Year in Review: Books of 2022
What were your highlights for the year? What were the best things you read? What surprised you? What let you down?
Reflect back on the year and talk about anything and everything related to the books you read in 2022. You do NOT have to limit it to 2022 releases -- anything you read this year counts.
I've put off this comment for so long, because I'm not sure how to approach this question this year. Initially, I planned to replicate what I wrote last year, but I just wasn't feeling it. Well, it's '23, might as well give it a go regardless. In no particular order:
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, tr. George Szirtes - Satantango
This book is mind-melting. It feels to me like a postmodern Kafka dressing down the champions of the failing USSR. Synopsis: a Hungarian collective farm has been left in the lurch, and the only people left working are too disabled, physically and mentally, whether congenitally or injury or via addiction or learned helplessness, to leave. There are no true believers, only lost souls seeking out the next payday, hoping that they can escape their prison through backstabbing and subterfuge, foiled either by their own incompetences or incredibly poor luck. A cognitively challenged and abused child beats her cat to death in a visceral expression of will, the lone one of the plot. Meanwhile, her mother and the rest of the workers drunkenly dance in vigil of the return of their lost 'prophet', who will certainly deliver these poor degenerates.
Each chapter is a single longwinded paragraph, composed of enchantingly depressing and intoxicating prose. It's a translation, and a supposedly very difficult one, but it doesn't feel clumsy, and the writing is poetic far more than stilted, though there are moments of strangeness.
Herman Melville - Moby-Dick; or, the Whale
I don't have anything new to say about this book. It's a classic for a reason, nearly every line is breathtaking, and the philosophical arguments are first-class despite being couched as an anticlimactic adventure story-cross-encyclopedia. The romance (?) between Queequeg and Ishmael is touching, and it's generally refreshing to see such an early and poignant example of antiracism from an american author. Whether the whiteness of the whale, the sperm orgy, or Queequeg's coffin, or even the chapters of politics via whale research, it's a rollicking book.
Djuna Barnes - Nightwood
It's a slim volume of the high-modern, featuring a narrative which oozes from dialogue into description into nightmarish scenes of the surreal, horrible antisemitism, earnest accounts of heartbreak and internal homelessness, all told with the most ambitious prose possible. There's barely a plot, barely a sense of direction, Barnes' deep bitterness is tactile throughout, but it's an incredible work.
Cormac McCarthy - Suttree
Is it Ulysses in Knoxville? Is it a memoir? Is it a tribute to the southern gothic with a postmodern slant? Is it a refutation of everything associated with 'good writing'? Or is it just a story of a youngish man drowning his existential crises in liquor? Whatever it may be, it's 500 pages of crystalline description, an ode to the downtrodden and the flyover, rot juxtaposing the cores of life, and a condemnation of alcoholism and depression.
James Joyce - Ulysses
It's actually that good, and it's actually not that hard. Go into it with a loose frame of mind, and hold on.
Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
It's just Moby-Dick, set in WWII, with mind-boggling leaps from comical scenes of ne'er-do-wells dressed as pigs run amok to chilling descriptions of how the individuals of Germany were entrapped by Naziism. It's not a fun book, it is rocket surgery, it might actively rewire the reader's brain, and it does endorse certain forms of terrorism. 10/10, will read again.
Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones - Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
This is a hell of a read. A semiretired teacher and community groundskeeper believes that nature is taking revenge on humanity for our mismanagement of the planet. So, deer killing a hunter via lodging their own bones in his throat, for example. The narrator loves astrology, hates industry, and promotes ecoterrorism, so it's all in good fun. Definitely the least experimental work on this list, it stands out through sheer strength of characterization.
Amos Tutuola - The Palm-wine Drinkard
This is a controversial book. The first english-language book published by an african, it's generally accepted that the publisher took major liberties in editing the prose to fit a briton's preconceived notions of african use of language. That aside, it tells stories that so mix up the ideas of whimsy and macabre that it's worth reading regardless. The prose may be a clumsy mockery of the manuscript, but the actual tale is enchanting and rewarding.
Roberto Bolaño tr. Natasha Wimmer - The Savage Detectives/Los detectives salvajes
I read this one by jumping back and forth between the english translation and the spanish original; both are excellent and readily consumable. The story is told in two modes: first as diary entries written by a precociously infuriating 17 year old poet trying to hang with the hip literary scene of 70s Mexico City, then as extended excerpts from interviews with tangential characters from that scene, and finally a return to the journals of the kid. The story is that of the pursuit of true artistry, symbolized by a lost poet named Cesárea Tinajero, contrasted by the disintegrating lives of the author's alter ego and his best friend. The changing voices of narration are convincing, and the story is predictable but not boring, just human.
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
My second novel of his, I was skeptical at first, but "My mother is a fish" is actually an incredible moment, and the entire book can be forgotten but for that trick.
Cormac McCarthy - The Orchard Keeper
It's kind of just endless wannabe Faulkner describing scene after scene of deeply depressing life. The phrasing is jangly and beautiful, but I earnestly could not discern any character from another, couldn't remotely tell when anything happened, or any chain of causation. I'll have to return to it, but I was definitely disappointed.
John Barth - Giles Goat-Boy
This has to be one of the most ambitious novels ever written, but I couldn't bring myself to care by the halfway point. If you want a spoof of campus novels in menippean form, this is it, but I just couldn't love it.
Zadie Smith - White Teeth
To be clear, this book is excellent, and I loved every minute of it. HOWEVER. It is discussed as comparable in depth and ambition to things like Gravity's Rainbow and Nightwood. It isn't that, despite all its wonderful qualities.
I just thought about posting this kind of topic, so I'm glad I double-checked ~books!
I read a total of 149 books. I DO include a few that I DNF'd (did not finish) because they were a miserable read and if I DNF a book I will skim through to see what happens lol. Is that right? Yes, for me it is.
Minus maybe two or three books, these were all romance books. And please, no snorts or frowns of disapproval. A books a book. And there's a lot of BS rooted in people's scorn for the romance genre, despite the absolute breadth in quality and types of books. There are so, so many skilled writers who write romance books but people have beef and don't consider them real books.
This whole year was a delightful highlight in exploring the romance genre. I started with historical/western romance, worked my way through to contemporary, contemporary sports/athletes, fantasy, and back to historical with a focus on Victorian England and especially the Regency era (Regency Historical romance is absurdly popular so whenever I've seen people ask for Historical Romance recs, these are usually recommended).
I don't think I have much of a preferences per sub-genre, but my favorite books tend to be the most accurate, especially with the historical romances (it's likelier than you think). Some of the best and my most favorite books were the ones that leaned more towards historical accuracy, the ones that weren't just simply set in the time but the conveniences, behaviors, and technology played a part in how the story is shaped, especially with the common man (sometimes you get a little sick of the sheer amount of peers of the land lol).
A great example of what I mean is Deeanne Gist's romance books. Though they're labeled Christian romance, that doesn't play much of a role in her later works (the first couple have more God themes/it has more importance). Her books Maid to Match and Love on the Line are so well done. The research on the era and the technology/place/culture really shines through with her work. The places feel so real and grounded, they were delights to read. All of her books have HEA's (with marriage of course), and behind closed doors romance (so no on page sex).
There has just been so much variety and silly shenanigans across all the books I've read, it's genuinely been a delight. I haven't read this many books so fast and in such a quantity since I was like in high school and middle school. And again, the range in quality is vast and it can be seen with individual others!
I think what might have been the biggest let down was reading multiple books from an author, even when unrelated to a specific series, and just how much they bled together and were the same. I read a few books by Jodi Thomas and in my memory, can not differentiate the later half of two completely separate books. There's just something about ranch wars that she must love because both unrelated books had that and very similar shenanigans related to ranch wars. It was weird.
Amanda Quick also writes very, very similar characters. The scenery, setting, setup, background characters, what the main characters do for a job are like all different but the main male lead and female lead are far too samey across her works. It doesn't really feel like you're reading a new book. Granted, I read two and was looking at a couple others, but I have seen this critique about her work on r/romancebooks when she comes up. She writes well, has a lot of interesting stories but you can just read one book and be good.
This is very long winded, sorry about that, but I'm just so satisfied with how much I read. I don't think I'll be able to replicate that come next year, and will try to have a more sedate pace. I'm going to be aiming for like 20 or so books with a focus on the books I already have, and whittling down my to-read list.
My highlights of 2022 were both non-fiction and outdoor oriented. The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant and The Third Pole by Mark Synnott. I picked up The Golden Spruce on a trip up to Vancouver Island on a suggestion from a kayak guide and it was phenomenal. It catalogs the history of the region, specifically regarding to trees and the logging industry. As much as that sounds like a snoozefest, it was an incredible story of trade, autonomy, war, and colonialism. After the history lesson (about halfway through the book), the author dives into the tragic story of one specific, sacred tree and the man who felled it. It's a really interesting look into environmentalism, industry, colonialism, and first nation politics. I would definitely recommend as my 2022 book of the year.
The Third Pole was just a very, very easy read. I finished it in 2 days. It's similar to Into Thin Air (as it is nearly the same topic and location) but with a bit more mystery. The author and company are investigating the mystery surrounding whether Gorge Mallory and Sandy Irvine were the first team to reach the summit of Everest by means of locating Sandy Irvine's body and hopefully the camera he had with him on the mountain. Similarly to The Golden Spruce, Synnott lays out a good bit of history on the expeditions of Everest and does a short dive into the life of Sandy Irvine. Unlike The Golden Spruce however, Synnott spends the majority of the book on their assent of Everest and the mission to find Sandy's body. Honestly I think my only complaint is the amount of time they discuss seemingly benign expedition prep (imo drones have not been cutting edge or exciting since 2015) and seemingly unnecessary build up to the actual expedition. All in all though I'd say if you enjoyed Into Thin Air, give this book a go!