Storysmith Books of the Year 2022

It’s that time again! Twenty books have made our (very unscientifically curated) list – one of them was unanimous, the others represent the most succulent morsels from our reading diet this year. We have loved, loved banging on about them to you in the shop, so if for some reason we haven’t already invaded your personal space in person to tell you exactly why, please enjoy these heartfelt paragraphs written by our wonderful booksellers.

Discard your literary supplements and algorithmically determined end-of-year lists, this is the only all-killer-no-filler compendium of literary excellence you need this year.

Our Share of Night, by Mariana Enriquez

translated by Megan McDowell

Not that we have an official singular specific Book Of The Year, but if the metric for such an award was the sheer amount of fevered conversation and wide-eyed excitement it inspired before, during and after reading it, this would be it. We’re ground-floor fans of Mariana Enriquez, and have been devouring her short stories ever since they crept over to our shores in their first English translation. So when the news broke that this year we would see her first translated novel, and furthermore that in stark contrast to her volumes of stories it would be a 700-page beast of a novel with a f*ck-off claw on the cover, we collectively decided that we would happily commit crimes to read this book before anyone else.

Fortunately it didn’t come to that. When we read our (signed limited edition lenticular cover) proof copy, passing it from bookseller to bookseller as quick as we could manage, the spell was cast and we couldn’t have hoped for a more daring, satisfying, psychologically tortuous and involving epic. It’s absolutely feral, it’s unbearably tender, it’s about getting absolutely done over by your family, and sickness, and the occult, and Bowie, and orbs of black light that slice people’s limbs off, and – honestly – friendship. There’s also a scene that rivals the bit in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road where they open the trapdoor and discover some bad stuff underground – only here it’s viscerally, existentially, mythologically upsetting. In a year of excellent books for sickos like us, this one out-sicked ’em all.

Chosen by Dan, Emily, Siúbhan and Callum

Ruth & Pen, by Emilie Pine

We were so excited for Emilie Pine’s fiction debut this year, and Ruth & Pen has been such a joy to read and recommend. Set over the course of one day in contemporary Dublin, we are introduced to two women at very different stages of life. Ruth is contemplating the struggles in her marriage, and Pen is giddily embarking on her first relationship. Both women are considering love and loss, desire and disappointment and the meaning of it all. Pine has created a truly empathetic novel with these two characters that I wanted to hold onto and embrace.

Chosen by Emily

Small Fires, by Rebecca May Johnson

I read so much this year, and so many brilliant books that it’s more difficult than ever to select a few stand-outs. So when thinking about my favourite reads this year, I’ve not only tried to cast my mind back what feels like eons, but to think about the books that changed my year, made my year in their own quiet way. 

I’d been waiting months upon months for Small Fires to come out, almost in fear that it would disappoint…needless to say, it didn’t. Small Fires feels like a much needed contribution to food writing. Sure, it’s about cooking but it’s also about cooking as creativity (all and any forms of cooking), cooking and Classics, friendship, depression, class and tomato sauce. In a way it sounds deeply esoteric, but it’s not. It’s warm and welcoming but with a lot of depth, just like a good tomato sauce. 

Chosen by Siúbhan

Chilean Poet, by Alejandro Zambra

translated by Megan McDowell

Having happily devoured most of his exquisite backlist (the word “Zambra-naut” has been bandied around), I can say with certainty that Chilean Poet is Alejandro Zambra at the top of his game. Starting as a coming-of-age story for the aspiring (and quite bad) poet, Gonzalo, it ventures into more comings-of-age as the novel progresses: Gonzalo has a coming-of-dad when he reunites with his high school girlfriend and becomes a sort of step-dad to her son, Vicente, who himself has his own boy-to-(failed)poet-to-man arc.

Sweeping in scale yet closely observed in Zambra’s trademark ironic-yet-profound style, this is the perfect balance of literary virtuosity and juicy narrative fiction. Absolutely the best thing I’ve read all year.

Chosen by Callum

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta, by James Hannaham

A literary firework display of a novel, perhaps the most dazzling and impressive reading experience of the year! The titular Carlotta is a trans woman fresh out of prison and back in her Brooklyn stomping ground. We join her as she struggles to reclaim any semblance of her former life, reconnecting with the family who knew her as Dustin, navigating the labyrinthine job market, desperately trying to appease her assigned parole officer, pining for the love she left behind bars. What truly separates this novel though is the writing on a sentence-by-sentence basis – Carlotta repeatedly and constantly interrupts the prosaic narration, spewing ornate invective and commentary in flurries of irresistible vernacular. It’s a truly thrilling reading experience, and one that (like Carlotta herself) goes to extraordinary lengths to hide its emotional heart underneath a coarsely hilarious exterior.

Chosen by Dan

Unearthed, by Claire Ratinon

I was elated when this book was released. There is a scarcity of Black, female voices in nature writing, especially in the UK, so this book has felt much needed for some time. This memoir explores the complex relationship with nature faced by many diasporic people. The author’s journey to reconnecting to the land is interwoven with threads of migration, colonialism, race, and belonging.

Chosen by Eve

Paradais, by Fernanda Melchor

translated by Sophie Hughes

I was completely blown away by Fernanda Melchor’s previous novel Hurricane Season, and Paradais is an incredibly powerful feat. In a luxury housing complex bordering a deprived community, two teenagers manifest an escape route from their stunted lives, with disturbing consequences. It’s not an easy one to recommend, because Melchor really doesn’t hold back on the dark and shocking details, but her prose is so cleverly crafted (and so brilliantly translated), the reward is really in the detail and the bravery of the writing.

Chosen by Emily

After Sappho, by Selby Wynn Schwartz

In my humble opinion, this exquisite novel should have won or at least been shortlisted (it was longlisted) for the Booker Prize. It’s a quietly beautiful text, which consists of small semi-fictionalised biographical fragments of the lives of queer modernist women (Woolf, Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, Gertrude Stein, Syliva Beach, and so on) broken up by a kind of Greek chorus comprised of all of the characters. It’s formally inventive, utterly exquisite and rigorously researched. A brilliant kind of collective biography, that is reminiscent of Annie Ernaux’s The Years, and Diane Souhami’s No Modernism Without Lesbians. 

Chosen by Siúbhan

Life Ceremony, by Sayaka Murata

translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

I adored Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings, so I was incredibly excited to read this. A perfect mix of wonderfully weird tales about sentient curtains and human hair sweaters, and stories that subvert social norms. By the end, it had successfully destabilised my perception of normalcy just as I had hoped it would!

Chosen by Eve

Pure Colour, by Sheila Heti

A prestigious school for budding art critics, a store which sells exquisitely beautiful and expensive lamps, a leaf. These are perhaps the only tangible things to grasp onto in Pure Colour, the latest of Sheila Heti’s characteristically philosophical, abstract and utterly brilliant novels. Pure Colour is mostly internal and small scale – sometimes so small that a chapter takes place inside a single leaf – and yet somehow grapples with some of the most fundamental questions of existence, art, criticism, love, creation. Also, a perfect “up yours” to some literary critics that she (and I) believe have wrongly besmirched her in the past. Heti is a genius. We all know it.

Chosen by Callum

Lapvona, by Ottessa Moshfegh

I experienced so many conflicting responses when reading Lapvona, the much-discussed new novel from the doyenne of acerbic literary unease, Ottessa Moshfegh: Repulsion! Hilarity! Offense! Despair! All of them were, I’m absolutely sure, intentional on the part of the author, which is why Lapvona has snuck into my heart this year. Many reviewers dismissed the novel as an exercise in showboating and attention-seeking, but as any Moshfegh-ian devotee knows, this is part of the experience. Few authors have the bravery to write something which on paper would seem so career-suicidal: the residents of a fictional medieval town are held captive by a pantomimic baron, until one decidedly un-plucky shepherd boy inadvertently takes matters into his own hands. The plot machinations are ludicrous, almost Shakespearean in their epic contrivances, and the prose is riven with wince-inducing, unctuous violence and inter-familial horror, but it is also massively, massively entertaining – whether you love it or not depends on your tolerance for being toyed with by an author who is very definitely smarter than you. 

Chosen by Dan

Maud Martha, by Gwendolyn Brooks

If you’ve been in the shop this year there’s a high chance that we’ve recommended this to you. In a series of snapshots of everyday moments in Maud Martha’s life, Gwendoline Riley represents a portrait of black girlhood and womanhood in 1940s New York. We see her gutting a chicken, going on a date to the movies, trimming a Christmas tree, but in-between these ordinary moments we see a full life with all the love and joy and pain and laughter that comes with it. It’s a perfect novel to me, with heart and humour and a character so real and flawlessly observed.

Chosen by Emily

The Twilight Zone, by Nona Fernandez

translated by Natasha Wimmer

This feels like another one I was eagerly anticipating for months, and it set me off on a Latin American binge so if that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is. It’s 1984, in Chile in the middle of the Pinochet dictatorship. The novel concerns, or rather is concerned with, a member of the secret police who walks into the office of dissident reporters and insists on giving his testimony. ‘I tortured people’, he says, and proceeds to describe the multiple horrors he was involved and complicit in. The narrator was a young child when this article was released, and remains haunted by it for the rest of her life. Here, she imagines the man’s present and past, based on the facts she knows, and reckons with the ways his own history interacts with and intersects with hers. It’s about the politics of history, whose stories get told and what gets remembered, about resistance and survival and friendship. And obviously, it’s absolutely brilliant. 

Chosen by Siubhan

Ducks, by Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton’s first graphic novel is an autobiographical masterpiece. After finishing university in 2005, Beaton leaves Nova Scotia (job opportunities are slim) to work in the lucrative Alberta oilsands, which seems to be the only feasible option for paying off her student loans before they accrue unmanageable amounts of interest.  And it’s a mixed bag to say the least. The world of the oil sands it’s an almost all-male offshoot of the real world, where most workers live on site from a variety of backgrounds (some rich kids with jobs landed through nepotism, some working class tradesmen whose original professions have been destroyed), isolated from society in a pressure cooker environment of poor safety standards, environmental carnage and daily workplace sexism. This is an eye-opening memoir of a particular time and place and experience, and perfectly mixes the quirky flair of Beaton’s web-comics with depth, seriousness and humanity. Sure to be a graphic novel modern classic in the veins of Persepolis and Fun Home 

Chosen by Callum

Ti Amo, by Hanne Orstavik

translated by Martin Aitken

Ti Amo is the story of a married couple who are in the process of facing up to the husband’s decreasing lifespan after a cancer diagnosis. It’s not cheery. But it is so incredibly well written, heart-explodingly sad, exploratory in execution, concise as possible (90 pages!) and just incredibly brave. No thought is edited from the voice of our narrator, the incomprehensible is made perfectly clear, shocking internal tumult and upset captured in sympathetic and aching prose. Fans of Deborah Levy will find much to enjoy, but this is unique, hard to categorise, hard to love, but you WILL love it.

Chosen by Dan

When I Sing, Mountains Dance, by Irene Sola

translated by Mara Faye Lethem

This was a December read that I just had to squeeze on to my BOTY list as a late entry. In gorgeous, lyrical prose this novel tells the stories and histories of a mountain community through the voices of the families that live there, the roe deer, the chanterelles, the raindrops, the witches and the ghosts that hover over the landscape. Through stories and observations we piece together the love and loss and sufferings of one family, and their connections with the wild and beautiful nature that surrounds them. A clever and truly beautiful book that I wanted to start again immediately after finishing.

Chosen by Emily

A Horse At Night: On Writing, by Amina Cain

Another quiet banger. It’s not pulling any punches, it’s not immediately going to blow your socks off but there’s lots to chew on here, and heaps to enjoy in less than 100 pages. In a way, it’s essentially a diary that orients around the books Cain has read and reads. But it’s more than that, it’s a way of exploring the craft of writing, which is to say her own craft, through dissecting these books. It’s also got lots to say, on happiness and solitude and, I suppose, living. 

Chosen by Siúbhan

Nevada, by Imogen Binnie

This is something of a Great American Novel. Originally published in the US in 2013 and only just published in the UK this year (therefore, I’m arguing that it technically qualifies for our BOTY rules), Nevada is a mid-life coming-of-age story following a trans woman called Maria: a bad-ass punk bookseller who through a series of mishaps in her personal-life ends up stealing her ex-girlfriend’s car and embarking on an open-ended roadtrip in search of… well what does anyone drive across America in search of…? Deliverance? Self-actualisation? Whatever it is, Nevada feels like a literary and cultural touchstone and a novel of tremendous importance. But also, just extremely enjoyable. 

Chosen by Callum

Strega, by Johanne Lykke Holm

translated by Saskia Vogel

As it’s one of the last books I read in 2022, Strega dislodged some pretty serious competition to make it into my personal top 5 for the year. In this beguiling, melancholy and oppressively atmospheric story, our narrator arrives to work in a hotel perched on an Alpine peak above the town of Strega alongside a group of similarly curious and bashful teenage girls eager for life experience. But things soon take a turn for the hectic, and one girl disappears, seemingly vanished by the mountains themselves. Holm’s electrifying and direct prose appears in a conspicuously beautiful translation from Saskia Vogel, wringing every counterintuitive impulse and exquisitely wrong-headed linguistic quirk for maximum effect, with a cumulative effect of being somehow gorgeous and disgusting at the same time, masterful and naive, plain and mysterious. Completely delightful, in the weirdest of ways.

Chosen by Dan

Race to the Bottom, by Azfar Shafi & Ilyas Nagdee

This is the most astute book about anti-racism of the year, in my opinion. Shafis and Nagdee shed light on the performative nature of mainstream and top-down initiatives and seek to reconnect anti-racism with its radical history of activism. It is equally valuable for those who are at the beginning of their journey and those who might be becoming dispirited.

Chosen by Eve

Buy every book on this list and save 10%!

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