I sat down to add something to this list, and realized I hadn’t started it. I had just set my books aside. Whoops. I thought I’d been keeping up all month. Such a surprise.
What I sat down to add was a bit about The Best American Essays 2022. I love these volumes, as you know, but I had to set this year’s aside. It’s very dark, and I have just come through a rough month, with an added bonus of virulent outrageously bad head cold! Viruses, I had not missed you. Anyway, I have two recommendations so far from this year’s volume, but I quit reading after the Gwartney, listed below. Beautifully done, but it hit me in all of my fears. (I was reading while Dean & I were both sick.) So I swapped out for a book about lost cities, which I’m hoping to like, and then I’ll follow that with some holiday reading, and then…in 2023, I’ll come back to the essays. I know they’re going to be great.
Then school got in the way of posting this. A massive final project that took 35+ hours of my time (but gave me a story idea) over one weekend, and then studying for my Spanish final, as well as hitting writing deadlines pushed this project back and back and back. I’m finally finishing it now. Yes, yes, yes, yes, I’m very late in posting this. I’m hoping to be on top of the December list.
I have lots to recommend here…
Adande, J.A., editor, The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, Triumph Books, 2022. I truly love this series, and I was happy when Triumph Books saved it from the chopping block after Mariner let it go. The past two years, dealing with sports stories from the pandemic and the awfulness that was 2020 and 2021, have made the volume even stronger, as opposed to The Best American Essays series which was just sad and depressing and nearly impossible to stomach at times. These sports stories might not be filled with triumph and happiness, but at least they’re about people trying to do something, even in the face of horrible or impossible odds.
J.A. Adande picked wonderful essays and articles. While I’ve singled out several this month and last, pretty much every essay in the book is worth reading. I think I skipped one because it was breaking my heart too much. And that means it was well written. Others might find it to be one of the better pieces in the volume. If you feel like reading great essays, this is the volume to pick up.
Chee, Alexander, “Introduction,” The Best American Essays 2022, edited by Alexander Chee, Mariner Books, 2022. Sometimes the introduction to these volumes are absolutely brilliant and sometimes they’re perfunctory. This one falls into the brilliant category. Chee examines how the past few years have had an impact on his writing and his writing choices. He makes a lot of marvelous points about the differences between outside expectations and the importance of following your heart. He also discusses how difficult it can be to write from that heart. Every writer should read this one.
Collins, Ron, On Writing (And Reading!) Short: A Science Fiction Writer’s Quest for Stories That Matter, Skyfox Publishing, 2022. I got this lovely little book because I backed Ron’s Kickstarter. As I type this, the book is available for preorder. All writers and readers should pick it up. I glanced at the book when it came into the condo, as I do with every new book that arrives here, and found myself reading. There’s a lot of good writerly advice, but more than that, the book is a shared conversation on the act of reading. Lots of good insights here and lots of good recommendations.
Conochan, Kelaine, “Badwater Ultramarathon: What I Lost and Found During The 135 Miles of The World’s Most Impossible Run,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. I find myself thinking of this essay over and over again. Kelaine Conochan had signed up for Badwater only to have it canceled in 2020, so she ran it in 2021. The work it took to train, the things she went through, the fact that she made it…well, much of that was her team. But I live not far from the site of this run, and I do not run outside in the summer. (Okay, I ran outside for 2+ years at 5 a.m. due to the pandemic, but I’ve since stopped. Because no fun. And yeah. No fun. I like to think I was a machine in that period, but not like this.) This is an honest examination of an extreme sport by a participant. I’m impressed and stunned and…no way would I do that. Wow.
Crais, Robert, Racing The Light, G.P. Putnam, 2022. I have been waiting years for this book. I love Robert Crais’s work, and it had been too long since the last book. But Bob had health issues and other things, plus there was this pandemic, you see, and the book got delayed. So when it arrived, on publication day, I read the first page, then the first chapter…and dang if I wasn’t done by the following day. Which means I need another book, Bob.
I was going to write “But seriously,” only I think I’m partially serious. This volume is the 19th in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. It features a missing podcaster and the dark underbelly of the city. There’s so much tension here that I wasn’t sure anyone would make it through. A bit of levity comes from The Cat, who is a real cat, who refuses to be named, and who quietly steals the show in this (and several other) books.
Great writing, great storytelling, great characters. If you haven’t read Crais before, you need to start. He’s one of our best.
Emmert, Mark, “How A Gymnast Who Lost A Friend in The Parkland Mass School Shooting Came To Iowa And Found Ways To Heal,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. This is a story of resilience. Alex Greenwald had gotten an athletic scholarship to the University of Iowa before the mass shooting in February of 2018. She had been a different person when she agreed to go to Iowa than she was when she got there. Her coach realized it. The team realized it, and they helped her learn how to compete, how to deal with the adrenaline from athletics instead of fear, and helped her grieve. Sad and eye-opening. Worth the read.
Gwartney, Debra, “Fire and Ice,” The Best American Essays 2022, edited by Alexander Chee, Mariner Books, 2022. This essay is beautiful and painful and so very 2020. Debra Gwartney is the widow of writer Barry Lopez. A writer in her own right (damn near typed “write”), she went through a hell of a terrible 2020. Her mother died, and then a massive fire threatened her home with Lopez. They had to evacuate, while he was exceptionally ill with cancer. More happened, which I’m not going to tell you here. But the essay brings it all into focus, wonderfully and heartbreakingly. Worth the price of the entire anthology, for the reflection on this journey of life all by itself.
Jenkins, Sally, “Beneath 9/11’s Terrible Smoke, A Flash of Gold,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. Since I started at the university a few years ago, I came to the stunning realization that everyone in my classes, everyone except maybe a few grad students in my law class, does not remember 9/11. Some weren’t even born yet. Others can barely remember it. It’s hard to believe it was over 21 years ago.
This article by Sally Jenkins brought it all back for me. Sally Jenkins was based in New York but she wrote for The Washington Post. Her husband was a photographer for The New York Times. They were driving into the city that horrible day and saw everything. (She believes they would have been in the middle of it if they hadn’t had an argument that delayed them.) They immediately got to work, trying to cover the story. And she found that she needed some way to get home, so she bought a Schwinn bike. She rode it through those dusty streets, through the horror. She describes it, and the attachment she still feels to the bike. Beautifully written, this is a piece I would share with all those students…if I had a reason to.
Mallory, Michael, “The Three Faces of Laura,” Mystery Scene, Fall 2022. My sister, a big mystery fan, once told me that her favorite movie is Laura. I had never seen it before, and so I watched it. Good movie, not my favorite, but I understand how it could be hers. I did not know that the movie I saw, the one she loves, is only the first of three different versions. Fascinating examination of all three, and the times in which they were made.
O’Connell, Mikey, “Making Bank Without The Boys,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 28, 2022. This article has a different title online, but it’s the same article. It’s a fascinating article about Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter, who started a company called Hello Sunshine. They believed there weren’t enough good parts for women without those women being attached to some man. Witherspoon and Neustadter ended up creating a lot of programming and movies that are award-winning and popular, like Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere. They ultimately sold the company for $900 million, and kept positions on the board as well as managed to maintain creative control. This interview with them is fascinating.
Samman, Shaker, “‘Things Are Going To Be Different Now,'” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. Because this book is beautifully edited, with a vision and a voice, the Samman article followed the Jenkins article. Samman was little when the planes hit the towers, and discusses how it felt and what he remembers. The title comes from what his mother said on that day, since his family is Muslim. The article itself follows three Muslims who are trying to keep their faith while participating in sports. That includes wearing a hijab while participating in a mostly white Christian community. The entire essay is heartfelt and heartbreaking. Worth the price of the volume.
Sisterson, Craig, “Native Cultures, New Voices,” Mystery Scene, Fall 2022. An excellent look at the indigenous authors who are finally getting a place at the table. Sisterson writes about the mysteries/crime fiction being written now, and the difficulties the writers had getting published. I now have several more books on my TBR pile…
Ware, Ruth, The It Girl, Scout Press, 2022. I find Ruth Ware’s books to be hit or miss for me. And even when I like them, I don’t love them. The It Girl hits my reader cookies—some past secret, a group of students living with a crime from college, and such. The Oxford setting is a bonus. I did not see the twist, and the book held me. It’s one of the better Ware novels. If I’m sounding lukewarm, it’s because I promptly forgot the book a few weeks after I read it. I didn’t write my post here about the book until the work/school deadlines passed, so I had a pile of November Recommended books. I picked this one up and thought, “What’s that about again?” Part of the problem is the title. It’s not indicative of the book at all. But, since this is a traditionally published book, I’m sure the title was workshopped to death in the office. The other part is…it was a nice way to pass the time, but not a lot more. If you like her work, you’ll probably like this. If you’ve wanted to try her work, then this is the one to start with.