What I read in 2022
According to Goodreads, this year, I read 40 books. This was a huge jump from the 8 I read in 2021. I had more time on my hands after leaving Snyk at the end of spring, and devoted a lot of that time to listening to audiobooks, reading on a kindle, and reading real, physical books – either borrowed from friends or purchased on a whim. I followed closely what my friends were reading and rating, gravitating towards those, or reading books by the same author if I’d really enjoyed one of their novels.
I get a lot of listening done while doing chores, jigsaws, going for walks, and drifting off to sleep. Whenever I run out of interesting podcasts and Audible credits, I scour the free catalogue for old novels to listen to. This year I enjoyed Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. A particular favourite was Emma by Jane Austen, so elegantly written and not the soppy romance modern retellings led me to believe it would be. I struggled through Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the toss and turn of its direction proving hard to follow – and a distinct lack of actual whales for the first 30 chapters!
The previous year, I’d very much enjoyed Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, discovered thanks to Phoebe Judge’s lockdown project, Phoebe Reads a Mystery. I followed that up with Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth which was just as enthralling, and From the Earth to the Moon which I enjoyed less but was still entertaining.
Phoebe Reads a Mystery also included some Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes which I enjoyed, So I downloaded 72 hours of Stephen Fry’s narration as bedtime listening, plus a couple of spin-offs written in recent years. These seemed like a good opportunity to omit some of the misogyny and racism in the original texts, but disappointingly they didn’t.
To segway into the next section, I read a couple of sci-fi classics I’d heard references to in passing, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, written in the 1930s, and The Midwich Cuckoos, written by John Wyndham in the 1950s. They weren’t my favourites but they were weird and thought provoking.
A friend lent me their copy of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and after a tough few chapters getting to grips with the writing style and heavy cyberpunk, I got really into it. Published in the early 90s, it’s one of the inspirations for the modern metaverse. It contains a lot of nerdery, but the parts I enjoyed most were some of the descriptions of the city, the Raft, and the characters.
The Andy Weir rabbit hole
Audible kept recommending I try Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary. The premise sounded a bit ridiculous – only one man can save the planet but he’s woken up as the sole survivor on a spaceship and can’t remember who he is – but I’m glad I gave it a go because it was a fun book. It works well as audio as there are a lot of non-speech sounds, and it’s well narrated.
Immediately after that, I read Forward, a series of short stories set in the future, as it had a story by Andy Weir in it about quantum computing security vulnerabilities (Randomize). I enjoyed most of the books in this series, particularly Summer Frost by Blake Crouch about an NPC (non-player character) that goes rogue. In part of the dialogue, the NPC is asked what their favourite book is, after reading every book available to them. They reply Alexandre Dumas’s classic, The Count of Monte Cristo. I decided to read this too and enjoyed it immensely.
The Red Rising trilogy
I didn’t expect to enjoy Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy as much as I did. It’s set in the distant future where society is strictly segregated into a caste system based on colours, with red being the lowest and gold being the highest. Reds are enslaved to serve the Golds, and Darrow is a miner, believing he is helping terraform a planet to help humanity survive, only to learn it was terraformed many generations ago, and his people are working to the bone to serve Golds who live in unimaginable opulence. He is tasked to infiltrate the Golds and help free his people. Brown paints a vast, sprawling world full of vivid characters, cultures, myths and technology. It’s overly gruesome at times, particularly in the first book where Darrow witnesses, and is complicit in, extreme brutality at The Institute – a battle royale style training ground for Golds.
There are more books set a decade ahead of the first three, but I’m giving Darrow a bit of a break before rushing into these.
A lot of the books I read in 2020 and 2021 were about management and product. This year, they were almost all fiction. One of those was Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. It’s set in the near future where carbon reduction goals are not being met and climate change is killing millions, causing those impacted to fight back ruthlessly against the polluters. The plot feels uncomfortably plausible, but left me feeling hopeful for the future. The audiobook is very good. Chapters have different narrators from around the world, and they use a range of people to read these, so most accents feel authentic.
I went through a bit of a Kazuo Ishiguro phase at the beginning of the year. I bought Klara and the Sun on a whim because the book was so pretty. The cover was cut short horizontally with a square hole cut through it to look like a window which opened onto a blue page with a yellow circle peeping through. The edges of the pages were tinted blue. The sun is an important character in the book, as it charges up the main character who is a solar-powered android.
After enjoying Klara and the Sun, I worked my way through A Pale View of the Hills and Never Let Me Go, both unsettling in their own ways. The Remains of the Day is still on my shelf waiting to be read.
There’s something distinctly unsatisfying about Ishiguro’s books – they always keep a little bit too much to themselves, and you’re left to fill in a lot of the blanks. But I think that mystery is what keeps me coming back.
Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven was my favourite read a few years back, so I downloaded Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel on my kindle before a long flight. I’d finished it by the end of the trip. She has a unique writing style – her characters are deep and her observations acute. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the way she writes, but she does it in a way that paints her worlds in vivid colours. The Glass Hotel flits between characters so there isn’t one protagonist but two or three, so you get a set of perspectives. Sea of Tranquility is on my list for 2023.
The Forward series encouraged me to read more short stories, which led to me picking up a copy of Salt Slow by Julia Armfield. Her prose is eerie and thought provoking, with some of the stories lingering with me for days. I followed that up with Stories from My Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami, very short stories about the lives of people in a single neighbourhood – “fictions small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand”. I didn’t get on so well with that one, but I liked the concept.
I finished reading two books I’d started a long time ago – Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything, and Brian Clegg’s The Reality Frame. How to Invent Everything is an instruction manual to help you rebuild civilisation if your time machine breaks down in the past, and explained how things work as well as how they were invented. I’m a fan of Ryan North, from his writing on Squirrel Girl and Adventure Time comics to the time he and his dog got stuck in a hole, and this book didn’t disappoint.
At the end of last year, Russell Davies published Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint. This was a fun read, and also a good prop for trolling the PowerPoint-haters.
My 2022 favourite
Published in 1938, A Woman in the Polar Night is the memoir of Christiane Ritter, an Austrian painter, who decided to join her husband for a year on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. The story is enchanting, and evoked memories of lockdown – living in close proximity to the same people and not seeing anyone else for weeks, the fissures of tension that can form, and the steady adaption to a new, strange normality. Food was no longer food but calories, such was the importance of gathering the right kind of calories to see them through the harsh and barren winter, where protein would become incredibly difficult to acquire. It’s a beautiful book, and Ritter seems so ahead of her time.
I’ve already got quite a stack of books to take me well into the next year. I’m hoping I can keep my reading habit up as I’ve really enjoyed stepping into all these different worlds.