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  • Cathleen Freedman

Book Recommendations from My 2022 Reading List


A girl with a Percy Jackson baseball hat reads a book in Houston, Texas.
Me in 2022, reading at Tiny Boxwoods in Houston, Texas.

In 2022, I visited Paris, New York, Tuscany, Tehran, Tokyo, New Orleans… Oh, no, not literally. Literarily! (Hit your kit drums all you want, I laughed!)


In years past, my reading list was a meandering recitation of whims. I read anything that sounded somewhat appealing. I totally judged books by their cover but not very discerningly. (You can check out last year's list, here.)

In 2022, my reading list was more closely curated. I opted for geography-oriented novels. I wanted to read books that were tour guides for other places and times, and this list reflects that. Here are my recommendations as a literary traveler.

📍 New York, New York

THE MUTUAL FRIEND

by Carter Bays

Let’s start the list with my all-purpose recommendation. If you asked me for a book recommendation in 2022, I likely gave you this one. I think most people will love it. But, fine, some of you are exceptions. I will not recommend this book to you if you …

  1. Have a short attention span with no desire to read anything longer than a TikTok transcript.

  2. Have trouble keeping track of more than three characters.

  3. Do not like fun.

Most of the criticisms of the book seem to be because people fall into one of those categories. If you do not fall into those categories, good, I have a book recommendation for you.


In August, I read an excerpt for The Mutual Friend after learning that Carter Bays (co-creator of How I Met Your Mother) wrote it. I went in knowing my love for How I Met Your Mother (immense) but keenly aware that it might be difficult for a TV writer to write a compelling debut novel. I probably had rows and rows of open tabs and windows on my computer, Spotify playing, and Instagram open on my phone before I read the first sentence. I started reading with my usual split-screen attention span, and I finished reading completely consumed and ready to re-read. As I would later tell Carter Bays himself, "I loved, adored, ate up, devoured, and any other-relevant-synonym-ed The Mutual Friend."


Kirkus Review sums up the experience well: "This is a rare thing: an original, intelligent novel that's not just a perfect summer beach read, but one that deserves serious awards consideration as well. Put down your phone and pick it up. . . . A major accomplishment."

Here are a few lines I loved:

- "It was like browsing the world." - Bob describing the world before social media

- "He led her to the powder room, the one with the chinoiserie pastoral wallpaper that looked so great on the website but was ultimately unmistakably racist up close."

- "...one not-worth-it forever..." (I've been using this as a unit of measurement)

- "He put his phone down, bowed his head, and prayed. Dust particles danced in the cool air above him like angels unobserved."

- "They'd play something sweet and sad and unknowable, something that remembers and forgets all at once."

- "The drafts folder is honesty's dregs, the thickest part of the brew, the stuff that gets stuck to the pot."

I reached out to Carter Bays after reading The Mutual Friend, and we did an Absolutely Anything Zoom interview with him in September. I never realized “Zoom with My Favorite TV Show Co-Creator and Novelist of 2022 from My Airbnb in Quebec City with My Best Friend” was on my bucket list, but it was AND I got to cross it off.

I believe social media can be an incredible connector, knotting invisible strings between people who may otherwise never have met. That's one of the many cruxes of The Mutual Friend. Maybe you're reading this recommendation list right now because we connected online. While we Zoomed with Carter, I posited the question "Do you think we have a mutual friend?" We all laughed and were like, "Sure! Probably! Why not!"


Fast-forward half a year later, and I found our mutual friend on Instagram. Let me explain.


On 2-2-22, it was $2 margarita night at Rosa Mexicano, and we went out with our roommates afterward for $2 Insomnia cookies. It was midnight in Midtown and Liza and Gabby took a selfie with this couple leaving a drag show. We started chatting and followed one of the guys on Instagram. Nearly one year after that first encounter, I see his anniversary post on Instagram. It was liked by Carter Bays. Turns out the guy we met on 2-22-22 is one of Carter's sister's best friends.

I'm always fascinated when one medium contemplates another. In this case, the novel contemplates social media/the internet stratosphere. As Carter said in our interview, he wanted to write something that showed what life was like in that moment of 2015, and I think he did a perfect job. I had so much fun reading it—the kind of fun that makes me want to tell people about my experience while reading as if it were an intertextual book. I remember reading the opening that discusses "Stardust" and then later that day getting a text from New Orleans photographer Matt Anderson that he heard "stardust" on NPR and thought of Gabby and me. Later in the book, there's a whole banana subplot. While reading that, my family group chat was quite animated over my brother Campbell's banana costume for Halloween.


"Coincidental!" a cynic might retort.


"I don't care!" I'd say back. "I think it's all pretty wonderful!"

📍Old New York, New York

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

By Edith Wharton


I first read this book while I was in Ms. Ballard’s AP Language class in 2016. I remember buying it from the River Oaks Barnes and Noble, and the cashier told me, “The book is always better than the movie. Unless it’s The Age of Innocence. Then the movie is better than the book.” I remember visiting New York in April 2017 for my short play and emailing Ms. Ballard, “I’m where The Age of Innocence took place!” when I missed three days worth of her class. There are a lot of memories attached to this book from 1920.


Nearly five years later, I finally got around to watching the film after having lived in New York. I thought of the bookseller’s previous adage, but I realized it had been so long since I last read the book, I had to give it a reread this year. I’m glad I did because I relived all of Wharton’s sumptuous prose again. Here are some favorite lines: -“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”

- “When he thought of [her] it was abstractly, serenely, as one might think of some imaginary beloved in a book or a picture: she had become the composite vision of all that he had missed.”

Also notable from that Barnes and Noble--I remember talking to my mom about how I wanted to go to Paris one day. In 2022, we planned a trip to Paris…


I don’t know if I’m out of my age of innocence yet, but the whole situation does seem very bildungs roman, no?

📍 Paris, France

THE DUD AVOCADO

by Elaine Dundy

Ahead of my January 2023 Paris trip, I gorged on Paris-centric books. Through an excellent Messy Nessy Chic review, I found out about The Dud Avocado for the first time.


I really, really loved it.


Someone described this as Catcher in the Rye for the girls. Don’t let that scare you, Catcher in the Rye haters! (I’m not one of you, but I know many of you.) Let me break that comparison down. The writing feels like a blend of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald with feminine intel and whimsy. I really love Elaine Dundy’s voice and style. If she had been more prolific, I bet I would even call her one of my favorite writers. Her voice is zany but smart.


This is a book I’m glad I first read at 22 before going to Paris for the first time. I feel like if I were any older and more well-traveled, I'd be a little jaded. The main character Sally Jay Gorce is so beyond Emily Cooper and Carrie Bradshaw. If I took my daily vitamins with a hit of laughing gas growing up, maybe I’d be more like Sally Jay.


Lines I loved:

-"I love you. If you hadn't existed I would have had to invent you."

(This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Joseph Arthur’s “Honey and the Moon” that goes, “If you weren’t real, I’d make you up.”)

-“The world is wide, wide, wide, and I am young, young, young, and we’re all going to live forever!”

- “I’ve never wanted to meet anyone I’ve been introduced to. I want to meet all the other people.”

- “‘I want my freedom!’ I said, tears stinging my eyes at the word. “Your freedom? Ah yes, of course. What are you planning to do with it?” I hesitated. I had to think for a moment. I hadn’t really put it into words before. “I want to stay out as late as I like and eat whatever I like any time I want to,” I said finally.”

- “I find I always have to write something on a steamed mirror. Only this time, I couldn't think of anything to write. So I just wrote my own name, over and over again."

- "What was I getting so worked up about? The vehemence of my moral indignation surprised me. Was I beginning to have standards and principles, and, oh dear, scruples? What were they, and what would I do with them, and how much were they going to get in my way?"

(I’m about to turn 23 and feel this all too completely. What am I going to do with all of these scruples? Apply them to my daily life?)

-“Everything seemed to fall into place. Here was all the gaiety and glory and sparkle I knew was going to be life if I could just grasp it."

- “It's just that I know the world is so wide and full of people and exciting things that I just go crazy every day stuck in these institutions. I mean if I don't get started soon, how will I get the chance to sharpen my wits? It takes lots of training. You have to start very young. I want them to be so sharp that I'm always able to guess right. Not be right- that's much different- that means you're going to do something about it. No. Just guessing. You know, more on the wing."

- “One shoelace had been badly tied and I was trying to retie it in my mind."

- “It's amazing how right you can be about a person you don't know; it's only the people you do know who confuse you.”

- “It was hard to believe that it was the beginning of July, not the end of summer. I thought: is summer only a state of mind? Is it always only two months long from whenever you start it?” - “Frequently, walking down the streets in Paris alone, I've suddenly come upon myself in a store window grinning foolishly away at the thought that no one in the world knew where I was at just that moment.”

- “I mean, the question actors most often get asked is how they can bear saying the same things over and over again night after night, but God knows the answer to that is, don't we all anyway; might as well get paid for it.”

- “I drifted into the street lit with love and began turning imaginary handsprings.”

- “So he gave up. And in a way, I kind of gave up myself. I gave up wondering if anyone was ever going to understand me at all. If I was ever going to understand myself even. Why was it so difficult anyway? Was I some kind of a nut or something? Don't answer that.”

The book is just filled with knock-out lines like this. I’m off to read the lesser-known sequel, The Old Man and Me.

📍 Tokyo, Japan

BEFORE THE COFFEE GETS COLD

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Oh, I completely adore this premise: “It tells of a café in Tokyo that allows its customers to travel back in time, as long as they return before their coffee gets cold.”


Another time travel stipulation: "At the end of the day, whether one returns to the past or travels to the future, the present doesn't change." It’s such a beautiful idea. You travel in time to understand the present better.


If you and I have been to a cool cafe together, I likely have said, “This cool cafe could totally be the cool cafe from Before The Coffee Gets Cold.” I will also add that this book to me years to finish. (The coffee definitely cooled multiple times for me.) But, golly, do I love this premise.

Those are the most substantial recommendations from my reading list. Consider the above with my two thumbs-up seal of approval and five-star Trip Advisor review. Really enjoy and savor your stay with these settings.


Now, I do have a few more recommendations. Consider the below to be day trip recommendations. You don’t need to languish on these. They can be quick detours from your main reading list.

DAY TRIP RECOMMENDATIONS​

For a book you could rip the pages out and turn into cool wallpaper (after reading it, of course)

📍 BE HERE NOW

By Ram Dass

I don’t have much to say about this other than---great fonts. This is very 1971. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s a hippie picture book that’s pretty to look at. Have fun.


You know what? I do have something else to say.


I went to a hippie day camp in the summer before third grade. We played a giant spy game where everyone was assigned different roles. Someone was a double agent; another, the envoy; another, Secret Service. It was kind of like Capture The Flag but espionage. There were rules, too, that, while I don’t remember, were complex. In a sense, it sort of reminds me of the elusive tennis game from Infinite Jest. Couple this with the fact that the campgrounds were in an old Victorian house and church. We were a bunch of 8, 9, and 10-year-olds pretending to be instruments of a nation’s most covert operations with free range of the property. I LOVED it. I also have no idea what the game is called.

To this day, I haven’t met anyone else who knows what I’m talking about. Every six months I remember this mystery and try Googling. The internet’s no help. I’ve even asked one of my friends from that camp about the game, but she doesn’t even remember it. What if I made it up? Surely I didn’t. But… Maybe? No.


Anyway, I bring up this side story for two reasons.

1. Maybe someone reading this will know the name of the game.

2. This hippie camp felt the way Be Here Now looks.


For a book that will probably become a film that stars Diane Keaton

📍 AMGASH, ILLINOIS

Oh, William!

by Elizabeth Stout

Strout won a Pulitzer, too.

📍Florence, Italy

STILL LIFE

By Sarah Winman

This book covers four decades of a group of friends/chosen family unit. Lauren Fox’s New York Times review sums it up well. This is a book of beauty, of art, of long-lasting friendship, of all the stuff that makes life worthwhile.

One of my favorite lines from the book is “Happy new year. I hope it’s worthy of you.” I’ve used it to wish my friends a happy 2023.

If you’re on an Italy kick, I recommend another book from my 2022 list: Sicily in Shadow and in Sun; The Earthquake and the American Relief Work by Maud Howe Elliott. She wrote this in 1910, and it still feels relevant (and interesting) today.

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