The 5 best books of 2022, according to Jessica Ferri

Five book jacket covers on top of a colorful background of flowers and striped lines
(Illustrations by Mel Cerri / For The Times. Book jackets from Dalkey Archive Press; Dutton Books; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; and Semiotext(e))

It was a good year for veteran authors and rookies alike, for pop fiction and experimental work, memoirs and works of history. We asked four critics to name the top five books published in 2022. Here are Jessica Ferri’s favorites, fiction and nonfiction.

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"Strangers to Ourselves," by Rachel Aviv
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make US

By Rachel Aviv
FSG: 288 pages, $28

Through the stories of four people from different walks of life who struggled with mental illness, and in exploring the ways their diagnoses informed their care, Aviv’s book is both a service to medicine and a page-turner. The reader never forgets that these are the accounts of real people and that they are our stories too. The New Yorker writer proves that strong lines of communication, or rather of communion, can be powerfully healing.

"Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth," by Elizabeth Williamson
(Dutton Books)

Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth

By Elizabeth Williamson
Dutton: 496 pages, $28

It is obvious that Williamson began this book as an act of restitution for the families of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, subject to the despicable lies and attacks by Alex Jones and Infowars. But in recounting in agonizing detail the lies and their viral spread — the kind of online-driven misinformation that would fuel the rise of Donald Trump and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — “Sandy Hook” becomes much more than a book about gun violence. It is an essential read about this country’s terrifying free-fall into fascism.

"The Kingdom of Sand" by Andrew Holleran
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Kingdom of Sand

By Andrew Holleran
FSG: 272 pages, $27

The narrator of this devastating and beautiful novel is a man who returns to Florida to care for his ailing parents and then, after their deaths, never leaves. Holleran is a gorgeous writer, who writes of a walk down a neighborhood cul-de-sac with as much atmospheric grandeur as a sweeping war epic. So much is unspoken, vague and eerie, but this is a world we recognize that is both jarring and wonderful.

"The Longcut" by Emily Hall
(Dalkey Archive Press)

The Longcut

By Emily Hall
Dalkey Archive: 120 pages, $16

Hall’s debut novel tells of an artist working in a gallery who is trying to figure out what her art is for. Its hamster-wheel of repetitive questions and existential crises draws rightful comparisons to the work of Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard — and indeed, he is a major influence. But Hall ends up in a different place than Bernhard’s annihilating pit of despair. Her artist finds light at the end of the tunnel, even if she does have to take the long way to get there.

"Love Me Tender," by Constance Debre

Love Me Tender

By Constance Debré
Semiotext(e): 168 pages, $18

Everything is friendly between this novel’s narrator and her ex-husband, until she starts sleeping with women. Debré takes a nasty story about misogyny and child custody and turns it into something more interesting, a story about freedom. She writes: “With men there was always a limit, now I have all the space I want, I feel like I can do anything.” What is a mother, anyway? Why does a mother cease to be a human being? The author’s honesty is as terrifying as it is deeply exciting.