Let’s talk about books! If there’s one thing that makes me happier than reading books, it’s talking about them, and his year brought a lot of books into my life that changed my perspective, transported me from my everyday existence, and left the world around me feeling just a little bit bigger by the end of them. Today’s post is going to be all about the 13 books that shaped who I am this year.
I’ve decided to divide the books into three categories. Fiction that influenced me, memoirs, and books that contributed to my spiritual awakening. Let’s jump in!
I read a LOT of fiction this year, a lot of it good, but for this list I’ve whittled it down to the books that influenced me the most as a writer, prompting me to experiment and explore the themes and styles they introduced. Each of these authors crafted their story in a way that was beautiful and unique to them, and that always inspires me.
If We Were Villains by M.L Rio
Last year I got really into the queen of dark academia, Donna Tartt, and I had heard a lot about this book as being very similar in vibe and premise to The Secret History, so I was of course interested in picking it up. I read it back at the beginning of this year and was completely enchanted. The book follows a group of students attending a performing arts college, studying in an exclusive program that fully immerses them in the drama and language of Shakespeare. They are a tight knit group, until the day one of their classmates is murdered and they are forced to band together to cover up his death.
Now I love Shakespeare and I love overly dramatic dark academia stories about murder, so this book was essentially perfect for me. The characters spoke to each other largely in Shakespeare quotes, which is exactly as pretentious as it sounds, and also completely delightful. I loved the complexity of each of the characters and their messy relationships with one another, and the underlying tension that slowly built within their group over the course of the book was written so well. Overall, vibes = immaculate, and I will definitely be reading this one again in the future.
The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerard
I had a serious debate over whether or not to include this book on my list, because there were a lot of things about it that I didn’t love. However, the premise of the story was so fascinating to me that I ended up writing an entire story kind of inspired by it, and so I feel like it deserves to be included on my list of most influential books this year. In this story, we follow Venter Lowood, a troubled and confused young man who loses his mother at a young age and is estranged from his father when he meets Adam Lyons, the owner of the Epiphany Machine. The Epiphany Machine is a strange contraption that tattoos your forearm with a single insightful statement meant to sum up the truth of who you are. Over the years Adam has developed a cult-like following who believe wholeheartedly in the machine, and Venter gets caught up in the cause.
I found the entire idea of a mysterious, semi-secret society based around a tattoo that gives you a fortune cookie version of your identity very interesting, and the story kept me mostly intrigued throughout. But….I really hated the main character. He wasn’t a great person and had pretty much no likable qualities. This was definitely intentional, but I like even my morally grey characters to have a little likability and he had none. It was also very political, which I didn’t really mind, but I feel like in some ways the book lacked the humanity to really pull it off in a way that kept me fully immersed in the story. There were also some parts that were just gross in my opinion, which I wasn’t a fan of. BUT the premise was interesting, it brought up some fascinating viewpoints that kept me thinking about it for weeks, and ultimately, it inspired the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year, The Infinity Organization, which is about a secret society centered around a drug that gives you the key to your success as an artist.
The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
One thing about me is I’m a BIG Liane Moriarty fan. I’ve read almost all of her books, and I need to announce to the world that The Last Anniversary is an absolutely underrated gem! Liane Moriarty is a master of creating complex, nuanced, likable characters, and I absolutely adore the unique way that she weaves mystery, humor, and exploration of human nature and relationships.
In the Last Anniversary, Sophie Honeywell has an awkward run-in with her ex-boyfriend when she learns that his adoptive great-grandmother has left her her home, a cozy little place on the charming and mysterious Scribbly Gum Island. When Sophie goes to live on the island, she begins to unpack the family secrets, and slowly unravels the mystery of the Munro baby, abandoned decades ago. I thought this book was clever and sharply witty, and I absolutely loved the family, especially the old ladies. All the different storylines and viewpoints were woven together very nicely, and I’m always impressed with how masterfully she ties everything up at the end. This story made me want to write my own book about a seemingly innocuous, lovable family with a dark secret. Plus, the ending? ICONIC. You can’t change my mind.
Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
I read this one pretty recently, and it was, in a word, stunning. Hamnet is a vivid, moving portrait of life in seventeenth-century England that makes you feel as if you’ve been transported there. Telling the fictional story of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet and his death at the age of eleven from the Bubonic plague, Hamnet explores themes of family, grief, freedom vs duty, feminism and marriage through the lens of a long-ago time. Although Hamnet is the title character, the real protagonist of the story is Shakespeare’s wife Agnes, who is one of the most delightful, real characters I’ve encountered in a while. Spending her childhood roaming the woods with a tamed falcon on her wrist, Agnes is more comfortable in nature than within the four walls of a building, and she has an extraordinary gift to sense things about people that others cannot, including their futures. This story was just beautiful. It took me on a journey of poignant heartbreak and grief and left me feeling in awe of the strength of women for centuries.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I read this book back in the summer, and it was just precious. It was the perfect balance of sweet YA romance, angsty emotion, and a quirky writing style that made me feel like my mind was a blank coloring book being filled with jewel-bright colors. I’ll Give You the Sun follows twins Noah and Jude in two different timelines, exploring the fractures that run through their previously close relationship and the things that widen them as they come of age through grief and heartache. Noah was my favorite by far, his narrative style was so cute and fun, and I loved how he was an artist who saw the world like a drawing waiting to be created His romance with the boy next door was so heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time, and his fierce determination to love and live authentic to himself captured my heart and wouldn’t let go.
2022 was the year I fell in love with memoirs. There is something so powerful and vulnerable about someone telling their own story, without shame or fear. Naming our experiences gives power to others who have had those experiences and expands the worlds of those who haven’t. Reading a memoir is an exercise in compassion, in the messy, yet life affirming experience of making space for another human being and for their pain, and I discovered that magic fully this year.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
If you know anything about memoirs, you have probably at least heard of this book. That’s because it isn’t just good, it’s legendary. Chanel Miller boldly tells her story as the victim of the Brock Turner sexual assault case that took place at Stanford University in 2015. She brings every ounce of her experience into the light and bravely invites her reader on a journey that takes you through the full spectrum of her emotions. From the shame, fear, anxiety and panic that accompanies being a sexual assault victim, to the feeling of being isolated from her friends and family to the way court hearings uprooted and controlled her life and forced her to relive her trauma, to commentaries on the justice and university systems at large, Chanel Miller’s voice is a powerful force that must be listened to. I can’t even describe the effectiveness with which she brings you directly into the situation with her, until you feel like you’re sitting on the bed next to her, watching her from the front of the courtroom, crying when you see tears fill her eyes. You just have to read it.
Educated by Tara Westover
Oh. My. Goodness. Talk about a gut punch. That’s what this book felt like, a reoccurring punch to the gut. Tara Westover’s voice is calm, wise and ruthlessly honest as she tells the story of her fundamentalist Mormon upbringing in the isolation of the Idaho mountains. Kept from school and not even issued a birth certificate until she was nine years old, Tara grew up in a family that was highly suspicious of any government organization, and modern medicine most of all. She tells the almost unbelievable story of her sheltered, perilous upbringing and of her first time stepping out of it to attend college at Brigham Young University and realizing how much wider the world was than she had ever even imagined. This book struck a particularly personal chord with me because of the backdrop it was placed against, and the religious themes and wrestlings that the author describes in the book. Her story is the perfect illustration of how religion in the hands of the wrong people can be poisonous, a story that is unfortunately still occurring all the time. The description of her struggle between family loyalty and her own growing conception of the truth was heartbreaking and nuanced, and her deep appreciation of education reminded me not to take my own for granted. This book is a must read for anyone with a pulse (but also read the trigger warnings. <3)
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
This stunning memoir is worth reading for the format alone. Written through the lens of a series of different tropes and storytelling styles, Machado explores her own experiences in an abusive relationship and tells her story with grace and bravery. I couldn’t not love this book, it was far too well written, and I was completely sucked in, unable to put it down. Machado gracefully brings light and awareness to the important topic of abuse in female/female relationships and breaks your heart at the same time. The subject matter is definitely heavy, and I would recommend checking trigger warnings, but I do think this book should be required reading for anyone who wants to write a memoir, it’s basically a textbook of compelling, unique ways to create story out of real-life experience.
Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Kidd Taylor
Sue Monk Kidd has quickly become one of my all-time favorite authors, and when at a flea market in Massachusetts, I spotted the memoir she had written with her daughter, I knew I had to grab it. I really enjoyed the format of hearing both Sue’s and Ann’s perspectives as they traveled together in Greece and France, confronting the personal issues that come with their respective stages of womanhood along the way. I love Sue’s perspectives on femininity and womanhood, as well as spirituality, and hearing her talk about coming to terms with her own mortality, with aging and menopause, was very inspiring. She was so real as she described her journey of coming to peace with death and age. Obviously, that’s a long way off for me right now, so it was also cool to have the juxtaposition of her daughter Ann as she wrestled with more relatable early twenty’s problems: figuring out her career, searching for her purpose in life, and balancing getting married with maintaining her independence and individuality. Through it all, they explored their mother-daughter relationship and the ways it evolved as they both grew older, and it really made me grateful for the relationship I have with my own mom and for her wisdom. If you’re a fan of Sue Monk Kidd this one is definitely worth reading.
This year was a year of spiritual transformation. I went from a place of fear, shame and living to please others, to finally finding the courage within myself to step into my authentic beliefs without apology. This was a leap into the unknown for me, and it took a lot of courage I honestly didn’t know I had. These are the books that helped give me that courage.
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd
If I had to choose one book from this list that was the most life changing, this one might have to be it. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter is Sue Monk Kidd’s recounting of her journey from traditional Christianity into spiritual feminism and a previously unexplored relationship with the divine feminine. Sue’s entire story was an extreme wake-up call for me to the patriarchy that exists within Christian religion and the way that the female version of God has been effectively erased from our culture, effectively silencing the voices and authority of women. Sue Monk Kidd discusses her research of everything from feminist texts to deep Biblical theology to prove the presence of a female Goddess as just as valid and possible as the male God that all Christians and most other religions are taught to worship. Realizing how deeply rooted patriarchy is in religion was something that changed my perspective of my life and my faith dramatically and allowed me to see beautiful new possibilities in my own spiritual practice that brought hope and joy back into my relationship with God.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Every woman needs to read Untamed, Glennon Doyle’s powerful, healing story of stepping out of a marriage that wasn’t serving her and into the love she deserved. Glennon teaches us to recognize the ways society tames women and conditions us to settle for less than what our hearts tell us we deserve and desire. She speaks powerfully of a society of women who listen to and trust themselves and hear the voice of their own intuition. Her words are powerful and infused me with courage I didn’t know I had, the courage to listen to my own inner voice instead of doubting myself at every turn. Reading this book is just one truth bomb after another, and at first it was deeply uncomfortable to read because it felt like facing things I had been brushing under the rug for a very long time, but by the end I felt empowered to do that which I had never really done: listen to and trust myself.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Okay so I have a complicated relationship with this book, but it was a big part of my spiritual awakening this year. I first picked it up in 2021 but ended up DNFing it because of some uncomfortable subject matter, but a couple of months ago I just had this feeling I should pick it up again, so I did. I ended up reading it in one day. The Death of Vivek Oji is the story of Vivek, a young man growing up in Nigeria in a world that doesn’t understand their genderfluidity. This book was beautifully written, and completely heartbreaking, bringing to light the issues that face queer and non-binary individuals in cultures that treat who they are as an illness. Basically, I sobbed my eyes out at the end of this book. Vivek’s bravery to be himself in an unaccepting world, even when it was dangerous, made me recognize the importance of being true to myself despite my fear.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
This was a very recent read for me, in fact it was the last book I finished, but I had to include it in this section because it spoke to me on such a deep level. In Flight Behavior, we follow Dellarobia, a young housewife and mother living in the Appalachian Mountains. Desperate to escape the narrow confines of her life, she runs up the mountain one day ready to throw everything away on a man she barely knows. But while she’s there, she runs across an unbelievable natural phenomenon that brings her back to her senses and fills her with a sense of awe. The rest of the story unfolds as Dellarobia’s small community finds out about this phenomenon: a colony of Monarch butterflies come to rest in a very unusual place for the winter. I can’t even describe how much I loved Dellarobia. She was hilarious, and authentic, and sharply intelligent. Barbara Kingsolver did an excellent job of writing a character with limited formal education, but who was nonetheless brilliant and possessed of an inquisitive mind. The themes of climate change and the very real transformations happening in our world were eye opening and gut wrenching, causing me to ponder about my own effect on our planet and what I can do to help. This book was just stunning on every level, and I know I’m a changed person for having read it.
Whew, that was a lot! If you read this far, first of all I love you. Second of all, comment down below and tell me: what book changed your life in 2022? Sending you all happy Christmas vibes, and I’ll see you next week!