Reaching the end of 2022, I’ve been thinking of how I would describe my year of reading. There have been some definite highlights (I’m looking at you, A Little Life, Sorrow and Bliss, The Mirror and the Light, and The Arsonist), but there have also been a lot of ho hum reads.
I feel like it has been a year of reading without structure, and I have flopped between different genres, from trying science fiction with Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed to following the crowd to Sally Rooney’s latest, and re-reading Harry Potter with my youngest.
I tried to find the enchantment that I felt on first reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, but somehow the story didn’t affect me the way it did the first time.
But perhaps this flipping and flopping reflects my reading habits every year, when I’ve been attracted to the latest IT novel on Bookstagram or discovered a book I’ve been meaning to read for years at the Salvos, then mixing it up with a classic.
And maybe, that is exactly the way I like it, switching between genres and taking some (small) risks with my reading habits. I mainly come back to the harrowing books that I love, but enjoy the meander through some less likely reads.
Here are my favourites of the year. Are there any you agree with? Or is there a book that you read in 2022 and would like to recommend?
My favourite reads of 2022
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
I loved this funny, warm insight into relationships and mental illness. A particular high point was the main character’s sister, and all of her hilarious comments about parenting toddlers. A few definitely rang true!
The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper
I’m not sure if it was the fascinating subject-matter or Hooper’s beautiful language, but I was pleased to have finally picked up The Arsonist. This book about the deadly fires in Gippsland and the man accused of lighting them was insightful, compassionate and unputdownable.
The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku
This beautiful little book is like a little burst of sunshine – hard to imagine, given that it largely takes place in a concentration camp during World War II. However, Eddie’s outlook on life, despite the darkness that he has endured, is heartwarming and definitely gave me food for thought as I complained about some of the obstacles I have faced in recent years. It is short, sweet and memorable.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
On the other end of the scale, this tome was a wrenching read and there were times when I wasn’t sure I could finish. I loved reading about Yanagihara’s extraordinary characters and the battles they faced, especially that of Jude. However, it is not for the fainthearted. Having finished the book, I’m so pleased I persisted through the difficult pages, as it was an incredibly rewarding read. It would be hard not to end up a more compassionate person after experiencing the lives of these beautiful, flawed characters.
Oh, William! and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I can’t resist Elizabeth Strout’s characters – most notably Olive Kitteridge – but a new favourite is Lucy Barton. I love the domestic stage that Strout creates, and where her characters shine. It is the small aspects of life and relationships that Strout picks up on in Oh, William!, exemplified by the tolerant exasperation of the title of the Booker shortlisted novel, and somehow I find this focus relaxing and relatable. While many characters fade in my memory, I find Lucy and Olive difficult to forget.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Towles’ story of a man imprisoned in a hotel in Russia was at once comforting and interesting. I loved reading about Count Alexander Rostov and the ways he learned to live and thrive as a political prisoner confined to his regular restaurants and his small bedroom in the luxury hotel. The ending was perfect.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
It was incredibly sad to hear about the death of Mantel after I had enjoyed reading her Wolf Hall trilogy so much. These books were stunning in their evocation of historical figures including Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell and I’m disappointed that readers won’t have the fortune to read any future novels by Mantel. In 2023, I plan to work my way through previous works by Mantel.
Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna
Australian author Sofie Laguna is my favourite writer and her latest didn’t disappoint. Set at the foot of Victoria’s Grampians, it is the story of a boy and his journey to manhood after encountering a traumatic event. Laguna portrays her main character as complex and beautiful, and his experience is always accompanied by beautiful descriptions of the surrounding landscape. The ending was devastating.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
I know this novel has attracted a lot of criticism but after a dear friend recommended it to me, I decided to read it. While I understand the criticism leveled at the book (centring on the sometimes inaccurate portrayal of Mexico and its people by a North American writer), I found Cummins’ story of an escape from gang violence to be gripping. It also (imperfectly, according to critics, illuminated an important issue that faces many Mexicans who hope to find safety in the US.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
I can’t get Agnes Bain out of my mind after reading Douglas Stuart’s award-winning Shuggie Bain. This story about a mother’s addiction and her son’s efforts to save her and himself is terribly sad, but also incredibly beautiful. In many ways, it is a story of love between son and mother, and the lengths one will go to in order to survive.
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
This was a strange but irresistible read that, like Sorrow and Bliss, approached a challenging and serious topic with humour and sensitivity. The main character lives with an eating disorder, which means she has to structure her day to align with her eating habits. The lengths she goes to are extreme and hilarious and it is hard not to laugh as she details the extent to which food influences her life. Eventually, relief comes in the form of the woman who serves her up an alarmingly over-sized soft-serve yoghurt.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This book had been on my radar for years, and I finally had the chance to read it. I’m glad I did as Bel Canto was very different to any other book I have read. It is about a hostage situation in which a VIP and opera singer, among others, are imprisoned. Over the duration, relationships develop between hostages, and between hostages and their captors. It is a wonderful portrayal of class, culture, power and love.