I love year-end book lists the same way I love the litany my church sings on All Saints’ Day: Within them, there’s space to name the voices and stories that sustained us through another year; we take stock of where we’ve been, who we are now, and how to keep going.
For many of the authors we loved this year, moving forward means looking back to stories and voices we’ve forgotten (or nearly so). For others, moving forward means seeing this present moment clearly enough to laugh at the absurdity of it all (and often, at ourselves).
Though wildly different, all these titles share a sense of imagination about the future, a world in which we are not doomed to repeat the same patterns forever and ever amen; instead, these books point us toward new ways of relating to each other, ourselves, and God.
“Find those who tell you, Do not be afraid, yet stay close enough to tremble with you,” writes Cole Arthur Riley in This Here Flesh, “This is a love.” Here are 12 books from 2022 — nonfiction, memoirs, novels, and short stories — that we think are worth keeping close.
1. Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World—And How to Repair It All, by Lisa Sharon Harper
With transfixing storytelling and careful research, Harper traces 10 generations of beauty and brokenness as her ancestors confronted racist laws and the system that enforced them. It’s a deeply personal story yet Harper also challenges readers to wrestle with their own family histories, “untold origin stories that root us in actual time and place and peoples,” she writes in an excerpt of Fortune published in Sojourners. These stories show us “the moment we were broken and the moment we broke others.”
2. The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka
When a widening crack in a community swimming pool forces it to close, the swimmers who logged daily laps there are unmoored, especially Alice, who has dementia and is a survivor of Japanese American internment camps. As Alice’s memory declines, her 40-something daughter grieves by making lists of her mother’s possessions: “Seemingly random personal items—including but not limited to family mementos, magazine subscriptions, purses, Post-it notes—become vehicles to memory, proof of the life Alice lived after all that was lost…” writes Elinam Agbo in her review of the novel. “Everything Alice leaves behind carries weight. Nothing is insignificant.”
3. A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement, by Katey Zeh
Depending on your political (and theological) persuasion, abortion is either terrible or wonderful, regret-inducing or empowering. But for many people, ending a pregnancy is far more complicated — including the 17 abortion stories of relief, loss, gratitude, and anger Zeh shares (with permission) in A Complicated Choice. “Abortion always happens within the context of a person’s full life,” Zeh told Sojourners in an interview, “why would we talk about it as an ‘issue’ and not as the human reality that it is?”
4. This Here Flesh : Spirituality and the Stories That Make Us, by Cole Arthur Riley
In her popular Instagram account, @BlackLiturgies, Riley curates quotes, breath prayers, and blessings rooted in the sacredness of Black expression. In This Here Flesh, Riley’s meditations are more personal: the family stories that helped her claim an embodied, contemplative spirituality that is as distinctly Christian as it is Black. “We have people in Black spirituality who have gone before us, but we haven’t always had the ability to preserve our own spiritual artifacts, our own spiritual storytelling and expressions,” Riley told Sojourners in 2021; this book tries to change that.
5. Dr. No, by Percival Everett
Take a bumbling math professor and make him the hero in a James-Bond-esque plot to thwart a global evildoer intent on mass destruction. Add bits of sci-fi, comedy, Everett’s wit, and a Martin Luther King Jr. subplot; after this story is stirred — not shaken — the result is an absurd novel that skewers the typical thriller and offers a jab at what Americans hold dearest: nothing.
6. Unruly Saint: Dorothy Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Time, by D.L. Mayfield
Nope, this isn’t another biography of Dorothy Day. Instead, Mayfield’s latest book offers a “personal, vulnerable, dynamic engagement with the life and words of Dorothy Day,” writes reviewer Cassidy Klein. Peppered with details both amusing (like the name of Day’s cat) and heartbreaking (like how Day’s daughter nicknamed her mother “Be-going” since her mother traveled for weeks at a time), Unruly Saint wrestles with the inner life of this outspoken Catholic Worker co-founder, paying keen attention to what Day’s complex spiritual journey —joy and anxiety, the delight and the heartache of it all — says to our own.
7. Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future, by Patty Krawec
In remembering forgotten stories in U.S. history, we confront undeniable pain, including treaties settlers broke, displacement the government enforced, and racial hierarchies the church endorsed. But for Krawec, this process of “unforgetting” also uncovers something hopeful: a long-ignored vision for kindship between land, God, and people. These ideas are “recorded in the Bible” but “frequently disregarded or redefined in service to settler-colonial ideas about how a society ought to be organized,” she writes in an excerpt of Becoming Kin published in Sojourners.
8. Liberation Day, by George Saunders
“When I live through something, I just try to say to myself, ‘OK, remember this — life is really this crazy or scary or beautiful or surprising — so try to get at that in your stories,’” Saunders told Sojourners in 2016. Six politically chaotic years later, the lived experiences Saunders seems to “get at” in his newest collection of short stories is obvious. With dark humor and Saunders’ characteristic empathy, Liberation Day imagines people living — happily-ish? — in a post-democratic U.S. where corporate capitalism reigns, brains can be wiped clean, and conspiracy theorists promise that the whole system is about to collapse … if it hasn’t already.
9. A Field Guide to Christian Nonviolence, by David C. Cramer and Myles Werntz
Spoiler alert: Christian nonviolence is not a singular “thing” or a fixed set of beliefs and practices. As Cramer and Werntz show through careful comparative work, Christian nonviolence is a family of ideas, with the same concoction of shared genes, grafted-on new branches, and fierce internal disagreements that we expect of any family. “We hope that people come away with a greater sense of the breadth of nonviolence within Christianity and that nonviolence touches on what it is to be a disciple of Jesus at various points,” Werntz told Sojourners. “It’s not only politics, not only the way that we think about gender and sexuality, not only inner mystical experiences — it’s all of those things together.
10. The Books of Jacob, Olga Tokarczuk
First published in Polish and translated into English by Jennifer Croft, Tokarczuk’s epic novel chronicles a fictional story of a real-life Polish mystic as he converts from Judaism to Islam to Catholicism, attracting disciples (and skeptics) along the way. For a taste of the sometimes-irreverent, sometimes-transcendent story, consider the 69-word subtitle: “A Fantastic Journey Across Seven Borders, Five Languages, and Three Major Religions, Not Counting the Minor Sects. Told by the Dead, Supplemented by the Author, Drawing From a Range of Books, and Aided by Imagination, the Which Being the Greatest Natural Gift of Any Person. That the Wise Might Have It for a Record, That My Compatriots Reflect, Laypersons Gain Some Understanding, and Melancholy Souls Obtain Some Slight Enjoyment.”
11. Reconsidering Reparations, by Olúfémi Táíwò
Most often, reparations are described as repairing historic harms. In Reconsidering Reparations, however, Táíwò “refuses to accept the starting point of reparations as integration into the burning house of global racial empire,” writes reviewer Samuel Stephens, and instead argues “that achieving racial and climate justice will require building a different world and different web of relationships.” In an interview, Táíwò told Sojourners that if we want to evaluate the success of reparations, we need to be asking: “What comes out the other side? What is the outcome? What gets built or accomplished in the long term?”
12. Brown Girls, by Daphne Palasi Andreades
The second-generation immigrant girls who narrate this novel with a collective “we” describe their lives in the “dregs of Queens”: sitting on bike handlebars, drawing on arched eyebrows, borrowing their cousin’s romance novels featuring sultry heroines whose wind-blown poses the girls later mimic in their bedroom with portable fans. They sing Destiny’s Child songs; they keep their family secrets; they buy barbecue chips and 99-cent cans of iced tea at the corner bodega while confessing their crushes. “Whisper networks. The Greek muses. Immigrant aunties,” writes reviewer Elinam Agbo. “Women, in groups, are loud and gripping storytellers.”
All books featured on this list were independently selected by Sojourners’ editors. Sojourners has partnered with Bookshop.org; when you order books through the links on sojo.net, Sojourners earns a small commission and Bookshop.org sends a matching commission to independent bookstores.
Got something to say about what you're reading? We value your feedback!