When a book really knocks me out, to paraphrase Holden Caulfield in the knockout novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” I like to take another offering from the same author. This habit came in handy in 2022 on my yearly quest to read at least one book a week for the calendar year.
Paul Gallico originally knocked me out many years ago with “The Snow Goose,” a novel I’ve reread a thousand times, and this year I came back to find him with “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. This thin book was so thick with fun that I immediately picked up its sequel, “Mrs. Harris Goes to New York,” which was about twice as long and I think I enjoyed it twice as much simply because I had already fallen in love with the feisty and lovely Mrs. Harris.
“84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Haff is another absolutely charming little book that will be especially loved by those who adore bookshops. This London “route” led me to Haff’s “Q’s Legacy: A Delightful Account of a Lifelong Love Affair with Books,” a sequel that is actually a prequel. Both are quite entertaining, but if you only read either one you go with “84”.
I’m not sure what I liked more about Antoine Laurain: “The Red Notebook”, a mystery and a love story mixed in one, or “French Rhapsody” about the members of a band who lost a label deal due to a letter was lost in the mail only to be delivered 33 years later.
Speaking of music, Jennifer E. Smith’s “The Unsinkable Greta James,” about an indie rock star whose star has fallen and who has fallen out with her widowed father and finds herself on an Alaskan cruise ship with him, was in running for my favorite book of the year. Three other contenders were Brendan Slocumb’s “The Violin Conspiracy”; Anthony Doerr’s “Cloud Cuckoo Land”; and David James Duncan’s “The River Why.”
The beautiful writing in Walter Mosely’s ‘The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey’ led me to his imaginative and powerful short story collection ‘The Awkward Black Man’. Two other short story home runs are “The Angel of Rome: And Other Stories” by Jess Walters and “Liberation Day” by George Saunders.
Six more high fives: Ivan Doig’s “The Bartender’s Tale”; “The Cicada Tree,” a debut novel set in the South by Robert Gwaltney; Sara Nisha’s “Reading List”; Paul Theroux’s “Under the Wave at Waimea”; and JD Spero’s “Catcher’s Keepers,” imagining what would have happened if Holden Caufield had met John Lennon’s killer before the assassination took place. Also, with the disclaimer that he is my second cousin, the novel “Cutter” by J. Woodburn Barney.
Amy Harmon’s “What The Wind Knows” is a gripping time travel story anchored in the Irish Revolution in the early 1900s. Speaking of Ireland, I came across Irish writer Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” which made me led to his “Foster”. Both novellas are very short and very good, with hints of “David Copperfield”.
The new novel “Demon Copperhead,” meanwhile, carries more than just a hint in its 560 pages. Naming a title character so close to Charles’ Dickens’ famous orphaned protagonist, with an echoing theme, sets a high bar, but Barbara Kingsolver’s masterful storytelling is up to the task.
In fact, excluding my daughter Dallas’ two 2022 releases – the YA novel “Thanks, Carissa, For Ruining My Life” and the adult short story collection “How to Make Paper When the World is Ending” – “Demon Copperhead” it knocked me out more than any other book in 2022.
Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Star and can be reached at [email protected] His books are available at www.WoodyWoodburn.com.