A part of me thinks it would be a good idea to record what I read during the year. Another part of me, the part that always rebels against any kind of straitjacketing, says NO! In the end, though, a lack of time settles the argument and so there is no comprehensive record of what I read in 2022. But there is my memory, and 12 of my monthly newsletters in which I always mention a book I’ve read that has impressed me greatly.
So here is a list of the books that absolutely stood out for me in 2022. And, being a particularly pedantic editor with an ability to be critically savage when I so choose to be, stand-out books not only have to be well-written, fully immersive and page-turning, they have to make me think (or feel) in new ways and inspire me to try to be a better person (or a better writer). Which is quite an ask of any book, actually. They include four novels, two memoirs, one poetry collection and one short story collection. Technically, I finished reading The Book of Strange New Things at the end of 2021 but I feel it deserves to be mentioned here (that’s how much of a grip it held on my imagination). So, here goes:
1) The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
Although, as I understand it, Michel Faber is not a Christian, the protagonist of this novel, Peter (a born-again Christian) was so utterly real to me that when he led a funeral service in the distant planet of Oasis I ended up bawling. For me, this book was a beautiful, spiritual gift, as well as being a wonderfully human and highly imaginative piece of science fiction. Thank you, Michel Faber. (And just look at that cover – it’s a stunning work of art in its own right.)
2) Inferno, by Catherine Cho
This book enhanced my life on three levels: first, it is an unflinchingly honest account of one mother’s brutal journey through the literal (and imagined) hell of postpartum psychosis, which reminded me of the fact that early motherhood isn’t always a soft-focus lovey-dovey experience (as many advertisers would have it), but an immensely challenging and intense time, and how we need to do more to support new mothers in our society. It also happens to be beautifully written and structured, so much so, that it completely made me rethink my old view of memoir being a rather stuffy and dull genre. Also, it showed me a kindred spirit, enabling me to very quickly say “Yes please” to Catherine’s offer of literary representation.
3) The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
Another memoir, this one written in Carrie’s inimical, breezy, witty style. As a girl and young woman, I’d always envied Princess Leia. She was so pretty, petite and gutsy (as well as being a wielder of the Force). Basically, she was everything I felt I was not. And, yet, in this memoir, Carrie talked quite openly about how she disliked her body at the time of filming Star Wars (she considered herself overweight), thereby making me reassess everything I’d thought as a girl. A good reminder that simply everyone – no matter how beautiful, how successful – sometimes thinks that the grass is greener on the other side. And her memories of her relationship with Harrison Ford were both touching and eye-opening.
4) Lanny, by Max Porter
Wow! What a book. I absolutely raced through this, desperate to get to the end. Books with highly literary devices (and this book seemed to have them all) often make me groan inwardly (fancy writing simply for the sake of fancy writing really does nothing for me), and, yet, this married literary inventiveness with an utterly compelling story which forced me to look through different characters’ eyes, making me empathise with their situation. It has inspired me to try and write in new styles; to push me to write in a way that challenges me.
5) Where The World Ends, by Geraldine McCaughrean
I read this to my son in the spring of 2022, and we were both utterly gripped by this novel which is based on a true story – the story of a small group of boys and men who, in 1727, were stranded on Warrior Stac – literally, just a lump of rock – off the northwest coast of Scotland. I’m a fan of historical fiction, and this gorgeously written and page-turning book absolutely enthralled me (and broke my heart).
6) Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel
This is another novel which I found myself completely immersed in. I read it on my summer holiday to Jersey and, despite being spoilt for choice for things to see and do, I spent every free moment reading it. Beautifully written, and oh-so-cleverly constructed, the image of the airplane on the runway which no one ever left, and no one ever entered, burned itself into my brain.
7) Blood, Sugar, Sex and Magic, by Sarah James
I’ve long been a fan of Sarah James’s poetry, and this collection is, as I expected it to be, absolutely superb. But as well as Sarah’s poems being as image-rich, taut and well-crafted as always, it also tells a very personal story – Sarah’s story of living with type 1 diabetes – and reminded me of the many things that hardworking scientists, researchers and medics have gifted to our contemporary society (so much so that we sometimes takes those gifts for granted). Interestingly, I noted a mention of just what would happen to those who depend on the production and supply of insulin in the kind of pandemic that affected the whole world in Station Eleven. Chilling.
8) All the Fabulous Beasts, by Priya Sharma
I read a lot of short stories, but it takes a lot for a whole collection to keep my full attention, and Priya’s collection did just that. I particularly appreciated the variety of narratives, writing styles and milieus on offer (and the fact that, often, the protagonists were middle-aged women with sexual desires – which is somewhat unusual for a collection of dark fantasy/horror stories). It got me excited about the short story form and gave me a nudge to pull together my own short story collection (I know I’ve been saying that for a long time, but I really do hope 2023 will be the year I finally get around to doing just that!).
Many thanks for taking the time to read this post – particularly on a day when you still may be a bit worse for wear and easing yourself into the new year (!). If you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (I am giving away the below bookish goodies, published by Space Cat Press – in which I have two short stories – in this month’s newsletter, then do sign up via the box below).
Wishing you all a healthy, creative and harmonious 2023.