Ho Ho Ho: John’s Top Ten Book List 2022
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Dear Friends around the World:
For the eighth consecutive year, I’m thrilled to be publishing my Top Ten list. Once again, we’re releasing early to aid you in holiday shopping. Past years’ lists can be found at www.johnjwood.com.
This year has been both frenetic and peripatetic as I’ve built the global team to launch
our new U-Go Initiative. The momentum is super strong and we will soon have our
1,000th U-Go Girl Scholar in the program. Here are three short postcards from the road,
after which I’ll reveal the top ten book list.
I was recently in Sydney for our first fund-raising events and media push in Australia, driven by the new U-Go Australia Board.
Earlier this month, we launched U-Go Philippines as our 7th country of operations.
We enjoyed stunning fund-raising results in Manila at the annual Tatler Ball. Between Sydney and Manila, it was a million dollar week – the kind of momentum every start-up needs in the early days. I’m grateful to those who are with us on this new journey.
All right….on to the Top Ten list! This year is in no particular order, as all were so
strong that I find it difficult to rank any of them at a lower number than the others.
Fiction and Short Stories
The Hummingbird, Sandro Veronesi: One of the happiest moments of my return to post-
pandemic travel was walking back into London’s Daunt Books, my favorite bookstore in the world. My attention was immediately drawn to a stack of several hundred copies of this slim novel, a three-word review from the Financial Times calling it “a towering achievement”, and a comparison to William Boyd’s Any Human Heart (one of my top ten novels of all time). It was a quick decision and an even quicker capitulation. Translated from the Italian, the glory of this novel was captured by The Guardian: Everything that makes the novel worthwhile and engaging is here: warmth, wit, intelligence, love, death, high seriousness, low comedy, philosophy, subtle personal relationships and the complex interior life of human beings.
The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead: Another year, another Pulitzer! Whitehead has followed up on his stunningly-brilliant 2016 novel The Underground Railroad with another book that shines like the North Star on a dark night. I was immediately sucked into this novel set in Jim Crow-era Florida, in which two boys are unjustly sent to a hellish “reform school” called Nickel Academy and endure forced labor, the hypocrisy of adults, corrupt leaders and grandstanding politicians. Whitehead is a skilled story-teller and the novel resonates with compelling characters and themes of resilience, the search for justice, and the constant struggle we face to right the world’s obvious wrongs.
Out There: Stories, Kate Folk: This is the first collection of short stories Folk has published;
Amy and I are both hoping for many more. Each story dramatizes some bizarre aspect of
modern society in a manner that is more observant (and often humorous) than cynical. The opening story, originally published in The New Yorker, shares the travails of a young woman in San Francisco who uses dating apps to find a partner despite the threat posed by “blots,” preternaturally handsome artificial men dispatched by Russian hackers to steal data, with her best defense being clever word play. Folk is a talented writer who brings us crisp story lines and who avoids over-indulging by making any story longer than it needs to be.
The Candy House, Jennifer Egan: I had the pleasure of co-hosting a dinner for Jennifer just a week after her breakout novel A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, and was immediately drawn in by her wit, wry smile, powers of observation and story-telling skills. Each of these is evident from the earliest pages of her latest novel. Though told in a rather unconventional and non-linear fashion, the reader delights in each deviation, every new character and every surprise reveal. This is yet another classic by Ms. Egan and is already appearing on many Top Ten lists written by publications bigger than this one. ;)
If I Survive You, Jonathan Escoffery: A Jamaican family moves to Miami in search of more, and they find it – but it’s often more chaos, more confusion, and more family drama. Since Anne Patchett is a better writer than I am, I’ll share her review: “[this is] a collection of connected short stories that reads like a novel, that reads like real life, that reads like fiction written at the highest level.” A stunning debut – I’m eager to see what Escoffery does next.
The End of Days, Jenny Erpenbeck: Thanks mostly to good bookstores, every year or so a great contemporary German novel makes its way into my life. Like previous Top Ten selections, Before the Feast and One Clear Ice Cold Morning at the Beginning of the 21st Century, I’m so grateful that this book found me. Or should I call it five mini-books? Each section of this graceful and often sad novel involves the same unnamed female protagonist, who dies a different death in each story. How could it all have gone differently?―the narrator asks in each intermezzo. I promise its less depressing than it sounds, and like the best literature it transports us to different eras, realities and unforgettable characters.
Freezing Order, Bill Browder: Rarely have I anticipated a sequel as much as this continuation of my dear friend’s life mission to fight the human rights abuses of Vladmir Putin and his cronies and hold them accountable. Red Notice set the world on fire when it was released in 2015 and was a best-seller in multiple languages. Browder subsequently gave up tens of millions of dollars by shutting down his successful investment fund to dedicate his life to making Putin pay for the death of his friend and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Freezing Order picks up where its predecessor left off, with a knock on his hotel door in Madrid, an arrest by Spanish police on a dubious extradition order, and a possible delivery into the hands of his enemies. This is non-fiction at its best, written by one of my heroes.
The Crane Wife, C. J. Hauser, a professor of English at Colgate University, has had
an…ahem….rather interesting series of romantic relationships. In this all-too-short mini-
memoir she bravely and humorously opens the kimino and tells us everything. The moment I read the Guardian’s review -- this collection’s relentless focus on one person’s pursuit of intimacy invites us to redefine what a love story is -- I knew that I’d buy it as a gift for Amy. She then proceeded to laugh uproariously, staying up past the usual bedtime to enjoy one more page, one more anecdote about a guy she shouldn’t have dated, one more train smash.
The Chancellor, Kati Marton: You may think that a lengthy biography of Angela Merkel is the last thing you want to read this holiday season, but please trust me – you want this book! I’ve always deeply respected any history written by the immensely talented Kati Marton, and that admiration only deepened as she shares the story of the very unlikely rise of a nerdy physics PhD, raised behind the Iron Curtain, who was lifted from obscurity by Helmut Kohl when he named her the newly-reunified Germany’s Minister for Women and Children (the only two subjects about which she cared little, Marton slyly notes). I polished off the first 150 pages after picking the book up at the Singapore Airport and read the whole thing in three days.
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Giles Milton: During the earliest days of
WWII, Churchill realized the free world was facing an unconventional war that would likely be long and brutal. The old ways of winning would not be sufficient and needed to be updated. He gave the green light to recruit an unlikely pirate ship of mavericks, inventors, gadget freaks, saboteurs, pyromaniacs and people who loved nothing more than to blow things up. He gave them unlimited resources, pushed them hard, sent them beyond the front lines and then watched as some efforts failed and others succeeded magnificently. Giles Milton is a skilled storyteller and as a result this brilliant work of non-fiction feels more like a film script.
Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, Dervla Murphy
Outline, Rachel Cusk
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Best wishes for an awesome run-up to the holidays.