I read 25 books in 2022. I wish I had read more, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I think no matter how many books I read in any given year, I’ll always wish I had read more.
18 of the 25 books were written by women. I think that’s a pretty good ratio. But only 6 of the 25 books were written by Black authors. That’s not a great ratio.
Still, I’m glad that I’m tracking my reading so at least I can be aware of the disparity.
For the first half of the year, I stuck with my usual rule of alternating between fiction and non-fiction, never reading two non-fiction books or two fiction books back-to-back. Then I fell off the wagon. In the end, only 7 of the 25 books I read were non-fiction. We’ll see whether the balance gets redressed in 2023.
As is now traditional, I’m doing my end-of-year recap, complete with ridiculous star ratings.
I’m very stingy with my stars:
- One star means a book is meh.
- Two stars means a book is perfectly fine.
- Three stars means a book is a good—consider it recommended.
- Four stars means a book is exceptional.
- Five stars is pretty much unheard of.
Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar And Grille by Steven Brust
Even the author doesn’t think this is a particularly good book, and he’s not wrong. But I have a soft spot for it. This was a re-read. I had already read this book years before, and all I rememberd was “sci-fi with Irish music.” That’s good enough for me. But truth be told, the book is tonally awkward, never quite finding its groove. Still a fun romp if you like the idea of a teleporting bar with a house band playing Irish folk.
A Ghost In The Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Stunning. I still don’t know whether it’s fiction, autobiography, translation, or some weird mix of all of the above. All that matters is that the writing is incredible. It’s so evocative that the book practically oozes.
Parable Of The Talents by Octavia E. Butler
A terrific follow-up to The Parable Of The Sower. It seems remarkably relevant and prescient. So much so that I’m actually glad I didn’t read this while Trump was in power—I think it would’ve been too much. It’s a harrowing read, but always with an unwavering current of hope throughout.
About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks by David Rooney
A great examination of history and colonialism through the lens of timekeeping. Even for a time-obsessed nerd like me, there are lots of new stories in here.
The Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
While I was reading this, I distinctly remember thinking “Oh, so this is what Philip K. Dick was trying to do!” And I say that as a huge fan of Philip K. Dick. But his exuction didn’t always match up to his ideas. Here, Le Guin shows how it’s done. Turns out she was a fan of Philip K. Dick and this book is something on an homage. I found its central premise genuinely disconcerting. I loved it.
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
When someone asked me what I was reading, I was honestly able to respond, “It’s a book about George Orwell and about roses.” I know that doesn’t sound like a great basis for a book, but I thought it worked really well. As a huge fan of Orwell’s work, I was biased towards enjoying this, but I didn’t expect the horticultural aspect to work so well as a lens for examining politics and power.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
A solid sequel to the classic The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not more of the same: we get a different setting, and a very different set of viewpoints. It didn’t have quite the same impact as the first book, but then very little could. As with The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood stuck with her rule of only including shocking situations if they have actually occurred in the real world.
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
For a book that’s about defending liberty and progress, On Tyranny is puzzingly conservative at times.
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Astonishing. I know that a person’s reaction to a book is a personal thing, but for me, this book had a truly emotional impact. I wrote about it at the time:
When I started reading No One Is Talking About This, I thought it might end up being the kind of book where I would admire the writing, but it didn’t seem like a work that invited emotional connection.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I can’t remember the last time a book had such an emotional impact on me. Maybe that’s because it so deliberately lowered my defences, but damn, when I finished reading the book, I was in pieces.
East West Street by Philippe Sands
An absorbing examination of the origins of international war crimes: genocide and crimes against humanity. The book looks at the interweaving lives of the two people behind the crime’s definitions …and takes in the author’s own family history on the way. A relative of mine ran in the same legal circles in wartime Lviv, and I can’t help but wonder if their paths crossed.
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
Just as good as A Memory Called Empire, maybe even more enjoyable. Here we get a first contact story, but there’s still plenty of ongoing political intrigue powering the plot. I can’t wait for the next book in this series!
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova
A thoroughly enjoyable piece of long-form journalism. It’s ostensibly about the world of high-stakes poker, but there are inevitable life lessons along the way. The tone of this book is just right, with the author being very open and honest about her journey. Her cards are on the table, if you will.
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
I wonder how much of an influence this book had on Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle For Leibowitz? They’re both post-apocalyptic books of the Long Now. While this is no masterpiece, Brackett writes evocatively of her post-nuclear America.
Being You: A New Science of Consciousness by Anil Seth
A compelling and accessible examination of a big subject. It doesn’t shy away from inherently complex topics, but manages to always be understable and downright enjoyable. I liked this book so much, I asked Anil to speak at dConstruct.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
A good fast-paced sci-fi story that acts as a vehicle for issues of identity and socialisation. It’s brief and peppy. I’ll definitely be reading the subsequent books in the Murderbot Diaries series.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Not in the same league as Station Eleven, but a solid work, looking at the events before and after the collapse of a Ponzi scheme. It’s not a ghost story, but it’s also not not a ghost story. And it’s not about crypto …but it’s not not about crypto.
The Alchemy Of Us by Ainissa Ramirez
I was really looking forward to reading this, but I ended up disappointed. All the stories about historical inventions were terrifically told, but then each chapter would close with an attempt to draw parallels with modern technology. Those bits were eye-rollingly simplistic. Such a shame. I wonder if they were added under pressure from the publisher to try to make the book “more relevant”? In the end, they only detracted from what would’ve otherwise been an excellent and accessible book on the history of materials science.
Looking back, I notice that The Alchemy Of Us was the last non-fiction book I read this year.
Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
After reading this, I decided to read the rest of the Patternist series in one go. This scene-setter is almost biblical in scope. The protagonist is like an embodiment of matriarchy, and the antogonist is a frightening archetype of toxic masculinity.
Mind Of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler
All of Butler’s works are about change in some way (as exemplified in the mantra of Earthseed: “God is change”). Change—often violent—is at the heart of Mind Of My Mind. As always, the world-building is entirely believable.
Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler
This works as a standalone novel. Its connection to the rest of the Patternist series is non-existient for most of the book’s narrative. That sense of self-containment is also central to the tone of the novel. You find yourself rooting for stasis, even though you know that change is inevitable.
Pattern Master by Octavia E. Butler
By the final book in the Patternist series, the world has changed utterly. But as always, change is what drives the narrative. “The only lasting truth is Change.”
The Unreal And The Real: Selected Stories Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands by Ursula K. Le Guin
I’ve read quite of few of Le Guin’s novels, but I don’t think I had read any of her short stories before. That was a mistake on my part. These stories are terrific! There’s the classic The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas to kick things off, and the quality is maintained with plenty of stories from the Hainish universe. I was struck by how many of the stories were anthropological in nature, like the centrepiece story, The Matter of Seggri.
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
The fourth and final book in the Wayfarers series was a satisfying conclusion. I still preferred Record Of A Spaceborn Few, but that’s probably just because I preferred the setting. As always, it’s a story of tolerance and understanding. Aliens are people too, y’know.
The Táin translated by Ciaran Carson
As a story, this is ludicrous and over the top, but that’s true of any near-mythological national saga. Even though this is an English translation, a working knowledge of Irish pronunciation is handy for all the people and places enumerated throughout. In retrospect, I think I would’ve liked having the source text to hand (even if I couldn’t understand it).
The Star Of The Sea by Joseph O’Connor
I’m less than half way through this, but I’m enjoying being immersed in its language and cast of characters. You’ll have to wait until the end of 2023 for an allocation of stars for this nautical tale of the Great Hunger.
And now it’s time for me to pick one favourite fiction and one favourite non-fiction book that I read in 2022.
The pool is a bit smaller for the non-fiction books, and there were some great reads in there, but I think I have to go for Rebecca Solnit’s Orwell’s Roses.
Now I have to pick a favourite work of fiction from the 18 that I read. This is hard. I loved The Lathe Of Heaven and Ghost In The Throat, but I think I’m going to have choose No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.
If you want to read any of the books I’ve mentioned, you can find them all in this list on Bookshop.org—support independent bookshops! I bought Octavia Butler’s Patternist books at Brighton’s excellent Afori Books, located in Clearleft’s old building at 28 Kensington Street. Do swing by if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Or try your local library. Libraries are like a sci-fi concept made real.
If you’re interested in previous installments of my annual reading updates, you can peruse: