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The best books of 2022, according to cultural tastemakers
If you've reached the end of the year feeling as though you didn't read enough, we've got you. Here are some of the best books of the year according to notable authors, artists, image-makers and other cultural tastemakers.
Emily Ratajkowski, model: 'Ghost Lover'
"This collection of nine short stories wrestles with many of the same themes in Lisa Taddeo's beloved 'Three Women,' but in a sharper, nastier way. She ruthlessly explores jealousy, relationships between women, aging, revenge and, of course, desire. Taddeo never lets you come up for air — making you laugh while simultaneously horrifying you all when you least expect it."
Ottessa Moshfegh, novelist: 'A Ballet of Lepers'
"Leonard Cohen has always been one of my creative heroes. I discovered his music when I was a teenager in the 90s, and his deep, gravelly voice, for me, still exemplifies the wisdom and soulfulness that an artist earns after decades of work, a voice so true that it almost feels like an artifact, something carved from stone, immense and permanent. So it was a complete surprise to read fiction that he had written as a very young man, before any of the music I know so well. In 'A Ballet of Lepers,' you get a novel and a collection of short stories Cohen composed between 1956 and 1961. Even in his twenties, he was exploring the themes we know as quintessentially Cohen: romantic love, depression, loss, sexuality, grace. The writing captures all the gorgeous poeticism that we have come to love about his music, as well as a youthful naivete and a playfulness, a rawness that I wouldn't have predicted. There's something so fun in seeing where this all began."
Jennette McCurdy, author and actor: 'What My Bones Know'
"'What My Bones Know' is a striking memoir. Stephanie Foo's voice is singular — at times poetic, at times biting. A must-read for anyone healing from complex trauma."
Theaster Gates, artist: 'To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness'
"Robin Coste Lewis has created a photographic and linguistic archive that draws from the pre-diasporic truth of family — family before Blackness and before the permutations of misunderstandings by others about 'us.' Her poems never stop offering me ways to more deeply understand the complex ways of being migratory, beautiful and optimistic in times of gross inequity. Lewis creates light and portals that reveal our truth through words and the images underneath our grandmother's bed."
Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator and artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries: 'I Always Knew'
"This is a portrait of artist and writer Barbara Chase-Riboud, through the letters she wrote to her mother, Vivian Mae, between 1957 and 1991. In this remarkable title, Barbara Chase-Riboud tells her mother about her development as an artist, her love stories, and her trips around the globe, from Africa to China. In these memoirs, Chase-Riboud candidly and passionately describes her aspirations, her ambitions and creative inspiration, while also showcasing love and tenderness to her mother. Chase-Riboud is a pioneer and her multi-faceted practice explores the timely themes of identity, power and memory. A sculptor, novelist and poet, her career spans more than seven decades and over this time she has been a great inspiration to other artists around the world too. Aligned with Serpentine's goal of spotlighting groundbreaking innovators whose work deserves greater attention, we couldn't be prouder to present the first UK exhibition by Chase-Riboud."
Douglas Stuart, novelist: 'Trespasses'
"I absolutely loved 'Trespasses' by Louise Kennedy. Set during the troubles in Northern Ireland, it is the story of Cushla, a young Catholic school teacher who falls for a charismatic older man. Cushla is caught between caring for her alcoholic mother, teaching at the local parochial school and helping run the family pub. She feels stifled until she meets Michael, and her world begins to slowly expand. But not only is Michael married, he is also a prominent Protestant, a Barrister known for defending IRA members.
'Trespasses' is a rare book. By making the political so personal it gives an intimate perspective to life during the Troubles. Cushla's world is so acutely rendered, her inner life so vivid, that as she finds a new freedom with Michael you will genuinely worry for her. You can feel the mounting pressure as Cushla commits various acts of transgression, crossing lines of faith, class and geographical borders. It's impossible not to be gripped by her story."
Nadia Lee Cohen, photographer and artist: 'Best Seller'
'Best Seller' is a meta-fiction novel. It begins 'If I wrote a book it would be a bestseller, and that is what I will call it... BEST SELLER.' I was first drawn to the book after I was invited to create the portrait of the 'author,' June Newton. Plus it's bright pink. The book made me feel like I was June Newton, and I think others should read it so they can feel like her too."
Max Richter, composer: 'Sound Within Sound'
"I loved this alternative history of 20th century music, Molleson's insightful chronicle of some of the maverick figures who spent their lives expanding the limits of musical languages across the last hundred years or so. Along the way we discover many gems the Canonical version of music history has forgotten about, or simply ignored. What makes the book really special is that it powerfully conveys the passion that drives these people to do what they do; the questions they wrestle with, the trade-offs they make in order to get the work done, the costs — to themselves and to those around them — of placing a singular creative pursuit at the center of their lives. 'As artists, our business is curiosity,' said John Cage; Molleson's book gives us a wonderful opportunity to witness that curiosity in action, and so to hear the world anew."
Avan Jogia, actor and director: 'Who is Wellness For?'
"'Who is Wellness For?' is a book that works as part social observation and part memoir. It explores the commodification of healing and ritual and asks questions about the industry of wellness. I found the read insightful, thoughtful and unafraid. Wellness isn't for anyone if it's not for everyone"
Simone Rocha, fashion designer: 'The Pachinko Parlor'
"I enjoyed this book for a few reasons and reading it felt like a pause. It's a story which captures being alien in a place that should feel like home. It's visceral, struggling with one's own identity. There's a lightness and a coldness and a disconnect, which is inviting. A slight sorrow, but a beautiful narration on a time of feeling displaced and out of place, almost in the way."
Faye Toogood, furniture designer: 'I am Sparkling'
"I have many books on photography in my library and it's always truly exciting to discover little known artists through new books. This book focuses on the work of N. V. Parekh, an Indian Kenyan photographer working out of Mombasa in the forties through to the seventies. Found in his archive, this series of insightful portraits depict an ethnically diverse cross-section of Mombasa's bourgeoisie — an urban, largely affluent class that had benefited from the city's postwar prosperity and who took an interest in documenting their own lives.
The book reminded me of a trip I made to Mali twenty years ago when I was working for The World of Interiors magazine. I visited Malike Sidibe's studio and bought a print from a box of prints being sold by his son. It fascinated me because of how the sitters chose to express and represent themselves through backdrops, props and clothes. Not only is this book a window into a world that is no more, but it's like looking at an early version of social media: the theater of Instagram."
Elif Batuman, author and journalist: 'I Know What's Best for You'
"Notwithstanding the alarming title and traffic-cone color, 'I Know What's Best for You' is one of the most comforting and exhilarating books I picked up all year. In an antidote to recent US legislation, the authors bring a dazzling array of thematic and stylistic approaches to the subject of 'reproductive freedom.' I particularly loved the fiction by Tommy Orange and Tiphanie Yanique, the play by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, and the poems by Ama Codjoe. It's mind-bending art that probes the relationships between new and existing bodies! For anyone who, as a matter of cognitive survival, might have tuned out the all-out bonkers craziness of the creation of new human life, this book will tap you right back into the magic."
Hank Willis Thomas, artist: ''Trayvon Generation'
"Alexander's 'Trayvon Generation' blurs the line between poetry, biography, historic document, essay and manifesto. It is as timeless as it is timely and urgent as it is eternal."
Xochitl Gonzalez, author: 'When I Sing, Mountains Dance'
"Irene Sola's 'When I Sing, Mountains Dance' is a book that came into my life this year and has utterly changed it. It's rare to have that happen — experience a book or a piece of art that chemically alters your vision of the world. But Sola's words — vibrant, full of life and poetry — are more like Lasik surgery than rose colored glasses: you see beauty, and also pain, but all of it with new clarity and detail. The novel tells the story of a Catalan mountain valley during the Spanish Civil war from a series of rotating perspectives — a widow, a poet, thundering clouds, chanterelle mushrooms, a dog watching his owner make love for the first time in years. There is beauty and heartbreak and an attention to the things that surround us that so often are forgotten that it dares you to walk around and notice them yourself. Above all, it's a beautiful love story, one that I know I'll turn to again and again."
Emily Adams Bode Aujla, fashion designer: 'Threads of Power'
"Bard Graduate Center just published this incredibly extensive book that is the first volume of its kind to examine both historical and contemporary lace from around the globe. This month, I had the honor of giving a lecture at BGC on the preservation of lace in fashion to accompany the release of the book and exhibition."