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NPR's top picks for 2022 fiction books

ALINA SELYUKH, HOST:

A lot of you look forward to NPR's Books We Love at the end of each year. And that's because it's a great resource for what new books to read as recommended by our staff and contributors. But why wait? We have some suggestions right now. Today, some of the best fiction of 2022 so far. We start with Code Switch producer Summer Thomad and a spellbinding fantasy novel about death.

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SUMMER THOMAD, BYLINE: The book I'm recommending is "How High We Go In The Dark" by Sequoia Nagamatsu. It's about a world reeling from a climate catastrophe-driven plague. Sound familiar? From the earliest days of a pandemic to the impacts that linger centuries into the future, the plague forces humans to reckon with immeasurable grief and loss. But what I love most about this book is that despite all the doom and gloom, these stories are endlessly imaginative and rich with meaning. Though the world they're inhabiting is undeniably weak, Nagamatsu's characters maintain a sense of cosmic hope and humanity.

ROMMEL WOOD, BYLINE: My name is Rommel Wood, and I'm an associate producer in programming at NPR. I'm recommending the book "Vladimir," a novel by Julia May Jonas because when was the last time a book made you sit up from your couch and yell, what? Where is this going? This happened to me about three-quarters of the way into her debut novel. The book follows a nameless narrator, a 50-something tenured professor at a liberal arts college. She's married to a disgraced professor about to be drummed off campus due to a parade of former students coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations. But she isn't terribly concerned with his fate or the other women because she herself is infatuated with a new junior professor. In "Vladimir," Jonas carefully builds a house of matchsticks where our protagonist's desires safely live until she reaches a flash point that left me squirming and desperate to discover, how exactly is this going to end?

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KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: I'm Karen Grigsby Bates. I'm the senior correspondent for Code Switch, NPR's podcast about race and identity. I selected "Mecca," a novel by Susan Straight. Straight writes a lot about the California we don't often see or hear about. The people she writes about are working-class refugees. They came west to escape racial violence and poverty from places like Texas, Mississippi and Oaxaca. And some come from communities who've even lived in the state for thousands of years. "Mecca" is a fine set of interwoven tales of these people. They're connected to each other by their love for the land, by their jobs, for each other, for all of those things. This Southern California is filled with desert highways and strip malls and small suburban houses where everyday people are sometimes faced with choices that are anything but. Straight's writing is both illuminous and sharp and bold. And these tales are told to richly layered family histories. Who'd love this book? People who suspect there's more to California than Kardashians, wildfires and serial killers.

NATALIE ESCOBAR, BYLINE: My name is Natalie Escobar, and I'm an associate editor on NPR's Culture Desk. I read "The Candy House" by Jennifer Egan. She is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Visit From The Goon Squad," and "The Candy House" is a follow up to her previous book. The basic premise is a little bit complicated. But there is this form of social media that basically allows users to upload all of their memories to something called the collective consciousness. And if they upload all their memories, they're also able to access all the memories of the users who have done the same. Each of the book's chapters is told through the eyes of different people whose lives are affected by this new technology that's so encompassing that it basically dictates a lot of how society runs. It's this sort of alternate universe type of book that really grapples with a lot of the questions of, what is technology, especially social media, doing to our lives in the way that we relate to each other as people? What would it look like to opt out of that? Is it possible? And because it's Jennifer Egan, it's a really beautifully written book. And I loved every moment of it.

SELYUKH: There you go. Glowing recommendations from NPR staff for "The Candy House," "Mecca," "Vladimir" and "How High We Go In The Dark." For more reading ideas, hop over to our Books We Love list at npr.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Summer Thomad
Natalie Escobar is an assistant editor on the Code Switch team, where she edits the blog and newsletter, runs the social media accounts and leads audience engagement. Before coming to NPR in 2020, Escobar was an assistant editor and editorial fellow at The Atlantic, where she covered family life and education. She also was a ProPublica emerging reporter fellow, where she helped their Illinois bureau do experimental audience engagement through theater workshops. (Really!)
Rommel Wood
Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.