What we bought: Our favorite books from 2022
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We may not have had quite as much unhindered reading time as we did during the lockdown days of the COVID pandemic, but Engadget’s editors have still managed to pick, read and mull over a wide selection of the year’s most exciting books. Whether we were learning how to use a wok, listening to life lessons from Hideo Kojima, or delving into the sinister underbelly of an alt-universe set in 1940s San Francisco, here are some of our favorites from 2022.
Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore
Classic noir cinema was a staple in my house growing up – I mean, my first celebrity crush was on The thin man series co-star, Myrna Loy – so any story from the era when mugs were mooks and girls were ladies rules my heart. But The thin man, like the rest of the media made at the time, only showed a very narrow, very male, very white view of life. Christopher Moore’s latest novel, Razzmatazz, adds some much-needed color to the otherwise black-and-white world of noir.
Razzmatazz is the second title for Moore’s satirical murder mystery series, following 2019’s Noir. In this latest installment, we’re returned to post-World War II San Francisco, as bartender Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin and his cadre of misfit friends struggle to survive in Fog City. Now it’s one thing to help out your best friend’s boyfriend’s abusive husband, but as the team soon learns, it’s to steal back a possibly magical, definitely priceless, heirloom from the local Tong—and that’s before a madman goes on a killing spree the city’s drag kings. .
Razzmatazz is a smart and just a little snarky adventure mystery with a diverse and developed cast, fast-paced action that seamlessly transitions between the different points of view of said ensemble and doesn’t get bogged down in world-building. At around 350 pages each, Noir and Razzmatazz will each make for solid weekend entertainment, and if you’re still looking for more Moore after that, check out the 2020s Shakespeare for squirrels. – Andrew Tarantola, Senior Editor
Upgrade by Blake Crouch
I always look forward to new Blake Crouch releases because his writing is vibrant and fast-paced, so much so that I can see the film version playing out in my head as I devour his latest title in just a couple of days. This year Upgrade was no exception – we’re in a world where gene editing is real, yet highly regulated, and we follow Logan Ramsay, a member of the Gene Protection Agency as he tries to apprehend those who may be involved in nefarious gene editing activities.
But after a violent encounter on a mission, Logan begins to feel less and less like himself and more like one better version of himself. He can read faster, he is physically stronger and he needs less sleep. He soon learns that his genome has been hacked, and he also discovers that he is part of a much bigger plan that could change humanity as he knows it. As he works to stop this plan from being executed, he is forced to confront some of the darkest parts of his past and the tarnished family legacy he has worked so hard to escape.
Crouch excels at putting readers in his protagonist’s shoes, forcing them to feel the same anxiety, terror and confusion that inflicts on his protagonists. But to think that it makes for a generally unpleasant reading experience would be wrong: Upgrade is an exciting thrill ride that moves at breakneck speed, while at the same time asking many questions about humanity as a whole. – Valentina Palladino, senior trade editor
Notes on an execution by Danya Kukafka
On the face, Notes on an execution may seem like a typical investigation of a serial killer. The novel begins with Ansel Packer counting down his last 12 hours before he is to be executed for killing many women. But Danya Kukafka is much less interested in this killer than she is in telling the stories of three women who were all affected by Ansel in one way or another. We follow Lavender, Ansel’s mother, as a lost teenager is pushed to the brink as she fights to protect her children and herself; Hazel, Ansel’s sister-in-law who sees her twin lose himself in this toxic relationship; and Saffy, the lead investigator on Ansel’s case with more hidden trauma than you might expect buried just beneath the surface. But these women are not victims with a capital V. Instead, they work to turn the serial killer narrative on its head by focusing our attention on the fact that, despite everything, they survived. Notes on an execution is a dark, engaging story with gorgeous prose and a surprising, underlying element of hope at the end of it all. – VP
Our missing hearts by Celeste Ng
Our missing hearts, in the grand tradition of near-future dystopian fiction which The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984, presents a vision of our country that feels far too close for comfort. In Ng’s third novel, she writes about a 12-year-old boy named Bird and his father, who live in a United States where laws establishing an America-first culture have been put in place after years of economic and social turmoil.
In this world, Asians have been made the scapegoat for all of America’s ills; while Asian Americans are still technically free and full citizens, many of them are under the thumb of the police and subject to varying degrees of violence from so-called “real” Americans. And any parent deemed un-America can have their children immediately confiscated – no questions asked. As in any good dystopia, books deemed unpatriotic have also been seized and destroyed, including a book of poems by Bird’s mother, a woman who disappeared years earlier.
This story is both small and universal. The meat of the narrative focuses on Bird pushing to learn more about his mother and the circumstances of the world he lives in, and there are only a handful of main characters. At the same time, Ng skillfully paints a plausible picture of an America that has given in to its worst instincts. Ng has pointed out several times that all the atrocities are being committed Our missing hearts are things that have already taken place in the US or other parts of the world – not a comforting thought.
But as bleak as this world is, the book is filled with moments of unexpected beauty and small triumphs. Perhaps most crucially, there is a sense that while an extremist minority may currently rule over a more reasonable population, there is a way out of the darkness. Our missing hearts is not an easy story, but it is an important story, artfully told by an author who can deftly weave together a compelling narrative with poignant social commentary. Ng may have made a big impact in popular culture with Small fires everywhere (and its accompanying Hulu miniseries), but Our missing hearts feels like her definitive work so far. – Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Chairman
The Creative Gene by Hideo Kojima
Hideo Kojima is a video game designer best known for Metal Gear series, which popularized the stealth genre and had a plot that could charitably be described as ridiculous. Perhaps shamefully, I am a Kojima fan. The studios’ games are often in dire need of an editor and almost constantly draw the line between insight and navel-gazing. They have also sometimes seemed unable to treat their female characters with respect. But they’re always bursting with ideas, trying things out with an unmistakable voice and an unrelenting, pulverizing seriousness. His post-apocalyptic delivery sim Death Stranding is simultaneously ridiculous on the nose (one hard-to-kill character is called “Die-Hardman” AKA: John McClane, of course), and one of the most enchanting games I’ve played in the last decade.
I give you this background to explain how I ended up reading Kojima’s book, The creative gene, earlier this year. (It was technically published in late 2021.) Instead of telling a strange techno-thriller or a behind-the-scenes look at game development, however, this is a collection of previously published essays about the books, movies, and other cultural objects that Kojima finds essential his being. Like his games, it can border on hokey and self-mythologizing, but it’s disarmingly honest, personal and anti-cynical.
In many ways it is Metal Gear games are about identity – who we are and how we got there. That’s more or less what Kojima is getting at here; for some 250 pages, he extols things he likes with palpable verve, not to recommend them to consumers but to explore how they’ve shaped his experience. More than a memoir, though, The creative gene is an understanding of how art of all stripes can inspire inspiration in a recyclable process.
The prose is nothing extraordinary, and there are certainly more important subjects out there. While you don’t need to be a gamer to get something out of this, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with Kojima’s work. still, The creative geneits sincerity and enthusiasm is easy to appreciate in an age of widespread detachment. – Jeff Dunn, Senior Business Writer
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Emily St. John Mandel provided one of the essential readings of the pandemic when she published The glass hotel in March 2020. It was no small feat since she has previously written the award-winning Station Eleven, a novel partly set after a world-ending flu. Given that there was a five year gap between Station Eleven and Glass Hotel, I didn’t dare hope that one of my favorite authors would release a new novel so soon, and that it would be as good as her previous works. Luckily, Sea of Tranquility does not disappoint.
It shares many of the same strengths as Mandel’s earlier novels, including a brilliant sense of atmosphere and prose that rewards close reading. Sea of Tranquility is also in conversation with Station Eleven and The glass hotel in a way that will please the fans. That’s not to say you need to have read these books to enjoy her latest, but it might make you look at them (and Mandel’s career) in a new light. Add to that themes that will resonate with anyone who has lived through the last two years, and you have one of the best books of 2022. – Igor Bonifacic, weekend editor