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.”
The skill required to pull off this story is a triumphant in and of itself. I still think about this book often, even though I finished reading it this summer.
But here’s the kicker. After completing the last page, I uttered aloud, “No, this can’t be where it ends; I want to know what happens next!” The conclusion is a jaw-dropping surprise that I never saw coming, but the implications were so profound, I wanted Doerr to take me further down the path to see what happens next.
Join the 23,878 Amazon reviewers and read this book. It’s not to be missed.
Now, tell me about your favorite read in 2022. (The book doesn’t need to have been published that year; it’s any book you read and want to tell others about.)