Looking back on my reading in 2022
Reading has been a constant source of interest for me this year. As in previous years, I have made an effort to replace much of my social media consumption with reading – something digital books have really helped me with. Whenever I found myself getting drawn into Twitter’s ‘main character of the day’, I closed the app and switched straight over to my Kindle/Borrowbox app. This resulted in me absolutely blowing my 2021 total out of the water, jumping from 14 to 53! This included a mix of novels, plays, poetry collections, and non-fiction, so it was also a far more varied year than the previous one. There were some real treasures I was delighted to have discovered, and there were others I couldn’t wait to finish. For brevity’s sake I’m going to try to keep these summaries short, and have arranged them chronologically. For those I’ve got more to say on, look out for a longer-form review at some point in the future. Let’s take a look back over them together – and I’ll add some (hopefully) interesting stats at the end!
The Secret Commonwealth, Philip Pulman
I can’t say I’m a big fan of Philip Pulman himself these days (his conduct regarding the Kate Clanchy business was really disappointing), but I can’t resist the chance to get back into the world of His Dark Materials. The pacing of this book was slightly off in places, but overall it was a really fun read, and reminded me why I liked his books in the first place.
Beautiful World, Where are You, Sally Rooney
Oh my goodness was this a slog! Certainly not one I’m going to re-read, and even one I’d say I wish I hadn’t bothered with! For more nuanced thoughts, check out my full-length The Reading List Review.
Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
Another really fun read, which I raced through. Quite different to the film, and in many ways better. I’ll definitely be giving the next book in the series a go! For my thoughts on the film, read ‘Why Nick is the real villain of Crazy Rich Asians’.
Beloved, Toni Morrison
I didn’t really know what to expect going into this novel. I’d only read a few of Morrison’s poems before, so this was my first proper foray into her work. It was totally worth it – a really interesting, thought-provoking and emotionally engaging novel. I won’t pretend I knew exactly what was going on all the time, but it was a really engrossing read.
The Light Fantastic, Terry Pratchett
Pratchett was a new discovery for me in 2021, one I was very happy to have made. This is more of the same (literally, it’s the sequel to the last one I read), with the same off-beat sense of humour, individual and strangely relatable characters, and weird and wonderful fantasy setting. What’s not to like?
The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
As a long-time Miss Marple fan, I thought it was about time I gave this riotously successful older people based who-dunnit a go. It definitely has a lighter, more modern style to it than Christie (unsurprisingly), but it was still a gripping and entertaining read. Osman clearly knows what the reader wants, and what he’s doing!
Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
This is such a weird, intriguing little story. It’s the sort of low-key sci-fi that I find really fascinating. Although the interest dropped off a little for me by the end, I still really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone with a penchant for off-beat sci-fi.
Amelia Westlake, Erin Gough
I picked this one out because I was looking for something a bit more down-to-earth and light-hearted after Klara and the Sun. I’m not usually drawn to YA, but sometimes it can be a nice comfort read. This was a fun enough story, and I can certainly imagine much younger me enjoying it, but I must admit it took me quite a long time to get through. Surprisingly long given that I had chosen it as an easy read! I think this is often the case for me – regardless of the style of book, it takes me much longer to read when I don’t find the story or writing particularly engaging. A bit of a fun romp, but one I could probably have left on the (digital) shelf.
Three Women, Lisa Taddeo
A gruelling but fairly gripping read, that nonetheless raised some questions for me about whose stories we get to hear and why. Check out my full review for more developed thoughts, The Reading List: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo.
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
This was the perfect example of a boring read taking me far longer to read that in should have. I haven’t watched the ‘Grantchester’ TV shows that are based on this book series, but having a strong and unapologetic penchant for the ‘Father Brown’ TV series, and a love detective stories and murder mysteries, I assumed this book would be up by street. My goodness, I could not have been more wrong. I rarely rip into books in my reviews, but this one struck me as so poorly written I really struggled to get through it. I’m not one to give up on books (a bit of a sunk cost thing when I’ve made it so far through), but I couldn’t wait to finish this one and move on to something more interesting.
The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa
This could not be more different from the previous book. What a fascinating, enigmatic, and moving book. Another speculative sci-fi, it explores the story of a woman in a world where things ‘disappear’, both physically and from people’s memories. It’s hard to really summarise what it is about, but the central ‘mystery’ element instantly captured me, only for my love of the book to be reinforced by beautifully written, subtle characters. I had meant to do a full review of this, which I may yet get round to. This is definitely among my top recommendations from 2022’s reading (perhaps even the top?).
Five Have Plenty of Fun, Enid Blyton
March really was a month of contrasts for my reading! I wanted something fun and quick after the boredom of Sidney Chambers and the intensity of The Memory Police. I also kind of wanted to see how they held up – Blyton has become synonymous with the kind of casual racism and bigotry of her age, and it’s easy for nostalgia to override more objective feelings when it comes to childhood favourites (which her books very much were for me). To my surprise it wasn’t as glaringly obvious as I expected, to the extent that I did wonder if it had been favourably edited. However it could just be because this is the first book and the plot doesn’t involve that many characters. It was fun to revisit this book that reminded me so vividly of my childhood, but I think on rereading it won’t be one that I’m rushing to introduce to my own children when the time comes. I’m sure there are plenty of books that are just as fun and don’t require caveats or vetting, so why force these flawed books on my children just because of my nostalgia?
Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson
I don’t seem to have had a very good run of it in 2022 when it comes to choosing boring books. I think I should have taken it as a sign that even the TV show based on this book was too boring for me. This is something of a classic, but its disjointed, repetitive nature lacking in strong narrative (not surprisingly given that it is a real woman’s recollections) just didn’t do it for me. It was interesting as a piece of social and cultural history, but in terms of reading for pleasure, I was somewhat disappointed. If this is a period of history that particularly interests you, or you have a completionist approach to TV period dramas, then go for it, but if you’re after a good story and developed characters, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
This book received such rave reviews that it was on my library reserve list for months waiting for everyone else to finish it. However it was worth the wait, and I really enjoyed it. I wrote a fuller review as part of The Reading List series, and you can find it here: The Reading List, The Song of Achilles, Madeleine Miller.
I, Robot, Isaac Asimov, 1950
I had been meaning to give this one a go for many years. Despite considering myself a bit of a sci-fi fan, I had managed to not read a single Asimov. I can’t say this one really lived up to the hype I had given it! It was very much of its time in writing style, and reminded me of the sorts of children’s comic books hoarded under the stairs at my grandparents. At times interesting, short, but strangely procedural and not particularly gripping, and not something that has left me yearning to explore his other works. Perhaps somewhat sacrilegious to say, but you might have more fun watching the film!
The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak, 2021
A friend had strongly recommended Shafak to me, so when this came up on my library app I was keen to give her a go. I was not disappointed – what a wonderful book. Some aspects of mysticism that I found very appealing, with well-written, believable characters, and clearly thoroughly researched. It explores the relationship between two Cypriot protagonists, with a brilliant cast of supporting characters. It is at times moving, funny, and throughout has a heart and warmth to it that is very endearing. I would almost say this is a classic ‘good read’ – a narrative based in the relationships between believable characters over a long period of time, with insight and thoughtfulness woven into every line and chapter. I would highly recommend this one, and I’d love to hear if you think I’ve over-hyped it!
The Man Who Died Twice, Richard Osmon, 2021
Another fun murder mystery romp from Osmon! A cleverly plotted, easy and thoroughly enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to picking up the third in what I hope (and expect, given their huge success) will be a long-running series.
Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, Shankari Chandran, 2022
This one was also recommended by a friend. It usually takes years for me to follow-up on recommendations, but I picked this one up almost straight away, and really enjoyed it! A modern Australian novel set between Sri Lanka and Sydney, and centred on a nursing home, it was well written, insightful and funny. I realise that’s often what I say in good reviews, but perhaps that’s just revelatory of my taste! It was interesting to read a story partially set in and dealing with the after effects of the Sri Lanka Civil War, a period of recent history I must admit to knowing very little about. Chandran also deals with the racism common in Australia really deftly – humanising and yet not sympathising with its perpetrators in a way that feels very real. I’ll be seeking out Chandran’s other novels and stories.
Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bertram-Haugh, Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, 1899
Another recommendation that I also immediately followed up on! My friend sent me this to demonstrate how great the selection on Project Gutenberg is, and I’m so glad she did! It’d been quite a while since I’d read an older novel, and I was pleased to get back into one. This fun, gothic tale has everything I enjoyed reading as a teenager and still do now: some mystery, a light smattering of romance, and an intelligent female protagonist. If you like Jane Eyre but wish it was a little bit campier, and with less romance, this is the one for you!
Collected Sonnets, William Shakespeare, 1590s-1605
I’ve already reflected on my experience reading the sonnets in my 30 before 30 round up post, so all I’ll say here is that I’m not the biggest fan! Reading them back to back may not have been the best way to appreciate them, so perhaps I will come back to them individually later in life and enjoy them more.
The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry, 2016
I had actually attempted to read this shortly after it came out as part of a book club, but I hadn’t got into it. However this time round I really enjoyed it. Its weird, gothic, mysterious feel is matched by well-written characters, and an involving plot.
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, 2011
I had heard great things about this book, and the film it was adapted into. Billed as an exploration of grief for young readers, I found it an easy but still rather moving read. ‘Enjoyed’ perhaps isn’t quite the word for it, but I would really recommend this book to anyone interested in its themes.
The Moving Finger, Agatha Christie, 1942
Yet another Christie – I think she turned out to be my most-read author of the year! They’re such fun reads, sometimes rather of their time, but easy, enjoyable, and stimulating. I’m sure I’ll read many more Christies this year!
Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897
This classic had somehow passed me by (despite having studied a module on gothic literature at school), and I really enjoyed finally getting round to it. There’s just something I find really appealing about writing from this period, the style is one I attempted to emulate a lot in my teenage writings – it just seems to capture my imagination. I haven’t seen any films of the Dracula story (of which of course there are many), so the actual plot was a mystery to me, which heightened my enjoyment. It has its slow, slightly repetitive moments, but it’s still a great read, worthy of its high reputation.
More Fiya: A New Collection of Black British Poetry ed. Kayo Chingonyi, 2022
I had intended to read more poetry this year, and after the slog of the Shakespeare sonnets, I wanted to try something more up-to-date. This very recently released collection was just right, with a mixture of funny, moving, insightful and emotive poems. I’ll probably never be the best at reading poems – I somehow just prefer to hear them than read them – but this collection was a nice introduction to the modern British poetry scene.
The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole, 1764
On to something completely different! This short story is often credited as the first Gothic novel, and although there are certainly many of the hallmarks we have come to associate with the genre (ghosts, mystery, romance), I can’t say it would be my favourite example. It’s a bit dry by modern standards (or even by comparison with slightly later examples from its own time), and its historical setting doesn’t really satisfy the modern taste for realism. It reads more like a fairy tale than a novel, and it fits with the kind of medievalising tendency of the gothic movement of the time. An interesting historical artefact, but not one I would necessarily recommend if you’re after a great read. I suppose the first of something isn’t always the best!
At Certain Points We Touch, Lauren John Joseph, 2022
Wow, this book was a real experience! The characters felt totally honest and real – there was no shying away from their mistakes, flaws and unlikeable qualities. It was a perhaps strangely addictive read, as I often found myself annoyed with the characters (in a good way!), but it made for compelling reading. It is in places fairly graphic (your sense of smell will be engaged at some points, and not really for the better), but there is nothing gratuitous, or which takes away from the characters and their stories. Perhaps not one I’ll be itching to re-read, but I’ll definitely be on the look-out for Lauren John Joseph’s future works.
The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, 1915
This short story has sat on my bookshelves for years (I think I even accidentally had two editions at one point), and I had never bothered to pick it up. Something about the mystique/reputation around Kafka makes it hard not to feel a little intimated by him. However I’m really glad I finally read this. I was most surprised by how funny it was, and how grounded an essentially quite absurd story felt. I’ll leave deep interpretation to others; my two cents are to not let Kafka’s reputation scare you away from this one. It is actually a really gratifying read.
The House, Helen Pitt, 2018
One of the relatively few non-fiction books I read this year, Helen Pitt’s book explores the troubled and dramatic history of the creation of Sydney Opera House. I never quite ‘got the big deal’ about this building until I finally visited it last year. It is truly spectacular, a work entirely of its own, and if you’re into concrete, modern architecture or even just a good story, this book does its history justice. Pitt does a great job of contextualising its construction in the broader Australian history, as well as giving typically overlooked ‘characters’ their fair dues. It’s a fascinating, engaging and easy read, which I’d highly recommend, even if you have no plans to visit the building itself!
The Tempest, William Shakespeare, 1611
While I certainly enjoyed this play more than the Sonnets, I still can’t say I had a fantastic time with it. I think it’s one that definitely needs to be brought to life on stage, and bar a few standout speeches, it’s not one that particularly held my attention.
Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid, 2019
This book feels very of its moment – focusing on the uneasy relationship between a woman of colour and the white family she babysits for. It is a really neatly composed (and relatively short, I think I read it in a day or two) story, with well-developed characters and an actually very sweet tone. It deals really sensitively with what it feels like in your twenties when you don’t quite know what to do with your life, and can feel you’re being pulled in different directions, as well as the conflicts (minor and major) that this can bring about in our friendships. I found it pretty much impossible not to picture the potential love interest as Armie Hammer, and I think that might be the closest thing to a spoiler I get in this post.
Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, 1990
Apparently August was not a great reading month for me (possibly because my mum was visiting for half of it), but the one book I did get through was worth it. This had actually been sitting half read for a while, but it just seemed to really match the tone I was after for a dreary winter month, so I picked it up again. I think when I first started reading it I hadn’t actually read any Terry Pratchett (which tells you how long ago that was!), and I still haven’t read any standalone Gaiman. Now I have read some Pratchett, I think you can tell which parts lean more towards his writing than Gaiman’s, and these are probably my favourite bits. If, like me, you’re a fan of the excellent TV series, don’t expect quite the same story, but they actually capture the tone of the book really well (perhaps thanks to Gaiman’s close involvement). It’s a fun, albeit long, read, and just the kind of slightly whimsical book that makes the winter feel a bit shorter. Highly recommend!
Taste: My Life Through Food, Stanley Tucci, 2021
Stanley Tucci has made a very successful side-line for himself in food television and writing, known for his personal reflections and deep knowledge of food (particularly Italian food). This latest book takes this a step further, using recollections and memories of food to weave his life story. It was an enjoyable read, with his voice coming through strongly in his charming, at times slightly arrogant tone. What is clear is that his love of food and life is totally genuine, and the recipes he shares, be they simple or more complex, capture an earnest belief in the power of food to bring joy and connection. For fans of his lockdown videos, he also includes a fair number of cocktail recipes, so even if you’re not much of a cook, there’s something on offer!
The Idiot, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, 1869
It’s quite a long time since I tackled one of the classic Russian authors, so I thought it was time to give one a shot. I’m not sure I chose the best one to get back into them with. I haven’t read any Dostoevsky before, and it turns out that this is not necessarily representative of his work. He apparently sort of made up the plot as he went along, more focusing on aiming to make a truly ‘good’ protagonist. The early momentum is soon left a little by the wayside, and it becomes rambling and hard to follow, dashing all over the place without much sense of motivation. I genuinely enjoyed the opening chapters, and did feel plunged into another world. Unfortunately, by the later chapters, it felt a bit of a repetitive slog. However, I enjoyed his general writing style and those early chapters enough that I will definitely be trying some of his other works.
New People, Danzy Senza, 2017
Unfortunately I can’t really remember all that much about this book! Not the best review in and of itself… I remember finding this fairly enjoyable, if not really a standout read. I suppose it broadly fits into that millennial novel trend of ‘the life you think you want and the life you really want might not be the same thing’. If a version of that centred around strained romances appeals to you, by all means give it a try. Sadly however it clearly did not leave a strong impression on me.
Sleeping Murder, Agatha Christie, 1976
This is actually one of my favourite Miss Marple books. I like Miss Marple’s little accomplices, and Gwenda, the protagonist of this novel, is just the fit. It has a slightly spooky vibe to it, as Gwenda seems to be having visions of a murder in the house that she moves into in a quaint seaside village. As you’d expect from Christie, it’s a well-crafted murder mystery, albeit with perhaps a slightly more far-fetched conclusion than some of her others, and a thoroughly entertaining read.
A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, Jessie Tu, 2020
This fits firmly into the current (or perhaps already passing?) trend of self-destructive millennial women who are trying to overcome their apparently fundamental flaws to achieve some degree of stability and happiness. That’s a slightly cynical read though, as I think this is actually a really well-written and engaging version of that basic genre. Based in Sydney, it explores the life of former child prodigy violinist Jena Lin, as she grapples with the changing expectations adulthood has brought, expressing her loneliness through hook-ups and a complicated attitude towards her own talent. An easy but interesting read, this book stayed with me despite its relative brevity, and I’ll be on the look out for Jessie Tu’s future works.
The Lives of the Saints – The Laureate Lectures, Sebastian Barry, 2022
I’ll admit that this is a rather random choice – a very short collection of Sebastian Barry’s lectures, delivered as part of his turn as the Irish Laureate for Fiction. I read and really enjoyed Barry’s Days without End, so when I saw this pop up in my library’s app, I thought I’d give them a try. I have no idea why it turned up in the collection of my local library. But it was a kind of fascinating window into a world I know so little about: the Irish theatre scene, with its great creators and actors, worthy of plays themselves. As such a fair amount of it was probably lost on me, these names are not ones that are familiar to me, but Barry writes them so sincerely and in such a well-observed way that they came alive as characters in spite of this. One quotation, from his play The Steward of Christendom, with which the second lecture concludes, really moved me, to the point that I will quote it here. I hope to read and watch more of his novels and plays in future.
“And I would call that the mercy of fathers, when the love that lies in them deep like the glittering face of a well is betrayed by an emergency, and the child sees at last that he is loved, loved and needed and not to be lived without, and greatly”.Sebastian Barry, The Steward of Christendom
A Murder is Announced, Agatha Christie, 1950
This is one of the classic Miss Marples, and perhaps one of the most adapted for television. It’s a classic for a reason, with a great murder, a difficult but not entirely impossible to unravel plot, and fun characters. It is let down by Christie’s typical reliance on stereotypes for servants and people who aren’t British, with the character Mitzi, a European refugee, being the most poorly written and least developed. Unfortunately you come to expect this of Christie, particularly in her writing about servants (as I discussed in my review of Murder at the Vicarage), so while it is not a surprise, it does still take away from ones enjoyment.
Call for the Dead, John le Carre, 1961
I realised that one of my favourite genres of TV/film is Cold War thrillers, so I thought it was about time I read the grand-daddy of the genre, and pick up some le Carre. I’ve tried to read his Smiley books in order, even if this meant starting with the less familiar ones. I found this one really gripping, and got through it in I think a day or two. Definitely lived up to my expectations.
A Murder of Quality, John le Carre, 1962
As you can see, I clearly enjoyed le Carre, because I went straight on to the next one! This one was a little bit different to what I expected, being set in a boarding school. It was however still a really good read, with Smiley at the centre, and again I read it very quickly.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carre, 1963
The first of the better known Smiley books, and one on which I believe some of the TV and film adaptations are based. I can see why it has become a classic – it’s gripping and has a sense of realism which (at least to an outsider) feels very genuine. The characters are surprisingly well developed, and, unusually, I think that goes for the female characters too. Definitely scratches the thriller itch, without feeling like you’re compromising too much as you can with some of the more modern versions.
They Do it With Mirrors, Agatha Christie, 1952
I was on holiday for the last five books of October, and I think it shows! I definitely fell back on some comfort reads, so it was no surprise that another Christie would pop up! This is another of the classic Miss Marples, and very fun it was too.
After Sappho, Selby Wyn Schwartz, 2022
This book was a little hard to get through if I’m really honest. It’s kind of a collection of stories about women from the 19th century onwards – all of whom are real women, who (as the title would suggest) have in common their love of other women. There are famous names, Sarah Bernhardt, Virginia Wolff, Lina Poletti, and I found it slightly hard to tell whether what I was reading was based on written sources, and how much it is speculation on the part of the author. Although perhaps this is a little pedantic of me – it doesn’t really matter which is true. The stories reveal the difficulties women have faced, and the different ways they have found to overcome these, in order to live true to themselves and their lovers. I think there is a little bit of a bias towards stories about men loving men in publishing, so it was a nice change to read this book which unashamedly doesn’t really care about men at all. I think I would have preferred a slightly more straightforward structure – if anything this collection makes me want to pick up biographies of the women it deals with. But it was certainly an interesting read, with some beautiful writing, and moving evocations of the existences of these inspirational women.
A Pocketful of Rye, Agatha Christie, 1953
Back to another comfort read! I can’t say this is my favourite Miss Marple, but it is a fun story, and the premise of the murders being tied to the nursery rhyme gives you something a bit different to chew on compared with her other novels (of course with the exception of And Then There Were None).
The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie, 1920
Amazingly, despite having read and watched a lot of Christie, I had never read a Poirot. I think the first thing that struck me about this first of his features is that it is quite clear it is from a lot longer ago than the Marples. The style is very twenties, and has a bit of more of P G Wodehouse feel. Strangely I couldn’t quite get into Poirot as a character in this novel – he is more a collection of repeated actions than a fully formed character. Of course, the same could be said of Miss Marple in some ways, but I think we get more of an insight into Marple’s psychology than we do Poirot’s. This is however his first outing, so perhaps I should cut him some slack and try the next one!
One Hundred Days, Alice Pung, 2021
This book is a fascinating exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, and the destructive ways love can manifest in this perhaps most complex of relationships. Woven through this is the added difficulty of navigating Australia as an immigrant, and the extra pressures this brings. Despite the actual experiences of the characters being very different to my own, I still found this novel quite relatable – the story itself is so well-written, and the characters so real, that is is hard not to get drawn into their lives. I would really recommend this one – something very different to my comfort reads, and yet I still found it quite comforting.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Expanded Edition), Reni Eddo-Lodge, 2018
I often find this kind of book slightly difficult, not because of the content necessarily, but because if you were even vaguely ‘online’ and left-wing in the period, it’s hard not to feel the content is a little repetitive. You’ll have read the stats and heard the stories, seen the videos and expressed your outrage. Eddo-Lodge is without a doubt a great writer, and I think this is a great introduction to the issues for those who are a little less in touch with the movement. I can’t in any stretch claim to have been a very active participant in this movement, but the book still feels a little ‘101’. It sold in huge numbers during the Black Lives Matter protests, and perhaps has sat unread by many of those who picked it up. What it kind of lacks is actionable advice. However I think maybe this is a little bit the point as well. Being actively anti-racist as a white person isn’t as simple as demanding that people of colour provide a tick list which you can thoughtlessly complete – it’s about deconstructing ways of thinking, advocating in the places and spaces you have power, and ensuring that you’re not speaking over or on behalf of people. So although it felt quite familiar in places, this was still a thought-provoking read, which I’d encourage you to try if you feel this is an area your knowledge is lacking in.
Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton, 2018
This novel has a kind of epic scope and scale that I didn’t come across in many other books this year. It felt a bit YA at times, but it was a really gripping, engaging read. Set in Queensland and following the story of Eli as he navigates life surrounded by drug dealers and troubled parents, it does have quite a cinematic quality to it, particularly as it races towards its conclusion. I would be surprised if it isn’t adapted for TV or film at some point. Some of you might take that as a criticism, but know that I definitely mean it as a compliment!
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, Akwaeke Emezi, 2022
This books seems to have sparked some lively Twitter debates about the actions of the characters online, and I can kind of see why! It follows artist Feyi as she struggles to move on from the death of her husband and embrace new romantic opportunities – which becomes only more difficult when she falls for her kind-of-boyfriend’s dad. I don’t usually find myself actively annoyed at characters, regardless of their flaws, but I can’t say I found anyone in this novel particularly likeable! The most realistic thing about them was their flaws, and despite having understandable motivations, I still found them kind of off-putting. But probably my least favourite thing was the style of writing – it just didn’t do it for me. Putting it bluntly, this is a really horny book, which I of course have no problem with, but I found the writing of the romance scenes just hard to read. The number of times many emotions passed over someone’s face or eyes in quick succession felt just untrue to me – some variety in description would have leant greater depth to these moments, and made the romance feel more earned. Still, it was a good story, with some highlights. It it Emezi’s first romance novel, so perhaps they need some practice to get into it more. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for their other works, and given the parts I liked about this novel, maybe give their non-romance works a try.
The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien, 1954
This is probably my ultimate comfort read. I wanted something easy and ‘cosy’ (if you can call it that) to read on the plane home to the UK (a very long flight from Australia), and so having started to re-read this the previous year, I picked it up again. Fellowship is probably my favourite of the trilogy, just because it includes all the lovely Hobbiton and Shire sections which I love so much. If you’re most familiar with the films (even the extended versions) there’s lot of great stuff you’re missing out on in the early chapters (even if you’re not a fan of Tom Bombadil), so it’s worth having a read. Looking back at it now I definitely picked up on the problematic elements more than in the past – the descriptions of evil characters frequently have not so subtle racialised characteristics to them – which does detract from the overall enjoyment. However I think I go into Tolkien with a strong sense that I would probably not have liked him as a person, and would not agree with many of his view (I’ve heard stories about his attitudes to women in Oxford which are also highly off-putting). So I kind of take what I can from his works, with the recognition that there’s going to be some stuff in there I’m not comfortable with. I do love his characters, the setting is incredible, and I’ve been almost surprised by just how good a story LOTR still is, even after I’ve been obsessed with it for so many years.
Marple, Various, 2022
This is a new collection of short Miss Marple stories by a range of contemporary authors, including Val McDermid, Kate Mosse, and Naomi Alderman. Of the twelve novelists chosen for this selection, only three are women of colour, which is disappointing, although the high representation of white women is probably indicative of the state of publishing in general. The quality of these short stories varies enormously, and none of them really capture the mix of wit, ingenuity and intelligence that is Christie’s hallmark. The worst fail to convincingly recreate Marple as a character, while others make valiant efforts to overcome some of the negatives about Christie’s writing which I mentioned earlier. Overall none of these stories really entertained me to the same degree as Christie’s original works, and most left me wondering quite what they added (given the large number of books and short stories Christie wrote herself). They felt TV-adaptation level for the most part – perhaps a limitation of being so short. Even if you’re a big Marple fan, I wouldn’t recommend running out to buy this. Some of them were enjoyable, but you’re probably better off exploring Christie’s own back catalogue.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843
An appropriate one to end the year on! I haven’t read all that much Dickens, and have never tackled this one before. I actually started reading it just after watching A Muppet Christmas Carol, and I was surprised by how accurate the film was to the text, even down to specific lines! Even the goofy ones! It was a fun little read, and although the story was very familiar, there was still some novelty to it. A suitably festive final read of the year I reckon.
I thought this year it would be fun to do a bit of an analysis on my reading habits.
First off, I thought I’d take a look at how many books I borrowed vs. owned that I read this year. Of the 53 books I read this year, only 13 were books I owned or bought, whereas 40 were borrowed. This is slightly muddied by the fact that ‘borrowed’ includes through Amazon Prime, and ‘Own’ includes books that were free of charge, like those found through Project Gutenberg. However the general trend shows that I was far more likely to make the most of my local library’s lending app access than to go out and buy a book. This is a real change for me – back when I lived in the UK I had a serious book-buying habit, unable to enter a charity shop without coming out with another new to me book, or four. This isn’t sustainable either in terms of space or in terms of my actual ability to get through books, so I’m really pleased that I seem to have broken out of this habit.
Next I wanted to look at the types of book I was actually consuming. Given the big leap in the number of books I read this year, I wanted to know whether this was because I picked up more ‘easy’ reads like short stories and poetry collections, or whether it represents a genuine increase in the time I spent reading. A real increase would be great, as what I know of my reading habits would mean that I was actually swapping time on social media (scrolling through Twitter before bed) for something that I got genuine pleasure from.
Overall I think it looks like the latter: even taking into account different types of book I read, I still read more than I did last year. When it came down to it I hadn’t read as many non-novels as I thought I had – they clearly stood out in my memory!
Next up I was intrigued to see if there were any particular time periods I was favouring. In the past my reading has been very much focused on older ‘classic’ novels, and I haven’t paid much attention to contemporary authors and new works. This is something I’ve tried to work on. As you can see below, I think this has largely paid off. Just over half of my reading came from the 2010s and 2020s. The second biggest decade was the 1950s, which I think represents the large number of Christies I read this year, with some other big decades being the 1960s, 1980s, and 1890s (slightly unexpectedly!). Otherwise my reading was pretty well-dispersed across time.
I couldn’t call myself a feminist culture writer if I didn’t consider the gender of the authors I am reading. In the previous couple of years I have made a concerted effort to read more women (hence by The Reading List series), recognising that the majority of books I read growing up were by men. So I was actually really surprised by the results from this year. I’ve counted More Fiya separately as it has works by people of many genders, and Lauren John Joseph uses they/them pronouns, so although I am not entirely sure how they identify, I have included them as non-binary for the purpose of this list. I’m kind of amazed that despite a general awareness, I’ve still ended up with nearly half of my reading being books by men! While this isn’t necessarily an inherent problem, I’d really like to maintain my aim of reading diverse authors and not falling back into ‘canonical’ reading, or just over-emphasis of white men. So definitely something to work on next year!
Finally, the above results might be slightly explained by looking at my most read authors. My most frequently read author was Agatha Christie. That isn’t a surprise at all – I was actually expecting to have read more than the total of six that I in fact had. She is a real comfort read for me, with her light-hearted (well, for murder mysteries!), witty books, so I expect this trend of her featuring heavily is likely to continue. My second most read author was John le Carre – again, not a shock there as I read the three total books by him consecutively. Finally, the only other repeat authors were Richard Osman, and William Shakespeare, with two apiece. Good company for Richard there! So even though my most-read author was a woman, my next top three were all men.
There were plenty of other ways I could have broken down the stats on this . For instance I was considering a breakdown by nationality, but I thought that might get a little too complicated to define. So in the end I felt that the ones I’ve picked out are a fairly comprehensive set, and help me get a good picture of what my reading actually looks like. It has been a bit of an eye-opener for me – I’ve done ‘better’ in some respects and ‘worse’ in others than I expected. Ultimately this has been a really interesting way to think about what I want from reading, and what role I want my reading to play for me. Sometimes it’s nice to just ‘switch off’ with a good book, but I also want to engage with fiction and non-fiction in a way that carries some social awareness, and avoid falling into the trap of just maintaining the current dominant hierarchies. Taking an analytical look at what I actually covered has been super useful for this.
Conclusion – Highs and lows
All in all it’s been a really fun year of reading and I’ve come across lots of new favourites. Authors whose work I’ll be keeping an eye out for, books I know I’ll want to re-read in future, and yes let’s be honest a few I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on!
Starting with my least favourite, I think I’d probably go with the Sidney Chambers book. It just didn’t do it for me, in style or content. A bit of a surprise as I usually love detective novels, but this just didn’t hit the spot. Not a character or author I’ll be revisiting in future.
On a happier note, I think my favourite book of the year was The Memory Police. It was just so different to anything else I’ve read, enthralling, mysterious – I loved it! Funnily enough I read both of these in March, so it was really a month of contrasts! In terms of authors I want to explore more of, definitely Yoko Ogawa, as well as Elif Shafak, Shankari Chandran, and Lauren John Joseph.
So that brings my Year of Reading in 2022 to a close – a belated round-up, but a year I’ve enjoyed looking back on! My aims for 2023 are to continue to embrace more contemporary fiction, to read more non-fiction, and to make an effort to keep my reading diverse. I’m not going to get too caught up on beating by total for this year – 53 felt like a bit of a stretch, and I know I’m going to have some super busy periods in 2023, so we’ll see how it goes!
I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my reading in 2022. Did you read any of the same books? I’d love to know if you agreed with me, or if we had wildly different opinions about any of them! Reading is so subjective, and it’s always fascinating to hear different takes on works, so please do feel free to share in a comment! What are your reading goals for 2023?