> Zed Book Club / The Year in Reading: 157 Titles Later, a Bibliophile Recommends Her Favourites

Photo: Auris/Getty Images

> Bookshelf

The Year in Reading: 157 Titles Later, a Bibliophile Recommends Her Favourites

It was a contemplative spring and a giddy summer, but then a case of reader’s block was broken by – what else? – a book about reading / BY Nathalie Atkinson / December 16th, 2022

At this time of year, everyone from publishers and bookstores to the Toronto Public Library takes stock of what grabbed readers, what didn’t, and what it all means. So do I, as sort of personal post mortem before tackling the year’s new TBR (to be read) list. My memory for titles falters, so I use the Notes app to record every book I start and/or finish; considered in retrospect, it charts the vagaries of my state of mind and moods throughout the year. (It’s the closest thing I’ll ever have to a journal.)

I didn’t write about all the books I read this year (157 to date), but I’ve loved sharing the best of them with Zed: The Zoomer Book Club throughout the year. For the holiday season, once again I’ve put together a few themed book lists as gift ideas – perfect to give or, for the voracious readers among us, to get.

Looking at my year in reading, I can tell that spring was contemplative (literary fiction, social history) and my summer leisure reading got giddy, gravitating to commercial fiction and nature reading. By peak autumn book season, I hit a brick wall and my focus skidded to a halt. (Luckily I read most of the big juicy fall books over the summer.) I’m not the only book lover to struggle with jags of reader’s block, and after a fruitless month without reading, I turned to – surprise! – a book for the answers. You Are What You Read by New York humanities professor Robert DiYanni is basically a handbook to being a better reader. I make no reading resolutions, but do closely and strategically curate my TBR pile from a wide array of sources (a time-consuming but rewarding practice), and had been leaning heavily into emotionally demanding reads. DiYanni’s practical guide to the reading life lifted me out of a slump by prompting me to cast further afield than I would have by following my own instincts and taste.

Recommended Reading: Books for the Bookish

Once I surfaced from drafting the season’s many Zed Books holiday gift lists, for example, the moody Song Noir: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles by Alex Harvey gave my reading battery the much-needed jump start. The balladeer’s 1973 debut album Closing Time is one of my all-time top tens, and I was fascinated by how Waits was shaped by his time in the City of Angels, soaking up the cultural influences of the Beats and haunting the city’s gritty locales. What I needed was whimsy, and I found it next in flapper Zelda Fitzgerald. The Jazz Age icon – famously, the wife of the Great American Novelist F. Scott – who struggled with mental illness, began making painted paper dolls in the 1920s when their daughter was six. She continued the craft throughout her life as a way of diarizing; in the disarmingly lovely new book The Paper Dolls of Zelda Fitzgerald, her granddaughter, Eleanor Lanahan, collects his uniquely autobiographical artistic output for the first time.

The other category that always lures me back into reading mode is bygone forgotten books, which I usually hear about from book bloggers (sorry, #BookTok). There’s something appealing about the absence of marketable authors, since most are long dead, so a book’s revival and success depends on the ultimate word-of-mouth: enthusiastic endorsements by voracious readers. The rise of publishing rediscovered books and authors is a phenomenon I wrote about last week, and knowing this was my sweet spot, a friend presented me with a new copy of bygone Canadian writer Sara Jeannette Duncan’s A Daughter of Today for my birthday. I heartily recommend it, along with Mary Fitt’s unusual 1936 thriller Three Sisters Flew Home.

Recommended ReadingHidden Gems: The Best Rediscovered Books of  2022

Another reliably engrossing sub-genre centres on the Tinseltown magic of classic Hollywood, like Nghi Vo’s dazzling Siren Queen, a reimagining of early star Anna May Wong’s life. Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents excavates lesser-known Hollywood political history through a fictionalized community of artistic exiles and émigrés who take refuge in Hollywood from the fascism advancing in Europe in the 1940s. The delightful historical throwback Mr. Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe imagines director Billy Wilder making his final movie in order to ponder the death of the old studio system, while Edward J. Delaney’s The Acrobat is an odd, thinly veiled novelization of the life of Cary Grant.

Recommended Reading: Hollywood Moments

Following a lecture series I did on the cultural history of fashion, I was asked for relevant reading suggestions. The two books I most recommend are fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell’s Skirts — an entertaining survey of 20th-century hemlines and their significance – and Worn by Sofi Thanhauser, a sweeping look at clothing through the global social history of key garment materials such as wool and cotton. Everybody gets dressed in the morning, but not everyone thinks about what their clothing choices signal, so I would add What Artists Wear by the British art curator Charlie Porter. To Porter, Laurie Anderson’s tailored suits are part of the critique of power and control in her music and performances, and he explores the deeper meaning of sartorial uniforms adopted by other artists like Nicole Eisenman and Joseph Beuys.

Recommended reading:  Good Tidings: 13 Coffee Table Books for Gift Giving

In moments of reading block I’ve found myself drawn to narrative non-fiction structured in discrete morsels, a format that suits a fractured attention span, like historian Kate Summerscale’s The Book of Phobias & Manias, an abecedary of 99 obsessions and fears, from ablutophobia (washing) and monophobia (solitude) to zoophobia (animals). Likewise, I loved dipping in and out of This Sleeve Should be Illegal: & Other Reflections on Art at the Frick. Ekphrasis—“the poetic evocation of a painting by a poet sufficiently impressed by a picture to want to write about it”— may come back into vogue thanks to this lush anthology. Edited by Canadian-raised New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik, he invites dozens of creatives, like Bill T. Jones, Andre Aciman, Bryan Ferry, Jonathan Lethem and Lydia Davis, as well as a few unexpected boldface names (Victoria Beckham! weighing in on Vermeer’s “Officer and Laughing Girl”) to share their short appreciative texts on a favourite piece in the Frick’s hallowed collection.

Recommended Reading: Take Their Word For It: 14 Starry Memoirs for the Celeb-Obsessed

More than ever, and as the bestseller lists attest, readers were drawn to spine-tingling procedurals, mystery and crime fiction. In an effort to understand why these literary genres exert such a gravitational pull, I consulted David Lehman’s The Mysterious Romance of Murder, which examines our fascination with detection and noir stories on the page and screen, but is ultimately more of a celebration of our collective preoccupation with the dark side of human nature than a thesis for why it exists. I fared better with Nicola Stow, who introduced me to citizens who are solving true crimes (like those looking into the 2012 Montreal homicide that inspired the Netflix series Don’t F**k with Cats) in The Real-Life Murder Clubs. I’ve never been enough of a joiner for a book club, but a sleuth club? Tempting! Similarly, Vanity Fair contributor Joe Pompeo’s Blood & Ink: The Scandalous Jazz Age Double-Murder That Hooked America on True Crime revisits the Hall-Mills murder — a sordid case that has captivated crime reporters and writers for a century – and turns up insight along the way.

Recommended Reading: High Society

Like many who catapulted Killers of a Certain Age and its lethal coastal-grandmother assassins onto the bestsellers list, I chortled my way through Deanna Raybourn’s comic thriller. To those who enjoyed it, I’m also  recommending The Lunar Housewife by Caroline Woods, an intrigue about espionage set in the world of 1950s New York literary magazines that similarly probes the contours of female ambition. Its novel-within-a-novel alternating chapter structure also recalls Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin.

My favourite suspense novels of the year in some way spoke to the present cultural moment, like Brendan Slocumb’s The Violin Conspiracy, a gripping tale about a talented Black classical musician and a priceless musical instrument, and The Opportunist, the first psychological thriller by Canada’s own Elyse Friedman that I’ve described as “if Succession were Canadian,” while The Cut fashion editor Amina Akhtar’s sly and thought-provoking Kismet skewers the whiteness of the self-care industry. They’re rueful dark and brainy satires.

I also continue to hook friends on Chris Pavone, who began his career the other side of the desk as a copy editor at Doubleday (when the editor at the end of the hall was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) and eventually edited the likes of John Grisham and Pat Conroy. According to the author, the premise of his latest twister Two Nights in Lisbon (about a newlywed who wakes up to find her new husband missing) was sparked in part by the infamous 2016 footage of Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault as a sort of hobby. The footage, you’ll recall, was received by a largely indifferent America, which went on to elect him president. Pavone’s set-up explores how society enables predators and limits justice for victims in a truly fresh and unexpected corkscrew plot – to say any more would spoil the extremely clever fun. It would pair well with She Said, the movie about the New York Times investigative reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandals.

When all else fails, I read cookbooks like they’re novels and novels like they’re cookbooks, as any Laurie Colwin devotee will understand. The best ones this year were delectable windows into heritage, like Eric Kim’s Korean American (featured in this Zed Books listicle), the diversity of Puerto Rican food and cultural identity arrayed in Diasporican (bonus: author Illyanna Maisonet’s @eatgordaeat Instagram posts are mouthwatering) and the fascinating commonalities and intersections of African diaspora cooking and Yiddish foodways explored by chef and James Beard-winning food writer Michael Twitty in his latest, Koshersoul. Among the most poignant and uplifting books of 2022 was The Year of Miracles, English poet and cookery writer Ella Risbridger’s follow-up to her surprise hit Midnight Chicken, about grieving and the renewal of joy through friendship and cooking.

Recommended Reading: Science and Nature

Acclaimed Cape Breton author Kate Beaton’s quietly devastating graphic memoir Ducks, about her time working in the Alberta oil sands, has also resonated. The depiction of ecological and biological devastation (particularly of nearby First Nations physical health) by industry has stuck with me.

It dovetails beautifully with An Immense World by Ed Yong, a staff writer for The Atlantic who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. The natural history book, underpinned by philosopher Thomas Nagel’s 1974 essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, is on many top 10 lists, and Yong has written not only one of the most popular science books of the year, but one of the books of the year. That attests to Yong’s ingenuity in combining engaging field research and reporting from laboratories with activating our sense of wonder as he explores how living beings perceive the world. Hopefully the book’s popularity speaks to a growing curiosity about experiences beyond our own and, flowing from that, a spike in empathy.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the titles. 



The Book Thief: An Italian Man’s Guilty Plea Ends a Caper That Puzzled the Literary World for YearsFilippo Bernardini’s elaborate phishing scam netted 1,000 unpublished manuscripts by prominent authors including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan

The Late Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison is Honoured with an American StampThe Obamas and Oprah Winfrey pay tribute to the writer whose poetic interpretations of the African American experience gained a world-wide audience

Five Canadian Writers Make the Long List for the Inaugural Carol Shields Prize for FictionThe US$150,000 English-language literary award for female and nonbinary writers redresses the inequality of women in the publishing world

The Furry Green Grump is Back in a Sequel to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”Dr. Seuss Enterprises will publish “How the Grinch Lost Christmas!” in September

Chris Hadfield to Publish a Sequel to His Blockbuster Debut, “The Apollo Murders,” on Oct. 10"The Defector” brings the Cold War intrigue from space to Earth as the Soviets and Americans race to develop fighter jets

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.

Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan

Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world

Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."

Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."

Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.

Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.

Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.

Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.

Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.

New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.

French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."

Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.

Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'

Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.

Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.

Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.

Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.

Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.

Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”

Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956

Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."

The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.

American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history

Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."

New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.

Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.

Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."

European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."

Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.

Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.

Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro

“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.

Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories

Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel

South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 

Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events

Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards

Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde

Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 

Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations

Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter