Picking ten books out of the 101 books I read in 2022 was an interesting task. There are many different criteria I could have used, but this is a list of books I’m most likely to recommend to other people, or to pick up again at some point in the future. I choose ten as an arbitrary number, and some other excellent books have not made the cut, so I’ve listed them at the bottom of the page.
In alphabetical order by author’s name, here are my top ten:
Tender is the Flesh by Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica, is one of the darkest books I’ve read. It’s set after a pandemic has made it impossible for people to eat animals. Instead, groups of humans are bred for meat. It’s a simple idea, but one that Bazterrica pursues pitilessly, with the matter-of-fact treatment of grotesquery making it all the more shocking.
Oliver Burkeman’s 4000 weeks is a great self-help book, in that it undermines the genre’s usual hucksterish enthusiasm and admits that we’re not going to get all that much done in the 4000 weeks that we’re allotted. I wrote about this in October. It’s definitely got me thinking about my life and all the things I want to do differently.
I wrote about Ru Callendar’s What Remains in October. It tells the story of someone who was inspired to become an undertaker, and succeeded by doing things very differently. It’s a searingly honest book that refuses to sanitise death, but it also has a lot to say about the lessons that counter-culture has for mainstream life. Highly recommended.
I was definitely more interested in the Beatles sections than the Bond ones in John Higgs’ combined history Love and Let Die. It’s another good entry in John’s series of books analysing Britishness. I particularly enjoyed seeing how perceptions of the Beatles have changed over the years.
I bought Robin Ince’s Bibliomaniac on a whim during a stressful period of work. It’s an account of a book tour to more than a hundred bookshops and was a delightful, cosy read. It also rekindled my love of second-hand bookshops, which had suffered from the convenience of Amazon. Ince writes “I think I love books even more than I love reading,” and he does a great job of showing why this might be.
Tabitha Lesley’s Sea State was not the book I was expecting. I’d picked it up for an investigation into the lives of oil workers, but inside was a searing account of being the other woman in an affair. Lesley described her life with vivid details, as well as a giving a powerful sense of place for Aberdeen.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb once claimed that you can learn more about politics from books than newspapers. Simon Kuper’s Chums is a good example of this. Looking at the origins of the current political class in their university days, you can see how an Oxford Union style has taken over modern politics. This style seems to be something that the current Labour leader is ill-equipped to deal with.
Ben Myers’ Under the Rock is a wonderful description of the Calder Valley’s history and landscape. In particular, the descriptions of the recent floods are vivid and shocking. This transcends the usual books in the ‘new nature writing’ genre.
qntm’s There is no antimemetics division is a short story collection in the form of a novel. It’s not perfect, but the energy of the stories here makes up for the flaws. Influenced by creepy pasta (and originally written as part of the SCP Foundation) this is very much modern horror, and it feels incredibly fresh.
Olivia Yallop’s Break the Internet was a compelling book on social media, looking at lives of influencers. It’s a topic that dozens of books have been written about already, but Yallop produced an interesting book that moved beyond the cliches and was filled with interesting vignettes. This was also the first book I read in 2022.
- Nick Cave’s interview Faith, Hope and Carnage explored both creativity and grief, and continues Cave’s transformation into a spiritual figure.
- Harry Cole and James Heale’s Liz Truss bio, Out of the Blue, was a good explainer of how that disastrous premiership happened. I wrote about this in detail on my blog.
- Horror novella And Then I Woke Up by Malcolm Devlin was a clever twist on zombie stories. It did a great deal of work in a short space and was one of those rare works of fiction that should have been longer.
- When the Dust Settles by Lucy Easthope was about disaster recovery. It was a shocking book in places, but shows the care that is needed after catastrophe. There’s also some shocking discussion of what austerity has done to preparedness.
- David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device was a great novel about a band, and would probably have made my top ten if I’d given it the focus it deserved. It’s a novel that suffered from being an ebook and I will be reading a physical copy next year.
- Slug by Hollie McNish was a book of very personal poetry, structured like a gig, with discussion around the poems. It’s a beautiful and frank collection.
- Emily St John Mandel’s new novel Sea of Tranquility was beautifully written and incredibly moving, but I the auto-fictions sections felt somehow coy and didn’t work so well for me.
- Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life was just as great as everyone says – entertainingly written, and packed with crazy ideas.
- Dark Slivers by Nick Soulsby was a revelatory book on Nirvana, based around an exploration of their minor album Incesticide.
- Herve Le Tellier’s The Anomaly was a airport-novel style thriller that was also deeply weird, written with a nod to the oulippo.
- Bodies by Ian Winwood was a good book on mental health and addiction in the music industry. The discussions of Lemmy and Lost Prophets managed to go beyond the usual talking points.