2022: Just Keep Reading
It has become a tradition without which I cannot close the year. Before New Year's Eve, I compile the books I've read and share highlights with friends and readers. A simple tradition that allows me to look back on the places I've travelled to and the people I've met through reading.
Georgian Bay in December, 2022. Photo credit: Roxanne Dubois.
I thought reading through a pandemic was hard, and struggled to read as much as I normally do last year. Well, it turns out that this year was even more challenging! The Omicron wave, a return to the office and in-person events, actual travel, and some serious political events made this year memorable on many fronts, with maybe fewer books on the compilation list.
The first book I read in 2022 was What Strange Paradise (2021) by Omar El Akkad, as I always try to keep up with the previous year’s Giller Prize. This book dives into the migrant crisis unlike any other. The story begins when bodies wash up on the shores of a small island. In alternating chapters, the situation unfolds either from the perspective of young migrant Amir or from the perspective of a girl who shelters him, speaks a different language, and zigzags around the authorities to keep him safe. A beautiful and difficult book, haunting and devastating, that navigates a political and personal storyline.
In the midst of the Omicron wave where we were still in lockdowns, I read Rules for Visiting (2019) by Jessica Francis Kane. It’s the story of a campus gardener who wins a prize and decides to use the money to visit long-lost friends. Her voice is hilarious and I was delighted to read a book about visiting friends when we could do no such thing.
On the sci-fi front, I finally got to know world-famous author N.K. Jemisin with The City We Became (2020). Cinematographic writing takes the reader through a fast-paced urban adventure. The main characters, city avatars, have been transformed into boroughs of New York. In other words, the City comes alive through the lives and bodies of Manny (Manhattan), Bronca (The Bronx), Brooklyn (Brooklyn), Padmini (Queens) and the primary avatar. They have to work together to defend the city against the invasion of a foreign being aiming to halt the growth and spirit of the city, and consequently cause conflict, pain and suffering. Aislyn (Staten Island), will find herself at a crossroads and have to choose which side she’s on.
New York is the main character of this book, which is a complete whirlwind tour of a city under attack, but fighting back. Special appearances by avatars Sao Paulo and Hong Kong bring even more diversity to this urban mix of people, cultures and space. A wild ride, and a wonderful urban fantasy to read!
In French, my highlight of the year was reading Marguerite Yourcenar’s Mémoires d’Hadrien (1951). A book of historical fiction that imagines the memoirs of Roman Emperor Hadrian. His travels, his relationships, his feelings of success or failure, the various stages of his life. The author’s writing notes at the end put her entire work in context. Part of her fascination with Hadrian was to propose a reflection on someone who had lived a life of action, not only thought or fame. I understand now why this book is one of Yourcenar’s major works. I would suggest reading up on the historical character and context of Hadrian to better appreciate the book. Also translated into English.
I didn’t make much headway on my long list of classics I’m trying to get through, but did read a few of them out-of-order. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger after watching the movie Salinger while in COVID isolation in Newfoundland. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee, which I know I read in high school but clearly did not quite understand everything as my English skills were not what they are today.
While on a wonderful trip to Italy, I read two books on theme. The first was We Want Everything (1971) by Nanni Balestrini, a very short read depicting the reflections of a worker during Italy’s Hot Autumn of 1969-70 when organized strikes demanded better wages and conditions for the country’s industrial workers. Fascinating historical perspective and important labour history - I loved gaining insights into the slogan Vogliamo Tutto (“We Want Everything”).
The second book was Italian Ways (2013) by Tim Parks, a hilarious review of the country’s rail way systems, which I thoroughly enjoyed while riding the Trenitalia from Rome to Cinque Terre, and frequently laughed out loud.
I finished the last book of the Kingston Cycle trilogy by C.L. Polk. Love this author and her magical stories where witches fight for liberation. Highly recommended for those involved in social movements and who enjoy reading fantasy.
There were many book started and never finished this year. The great thing about arriving at the end of the year, and compiling one’s reading in such way, is that I can turn the page and start on a new list right away - readings in 2023.
On a different note, 2022 allowed me to explore alternative platforms to the regular giants like Facebook, Twitter. I had never taken to Goodreads, but always hoped for an online community to keep track of books and share short reviews. I found it! You can find me on bookwyrm - a small, welcoming, ad-free and anti-corporate federated online book exchange. You can track your books, but nothing tracks you. Reach out if you want a guided tour.
Wishing you happy reads, happy trails and all that you want and hope for in 2023.