Bookish Hall of Fame, Third Floor (Nos. 29-48)

This Spring I’m working through my ‘Bookish Hall of Fame’ pyramid — what are for me, the ‘best’ one hundred books I’ve read through the end of 2022:

Today I’ll unveil the third tier of the pyramid, covering numbers 29-48. I will list them in reverse numerical order with some basic information and a very brief setup.

My Bookish Hall of Fame, Third Floor

48. Marrying the Ketchups, Jennifer Close (2022)

Set in the final weeks of 2016, this sad and funny novel follows three Chicago-area cousins as they deal with the aftermath of three events that shock them to their cores. The high placement of this one is probably some recency bias, and I imagine it will probably appear much lower when I revisit the list, but I was astounded by it when I read it in 2022. More than anything, it’s book that genuinely captures the feeling of the time we’ve been living in over the past few years.

47. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006, Winner: Lambda Awards, Finalist: National Book Award)

This is a memoir and so probably doesn’t actually belong on this list. But, it is such an important and profound piece of literature, it didn’t feel right excluding it this year. It’s Bechdel’s graphic memoir of her experience growing up in a funeral home, the slow revelation of her queer identity, and lasting questions about her father’s life.

46. Husband Material, London Calling 2, Alexis Hall (2022)

This sequel to 2020’s Boyfriend Material follows that book’s heroes Oliver and Lucien as they navigate big questions of gay identity and subculture now that they are well-settled into their relationship. This ranks as high as it does for me because it is laugh-out-loud funny, accurately reflects the kinds of conversations I have with my own friends, and for the way it shows the growth of Olly and Luc while still being true to the characters we loved in Boyfriend Material.

45. First Time for Everything, Henry Fry (2022)

This one appears next to Husband Material because they share a lot in common: they are both very English, very funny, feature charming narrative voices, and offer loving critiques from within the gay or wider queer communities. But where Husband Material focuses on issues of relationships, First Time for Everything puts the spotlight on identity, personal development, and mental health. That it does so with such responsibility and with such humour and heart is much to its credit.

44. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (2014, Winner: National Book Award, Newbery Medal)

A stunning novel in verse about an African American girl’s childhood and coming of age.

43. Olive, Again, Olive Kitteridge 2, Elizabeth Strout (2019)

I didn’t particularly enjoy Olive Kitteridge, the 2008 release which introduced the world to its title character, and for which Strout won the Pulitzer Prize. But for whatever reason, the 2019 sequel, which follows Olive in her final years, really worked for me. This is a heartwrenching, but never sentimental, look at the aging process through the eyes of this strong, difficult, yet sensitive woman.

42. Guapa, Saleem Haddad (2016)

This wonderful novel covers twenty-four hours in the life of a young man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who is wrestling with the implications of the failure of the Arab Spring and the rise of radical Islamist reform movements throughout the area for his future, career, and relationships.

41. Carry On, Simon Snow 1, Rainbow Rowell (2015)

In our world, this is the first in a charming series about the lives of Simon Snow, his nemesis-turned-boyfriend, and their friends as they deal with the fallout from a magical-world-changing event. In the internal world of the book, this is the last book in a series about the adventures of a boy wizard ‘chosen one’. It’s a love letter to fan fiction, but also a fascinating critique of the ‘chosen one’ trope in general and specific aspects of the Harry Potter books. In so doing, Rowell ends up creating a far more complex and interesting magical world than the ones that inspired it.

40. No Great Mischief, Alistair McLeod (1990) 🇨🇦

A beautifully-written exploration of generational poverty and the difficult lives of descendants of Scottish settlers on Cape Breton Island.

39. Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo (2019, Winner: Booker Prize, Finalist: Women’s Prize)

A collection of interconnected short stories about the very different lives and experiences of Black women in the United Kingdom and the ways the same dynamics feminists fight against often end up finding their ways into their own relationships and communities.

38. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir (2021)

In a last-ditch effort to save life on Earth, a team is sent to a nearby star to discover the solution to a blight that is dimming our Sun.

37. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (2014, Winner: Pulitzer Prize, Carnegie Medal, Finalist: National Book Award)

Set during the German occupation of France during the Second World War, this novel alternates between the perspectives of a blind girl sheltering in her uncle’s home and a German soldier.

36. Circe, Madeline Miller (2018, Finalist: Orange Prize)

In this wonderful book, Miller pulls together the various threads of the story of the witch Circe found throughout Greek mythology into a story cycle of her own. This is a fantastic achievement and a great, fun read at that.

35. All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews (2014, Shortlist: Giller Prize) 🇨🇦

This is a powerful and sad story of the relationship between two sisters, one who struggles to get by but is determined to make a life for herself, and the other who has wealth and acclaim but wants nothing more than to end her own life.

34. Mink River, Brian Doyle (2010)

Set in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, this magical realist novel uses a snapshot style of storytelling to explore the ties that bind and the nature of ‘public works’.

33. Bring Up the Bodies, Thomas Cromwell 2, Hilary Mantel (2012, Winner: Booker Prize, Whitbread-Costa Prize)

All three of the books in this series made my Hall of Fame, but this one claims the highest ranking — I think because it is more focused, essentially covering Cromwell’s instrumental role in both the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn

32. Rules of Civility, Amor Towles (2011)

Towles’ well-regarded debut novel tells the story of two young women whose lives are changed in a chance encounter with a wealthy businessman in a Manhattan bar on New Year’s Eve 1938. It’s a fun novel that also asks interesting questions about relationships and the whole idea of the ‘self-made man’ (or woman).

31. An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro (1985, Shortlist: Booker Prize, Whibread-Costa Prize; Author has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature)

Ishiguro’s second novel follows a once-important Japanese artist who falls into disgrace after the Second World War for his role as a government propagandist.

30. Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger (2013, Winner: Edgar Award)

In this rich novel, tragedy befalls a small town one Summer, causing its inhabitants to search for community, meaning, and grace.

29. Gilead, Gilead 1, Marilynne Robinson (2004, Winner: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award)

A quiet story of the enduring friendship between two pastors in a dusty midwestern town in the middle of the twentieth century, and how it is put to the test by the return of a prodigal son.

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