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My year in books, 2022

Collage of 15 book covers for all the titles listed below

This year, I went through several reading slumps and read very few of the books I planned to get through this year. I learnt it’s a bad idea to try and plan 12 months’ worth of reading.

However, discounting the books I DNF’d, I read 42 books this year. Out of those 42, there were 15 I wanted to talk about.

These books are arranged in the order that I read them. I should also clarify that their inclusion does not necessarily mean they were “better” books than those that didn’t make the list. These 15 were just the ones that I had the fondest feelings towards when reviewing my year in reading.

This year, I have also highlighted my top three reads (🥉🥈🥇). These three books had the greatest impact on me in 2022. They’re also the books I’m most keen to recommend.

Paperback cover of Twelve Angels Weeping by Dave Rudden

01 | Twelve Angels Weeping | Dave Rudden

The perfect read for Whovians at Christmas. There is a tale for each of the twelve days of Christmas inside this short story collection. Each one centres around a villain from the Doctor Who canon and successfully offers something surprising with each narrative. The penultimate tale featuring a Judoon infant was my personal favourite.

Paperback cover of Syllabus by Lynda Barry

02 | Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor | Lynda Barry 🥉

This is the book I’ve spent most of the year talking about. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve recommended this to. If you think you can’t draw, read this book. Even if you can draw and think you’re really good at it, you should still read this book. Lynda Barry became one of my favourite artists this year, and Syllabus is an aesthetically stunning book packed with creative exercises and thought-provoking questions about creativity.

(Related: Drawing badly and loving it)

Paperback cover of Citizen by Claudia Rankine

03 | Citizen | Claudia Rankine

Collections like Citizen remind me of how limited my view of poetry has been. I’m so used to conventional forms of poetry that I fell in love with Rankine’s approach of blurring the lines between poetry and essay. Using different forms of text and media, Rankine constructs a poetic mosaic illustrating the experience of living as a Black citizen.

Paperback cover of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

04 | All the Birds in the Sky | Charlie Jane Anders

I first read this book back in 2016 for my university module Understanding and Writing Science-Fiction. Several members of my class rejected this novel as sci-fi, and I felt a little anxious about openly loving the book – thinking I’d missed what others had loathed. 

Fast-forward to my re-read this year and I could not care less about other people’s opinions about this book. Could you argue it’s more fantasy than sci-fi? Probably, but that’s what I love about it. It’s beautifully written from start to finish, I loved both protagonists dearly, and I found the themes of climate anxiety even more impactful to read now than I did in 2016.

(See also: 10 thoughts on “All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders

Paperback cover of The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan

05 | The Right to Sex | Amia Srinivasan 

This collection of essays feels concise when you hold it in your hands, but its subject matter is impressively broad and leaves you with much to think about. Tackling an array of topics from incels and pornography to sex work and professors who sleep with their students, Srinivasan offers some eye-opening perspectives on issues we aren’t talking about enough.

(My review: There is no right to sex, but we should talk about the politics of desire)

Paperback cover of Sum by David Eagleman

06 | Sum | David Eagleman

We have no evidence to say that an afterlife exists, nor what it might look like if it does. This makes the afterlife fertile ground for endless possibilities. Neuroscientist David Eagleman embraced the infinite potential of the beyond and penned 40 completely different post-death realities. Sum is a very short book, but it’s crammed with imaginative heavens (or hells), several of which will provoke some lengthy introspection.

Paperback cover of The Martian by Andy Weir

07 | The Martian | Andy Weir

Trapped on Mars with a limited food supply, Mark Watney is surely dead. But rather than admit defeat, Watney adopts a pragmatic optimism to keep himself alive in the direst of situations. Funny and suspenseful, this is a sci-fi book that knows how to keep you turning the pages even as it dumps a lot of technical information on the reader. Every time you think Watney’s done for, he surprises you. And you just have to keep reading to find out if he does the impossible.

Paperback cover of The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

08 | The Word for World is Forest | Ursula K. Le Guin

Anti-imperialist and pro-revolutionary, this is a slim but brutal novel. Humans have settled on the Athsheans’ world and cut down their forests for wood. The native race is pacifistic by nature, which the humans have exploited by turning them into slaves. To reclaim their homeworld, the Athsheans will have to forego their peaceful ways forever and turn to violence to bring down their merciless oppressors. Le Guin is very clear in her support for the oppressed in this book, but rather than turning revolutionary violence into something celebratory, she muses on the consequences for a culture of beings forced into a war they never had a choice in fighting.

Paperback cover of Windhaven by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle

09 | Windhaven | George R. R. Martin & Lisa Tuttle

Set on a world of tiny islands, separated by vast oceans, Windhaven’s society is dependent on an elite class of flyers to deliver communications across vast distances. The story begins with Maris, a landbound girl who learns to fly. But when inheritance laws threaten to strip away her wings, she seeks to uproot tradition to keep them. Little does she realise that getting what she wants sparks a revolution.

Structurally, the novel is made up of three novellas, and each one presents a new challenge to the status quo. In some cases, not even Maris is on the right side. Sometimes, the character who shares a viewpoint I support is the most unpleasant person in the room. And it’s these kinds of contradictions that make this collaborative novel a joy to read, whilst also asking interesting questions about meritocracy and tradition.

(Related: Recent Reads #1: Great science-fiction)

Hardback cover of Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke

10 | Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness | Kristen Radtke 🥈

This book might look like a graphic novel, but it’s more akin to a documentary told in a comic book format. And it’s one of the best things I read all year. Seek You is the best exploration of the loneliness epidemic I’ve read so far, which seamlessly blends stories from Radtke’s personal life with journalistic-style reporting and scientific research. 

This was the book I needed when I was studying for my Playwriting MA. My dissertation centred on loneliness and required a feature-length script to accompany it. I wish I’d known the story of Harry Harlow’s unethical monkey experiments and their everlasting impact on child-rearing, which Radtke illustrates in the book. It’s a harrowing exploration of just how harmful loneliness can be.

Hardback cover of What It Is by Lynda Barry

11 | What It Is | Lynda Barry

Whilst I didn’t love it quite as much as Syllabus, this is still a beautiful book that showcases more of Lynda Barry’s incredible artwork. The collage style turns every page into a unique art piece and typically features a thought-provoking question about creativity, advice for writers or a scene from Barry’s life. If you wanted to check out Barry’s work but were torn between which book to start with, Syllabus is ideal for artists whereas writers might prefer What It Is.

(Related: Recent Reads #2: Graphic non-fiction)

Paperback cover of Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

12 | Open Water | Caleb Azumah Nelson

For such a short novel, there’s a lot that can be said about it. It’s primarily a love story, but it’s also about friendship and connection. One of its central themes is the difference between being looked at and being seen. And this central theme plays into the love story, but it’s also intrinsic to how Azumah Nelson portrays experiencing racism as a Black man. 

Written in the second-person “you”, it is us the reader who is put directly in the shoes of Open Water’s protagonist. For this reason, the introspective thoughts of our main man also act as prompts for the reader to reflect. My mind wandered many times whilst reading, not because Azumah Nelson bored me, I just had to pull away from the narrative for a moment to spend some time with the thoughts and feelings the book evoked. In an interview, Azumah Nelson explains how vulnerable he had to make himself to write this novel, which comes through in the text and invites the reader to be vulnerable too.

(Related: Recent Reads #3: Short (but not exactly sweet))

Paperback cover of Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin

13 | Fire and Blood | George R. R. Martin 🥇

Perhaps I was predisposed to love this book because Martin is my favourite author. If you’re not a fan of Martin’s style and have no great love for A Song of Ice and Fire, then this fictional history book won’t change your mind. But if you are a fan then this book is more than just supplementary material to tide you over until The Winds of Winter comes out. Fire and Blood is an unreliable account of roughly the first 150 years of Targaryen rule in Westeros, penned by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel. Gyldayn cites an array of fictional primary sources for the historical events he describes, including the testimonies of Mushroom – a dwarf fool with many lewd tales to add some colourful rumours to key events.

Without seeing events through the viewpoints of specific characters, I feared I would not get as emotionally invested in the narrative as I did in the main series. And whilst characterisation is much thinner here than in A Song of Ice and Fire, I need not have worried. Queen Alysanne stole my heart, becoming my favourite Targaryen and her story elicited some tears. Truly horrific fates befall some characters, and one image will forever stay with me – in no small thanks to the astounding illustrations of Doug Wheatley. And the anti-war themes we are so familiar with in the other books are further emphasised here as huge casts of characters meet grisly ends. In fact, covering such a large span of time, the body count does not bear considering.

Paperback cover of All About Love by bell hooks

14 | All About Love | bell hooks

In December 2021, we bid farewell to bell hooks. And whilst I was not entirely ignorant of her work, I had never read any of her books until late this year. All About Love is an important read. Several of her ideas had already reached me via different avenues, but I was surprised by how much more there was about love to consider. At the centre of this book is the proposition that we should all be thinking of love as a verb rather than a noun. Hooks argues that we need a universal definition of love and the absence of one is why modern society has lost the true meaning of love. The book was originally published in 2000, but I believe hooks’ observations still ring true in 2022.

Paperback cover of Looking for Alaska by John Green

15 | Looking for Alaska | John Green

Since at least 2017, if not earlier, I’ve had people recommending this book. “It’s John Green’s best,” many claimed. This December I finally got around to it, picking it up from my local library. I was so sure the story could not live up to the hype. I feared I had outgrown the person who would have appreciated this story. This is a book for teens, I argued! I was wrong. 

I finished the second half of this book on Boxing Day evening, staying up past 1 am because I could not go to sleep until I reached the end. For reasons I cannot explain, I had not predicted what the countdown at the start of the book was leading up to. I should have seen it coming, and I don’t know why I didn’t. But I’m glad because I got to feel that gut punch at the same time as the main characters. And whilst I’m no longer in the target audience of this book, I loved it more than I had anticipated. 

Honourable Mentions:

(Read more: My reading year 2022)