So, I’ve never done a reading recap for an entire year. This was an odd experience.
There’s this thing about the Goodreads reading challenge that many people have noticed already, in that it puts this pressure on us to go for quantity above all else. I’m sure it’s not intended that way, but as always, us humans take things too far and then you are, say, racing through a book you’d rather throw out the window (hello Acts of Service), but you’re already 200 pages in and if you abandon it now then you can’t log those, and have I really used my time well if I haven’t logged it? I’m sure this challenge creates different problems for different people, but for me it’s often a year-long sunk-cost fallacy.
What this boils down to is that I have 52 books logged with an average Goodreads rating of 3.4. That’s middling. 3/5 is what I give books that I might as well not have read. And I don’t want to spend my life reading middling books.
So what now? Do I ignore the already-set goal of 40 books this year? Difficult, especially when you see other people happily log 100, 200 per year (How do they do it?). But I guess I’ll try. I have so many 500+ page books on my TBR that 40 already seems optimistic, and I’d love to take my time with them. And yes, abandon the odd book that I don’t like.
Anyway, enough complaining. On to the good stuff:
My favourite novels
My favourite book of the year was Asako Yuzuki’s Butter, a novel about a journalist who forms an obsession with the story of a food blogger on trial for potentially murdering her lovers with the luscious, rich meals she makes for them. It’s a well-paced, intelligent novel about food, passion, women’s bodies in the public eye, friendship and found family. I loved this book. I read it while on a family visit and barely could put it down. Butter is well-written and immersive, and it did for me exactly what a book should do: kept me company, kept me hooked, kept me happy. Like a good meal.
There is currently no English translation that I’m aware of; I read the German edition.
Another favourite was Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Céspedes, the fictional journal of a 1950s Italian housewife who writes about her family life and finds herself coming to terms with her role as a woman in society. I’ve written about it at length, I loved it, I highly recommend. I read the German edition; an English translation is available from Pushkin Press this March.
The Appeal by Janice Hallett was probably my favourite genre book. It’s a stunning crime novel in a unique format that kept me at the edge of my seat, and I can’t wait for her next book.
Other honourable mentions:
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This one’s a re-read that I really got into after reading Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson. My book club was ecstatic about it, too. It’s so dense, so full to the brim with imagery and symbolism, a masterpiece.
- I’m thinking of ending things by Iain Reid. Weird, disturbing, wonderful. Read it in a day.
- Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe. Atmospheric, mysterious, wintery, the audiobook a perfect companion for cold January walks.
My favourite non-fiction books
I read far less non-fiction that fiction and of that, a mildly embarrassing amount is self-help. But that’s just how it is, so that’s what you’re getting now.
My favourite non-fiction book of the year was Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. Sold as “time management for mortals”, it’s a meditation on the limitations of our one human life and how it might be better to say goodbye to the idea that we have full control over all of our time and that our fear of death can be organised away with productivity tools. Might not be for everyone, but I came away feeling a little more free from the pressure I put myself under on a daily basis. Mortality and aging have been topics for me ever since the pandemic ate my early 30s. That time more than any before has shown me how easy it is to go through the motions and let the days and weeks slip past without even being aware of them.
If you’re someone who might need to be reminded of their own death sometimes, I recommend this kurzgesagt video and the accompanying calendar, which has been hanging over my desk since the summer.
Other honourable mentions:
- What Happened to You? by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. One of my first audiobooks in 2022, this one examines early childhood trauma and the importance of very early childhood development. It’s a book for people who’ve been asked “What’s wrong with you?”, advocating for changing the question to “What happened to you?”. I took some important information from it, mainly that trauma can be very early and very small, and ways to cope, even when you’re not quite sure what it is.
- Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. I rarely ever read biographies, and this one is a big one, but so good. Shirley Jackson is one of my favourite authors of all time, and I’ve always wondered what kind of mind creates stories like The Bird’s Nest or The Haunting of Hill House. Ruth Franklin’s biography is informative, thorough and most of all compassionate, and I came away with an even greater appreciation of this amazing author.
- 50 Sätze, die das Leben leichter machen by Karin Kuschik. Okay, I know that “50 sentences to make life easier” sounds super self-helpy and even worse in German. I resist the urge to cringe as I type it out. But, I’m a words person. I know they work, I use them all the time, I believe in their power. Karin Kuschik offers 50 sentences to repeat to yourself and to live by, expressions that can, should you be able to apply them, indeed make your life easier, maybe even change it. These are not affirmations, but more reminders: I will take it easy. I believe that says more about you than it does about me. I decide who upsets me. And so on. I enjoyed the audiobook and took a lot away from it; there’s huge potential here for those who are into this kind of thing.
This is it, my honourable mentions from 2022. For 2023, I hope to read more, and read more slowly, and focus on quality rather than quantity. Or, if I should focus on quantity, I want it to be page count. I have a whole lot of huge books on my TBR.