In case I don’t get around to finishing all the reviews I was hoping to before the deadline…I wanted to make sure to share my thoughts on my four favorite books of the year: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow; This Time Tomorrow; The Candy House; and Sea of Tranquility. 2022 was an amazing year for books.
I preordered Sea of Tranquility and received in on release day. I finished it on release day too.
I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t love it quite as much as Station Eleven (because, quite frankly, I had been disappointed by The Glass Hotel and also by the HBO miniseries. Don’t @ me, I said what I said.). But I think it works as a beautiful companion piece to Station Eleven, and it makes The Glass Hotel better (as it clearly takes place in the same universe).
Told in chunks of time and place: going from early 19th century British Columbia, to two hundred years from now on the moon, back to the present, and forward again to 2400, and yet…all of the stories are related and revolve around a common moment in time.
Like Station Eleven, this one also includes a deadly pandemic, and the way St John Mandel described its onset felt like she was in my head:
“We knew it was coming and we were breezy about it…We knew it was coming but we behaved inconsistently. We stocked up on supplies—just in case—but sent our children to school, because how do you get any work done with the kids at home?”
The masterful and heartbreaking way that she ties all of these timelines and stories together was fascinating, and I honestly can not wait to see what she comes up with next.
On the same day I got Sea of Tranquility, I also received The Candy House (along with one more book, Anthem, which is in my bottom three books of the year). Another book told with a non-traditional narrative sense, I liked this a lot more than my previous Egan books. And like Sea of Tranquility, there were many callbacks to her previous work in this, mostly to characters and themes from A Visit From the Good Squad.
A cautionary tale about social media and technology, but also about the wonders of memory and thought. When it becomes possible to upload your entire memory and consciousness to a server and make your thoughts and experiences available to anyone that is also sharing, nothing is secret anymore. We follow the inventors and users of this amazing new tool as well as those who refuse to use it and protest against it.
Like Good Squad before it, it is nearly impossible to describe. Each chapter is told in a new voice, with a new style…some way more successful than others, but all original and interesting. We see the wonders of technology on one page, and the horrors and inherent loneliness that can be caused by using the same technology (and current social media) on the next.
If you liked Good Squad, you’ll love this.
My second favorite book this year was This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, which I read right after her dad (the great Peter Straub) passed away. What if time travel was real, and instead of being able to go back and change history or experience a famous event, you simply went back and talked to your dad a few more times before you couldn’t?
Alice is turning 40. She likes her job. She likes her Brooklyn apartment. She has the same best friend from high school. She just turned down a marriage proposal because she likes her life as it is. And her dad is dying.
On the night she turns 40, she goes out to a bar in New York City that she hasn’t been to since high school. She gets so drunk that she decides to go back to her dad’s apartment on the Upper West Side (HOW HAD I NOT KNOWN ABOUT POMANDER WALK BEFORE?) instead of Brooklyn, and she passes out in his gardening shed. When she wakes up, it is the morning of her 16th birthday, and her dad is healthy and young.
What would you do differently if you could do something to help your dying father? To be able to spend just a little more time with him. Would those changes make you happier? Would they make your future life better?
I loved the slice of 1990’s New York City that was laid out on the page, and loved that Alice, while literally an adult, was also an idiotic teenager and she made some very very bad choices and decisions. I thought this was beautiful and funny and I loved it.
Another book with Tomorrow in the title, my favorite of the year: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. A story about two friends who make video games and what happens in their relationship — both personal and professional — over the course of 30 years or so.
I mentioned previously that it was like the Jake Johnson episode of Mythic Quest in book form, but it was more than that. It was a beautiful story about what it means to be a friend, to really be there for someone no matter what. How to work together, be friends, love each other, how to connect, and often, how to make mistakes so that the connection is broken.
There was a point in this book where I finished an especially moving chapter, put the book down, and simply wept for 10 minutes. And then I had to pick it back up and keep reading, I had to know what would happen next, even if I knew it might not be a happy ending. I didn’t expect a book about making video games to have that effect on me. The story of Sam and Sadie and Marx was one that I didn’t think I would become so invested in, and one that I had difficulty saying goodbye to,
“What is a game?” Marx said. “It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It’s the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption. The idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”