2022 was full of good books for me. It was the year I got really into John Le Carre, as befits our increasingly geopolitically complicated world. I read The Looking-Glass War, Our Game, The Night Manager, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and Silverview all in the same year, after getting hooked on The Spy who came in from the cold in a beautiful vintage edition I borrowed from my friend Anne which belonged to her father. Of all the books, that one is still my favourite, with The Night Manager being a close second. I love his insights into a certain class of Brit and their codes of honour, as well as all the twisty plots, of course. In my more grandiose moments I think myself capable of writing a spy thriller, then I crack open another Le Carre and think to myself, nah, I don’t think I’m quite qualified enough to do it!
The one novel which gave me the heady sensation of reading deep into the night and not being able to put it down was a new release by Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I was attracted to its beautiful cover and Shakespearean title, but also picked it up because it is about game developers, and I kind of feel like I willed myself into their world this year with my VR artwork showcase in PICA and upcoming other projects in the games world and virtual reality. The book itself had stunningly well-rounded characters, and is a moving portrayal of friendship and work mates in the millennial all-consuming ideal career of literary games. It isn’t a romance, but it is about love, says the back cover, and I have to agree. It was unputdownable for me. Another book that took me by surprise and had me turning pages was The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, so much so that I picked up his Reasons to Stay Alive, which was also an excellent book and pretty much does what it says on the tin.
The non-fiction title that stood out for me this year was Indelible City by Louisa Lim, a loving portrait of Hong Kong in an age of protest written by one of its native journalists (even though she has a disclaimer that she was always a bit of an outsider, she did grow up there). The most memorable thing about this biography of a city has got to be the King of Kowloon, an enigmatic artist who graffitied the city in his lifetime with land claims that resonate more and more given the contested nature of the former British colony.
I always allow myself a few re-reads in a year, and this year it was the irresistible Normal People by Sally Rooney, which I consider a perfect book. I also read Beautiful World, Where are you? By the same author, but it paled in comparison, especially with the clunky insertion of the pandemic in its final pages which felt like an unnecessary add-on. I was watching the new BBC adaptation of Normal People while doing my re-read and it is very true to the book, and also very sexy.
I also re-read Emerging Viruses by Leonard Horowitz, a very topical book which I prophetically found myself reading on the eve of the pandemic in 2019 and wanted to review, The Freedom Artist by Ben Okri (an amazing book), The Idiot by Elif Batuman (utterly hilarious, though her follow up Either/Or flailed around in the same territory quite unnecessarily), and Contact by Carl Sagan. The Pratchetts I re-read this year (can there be a pandemic year with no Pratchett re-reading?) were Reaperman and Hogfather, both of the Death subseries of the Discworld novels. I also re-read Feet of Clay, maybe my favourite of the mysteries the Watch ever solve.
In poetry, I had the pleasure of reading the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, trans-created by Ursula Le Guin. What an amazing translation! Given that everyone translating this ancient text has to consult several reference books and other translations and dictionaries, I didn’t find the fact that Le Guin didn’t know Chinese to be that objectionable. More to the point, she understands Daoism. (Her science fiction certainly shows it!) I had a good year with Ursula Le Guin too – I started the year off with The Lathe of Heaven, a twisty psychological specfic about a man who can change reality when he dreams it, and ended it with the Word for World is Forest, in a lovely yellowing paperback borrowed from my friend Liana.
Speaking of Liana, as in Liana Joy Christensen, I read her poetry collection Wild Familiars for a second time this year and found myself resonating very much with it again. And another standout book of poetry for me was Blue Horses by Mary Oliver, who is always a poet who can put true things so simply and yet clearly that you couldn’t imagine any other words would do better.
I’m not a huge fan of short stories and my reading list shows it, but I have to mention Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto. I had heard of this Japanese writer before, but I am so glad I tried her short stories because they were piquant, quietly observant and delicately moving. The book was a page turner and so wise about a very stable world that nevertheless contains heartbreak.
In Jungian news, I re-read Listening to the Rhino by Janet O’Dallet, a Jungian psychoanalyst. Its creative treatment of trauma and storytelling was healing for me. I also re-read Dream Animals by James Hillman which is a beautifully illustrated work about the psychological significance of different animals of the imagination.
And finally let’s not forget the science fiction. The scifi novel that stood out for me this year was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson for the effortless cool of its protagonist, Cayce. I had bought this book a few years back on the recommendation of the Weird Studies podcast which I listen to religiously but hadn’t cracked it open til this year. And I was immediately plunged into the intrigue of the early 2000s internet culture and its forums and obsessions. It’s actually quite light on speculative elements, and is also a clearly post-9/11 novel that carries the melancholy that descended with the dust of the twin towers – Cayce’s father disappears the day of the attacks.
I could just as easily have said this was the year of Shaun Tan as of John Le Carre; I re-read many of his picture books, from The Red Tree to The Rabbits. I also treated myself to revisiting Roald Dahl classics for children that I had read decades ago – The Witches, Boy, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox.
All in all, I read 86 books in 2022 and I’m quite pleased with myself for mixing new releases with old favourites and classics. These are by no means the most acclaimed books that came out this year, merely my personal favourites and those which resonated with me in my life. I decided to write this just to remember what I read and my impressions and also for anyone who’s looking for a good read in 2023!