This year, I have read 38 books — although, for some reason, 2022 has been the year of abandonment.
A record six books have been picked up, started, and put down again, never to be troubled by my rigorous scoring system.
Perhaps I was unlucky in my choices. Or perhaps I am beginning to value my reading time above my loyalty to a tyrannical scoring system.
But, thanks to that tyrannical scoring system, here are the fifteen books that, for me, warranted a perfect five.
For some reason, this year I’ve chosen a winner out of each category of fiction and nonfiction.
(Oh, and at the end I’ll tell you the wonderful bonus book that I didn’t read and probably never will… Ooh, mystery!)
WINNER: The Bones of Barry Knight by Emma Musty
I don’t know how Musty turned such a bleak tale of broken NGOs, broken borders, broken asylum systems and midlife breakdowns into such an enjoyable romp, but she did. She really did. Served with an unexpected twist of metaphysics. Buy it.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: A reread of one of my favourite novels of all time, in honour of ‘22. So good that I dedicated one of this year’s stories to the ideas therein.
Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka: Picked up in Bologna, I was looking for a novel that would transport me. A pageturner about assassins on a train was perfect. Now a Major Hollywood Motion Picture, but don’t let that put you off.
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac: Another reread. There are some books that grow roots with a second look. I don’t think this is one of them, really. Still good, but without the shuddering impact of my first time round.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: What an atmosphere! The flip side of Jane Eyre. What is real, what is truth? Like all the best novels, short, but lingering.
The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter: Colonial and postcolonial Algeria through the eyes of a first generation French-Algerian woman. Unromantic historical fiction inside an unprecious family saga.
WINNER: Free by Lea Ypi
The personal story of a childhood in Albania as it clattered from socialism into capitalism, written by a woman who was there, a woman who is now a professor in political theory at London School of Economics. A healthy tonic for your arguments with neoliberals.
Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher: Strong exegesis on why and how stories affect our psychology. A little repetitive with enthusiasm of various story ‘inventions’, but that’s probably me being British.
I Hate Running by Brendan Leonard: A much funnier and cleverer book than the one I wrote about cycling. Hint: It’s not really about running. Recommended by Mike Sowden of Everything Is Amazing.
Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey: A tour of childhood poverty in Glasgow that illuminates the failings of activism on the left, how identity politics can exclude the working class, and why we should take personal responsibility rather than blaming The System.
How to Change by Katy Milkman: Behavioural psychologist tackles impulsivity, procrastination, forgetfulness, laziness, confidence and conformity. Another cracker recommended by Mike Sowden. Having said that: I remember nothing of this book, not even the chapter headings that I copied out and reprinted above. Time for a reread.
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake: Wondrous. I read half this book in pre-print. It’s worth reading in full, twice. Everything is connected.
100 Acts of Minor Dissent by Mark Thomas: A comedian’s job is to show us the world as it really is, instead of how we assume or are told it is. Only a great comedian would put their dignity on the line and actually try to change that world. Such a comedian is Mark Thomas. Infectious, riotous. National Treasure.
Dare To Lead by Brené Brown: Ah, Brené! The doyenne of shame brings vulnerability to the workplace. Pairs well with a barrage of free resources. Do the work.
Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg: Simple guidance for anyone who wants a framework to understand what’s really underneath the feelings that they’re having. Genuinely life-challenging. More on this next week.
BONUS: One Category-Winning Book That I Didn’t Read (And Probably Never Will)
The Girl Who Rowed The Ocean by Alastair Humphreys is written for kids aged 7-12.
Based on Alastair’s experiences rowing the Atlantic, Bear Grylls called it ‘An inspirational ocean adventure’. But who cares what he thinks?
Much more important is what my niece thinks and she thinks it’s great, so that’s that.
And there you go: sixteen books to put on your (or someone else’s) Christmas list.
How about you? What did you read this year that blew your tiny mind? What challenged you and changed you?
If you’re really keen, you can peruse my previous book lists: 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021