Happy New Year everyone! 2022 is now a done deal; we have completed a journal of 365 pages but as they say, every ending is a new beginning. We have been given a fresh set of 365 blank pages which we can fill with good and lasting memories. While the previous years have been shrouded in uncertainties due to the pandemic, 2023 is shaping up to be a year of good tidings. I sure hope so – despite the ominous forecasts vis-a-vis the global economy – because hope is the only thing that springs eternal.
As has been the tradition in the past couple of years, I am kicking off the new year by looking back to the previous year, its hits, and of course, its mishits. It is also an opportunity to take a glimpse of how the coming year is going to shape up. This book wrap-up is a part of a mini-series that will feature the following:
- 2022 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2022 Book Wrap Up
- 2022 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2022 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2022 New Favorite Authors
- 2023 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2023 Top 23 Reading List
In 2022, I was able to complete 103 books; it was the first time in almost one and a half decades of dedicated reading prose that I was able to breach the three-digit mark. Yay for that! It was a goal I was aiming for for the longest time and it came just at the moment when I least expected it. Moreover, these 103 books were written by 97 different writers, another personal record breaker; the only writers who I read at least two works were Agatha Christie, Kenzaburō Ōe, and Mieko Kawakami. More than half of these 97 writers were writers whose works I was reading for the first time. Several of these new-to-me writers left deep impressions, making me want to explore their oeuvre more. In this wrap-up update, I will be featuring writers who gave me some of the most memorable reading experiences I had in 2022. Happy reading!
Author: Aleksandar Tišma (Serbian Cyrillic: Александар Тишма; January 16, 1924, to February 15, 2003)
Books Read This Year: The Use of Man
Books I Am Looking Forward To: The Book of Blam, Kapo
In early 2020, I acquired a copy of The Use of Man through an online bookseller. Like most of my more recent acquisitions, it was an impulse buy; I have not heard of nor encountered any of the works of Aleksandar Tišma, who I later on learned was Serbian. My lack of information about the Serbian writer did not preclude me from obtaining a copy of The Use of Man. The famous quote “curiosity killed the cat” comes to mind; I am the cat. Sadly, the book would be lost in the recesses of my mind and I would not be reminded of its existence had I not encountered another work of Tišma during one of my visits to the bookstore (Kapo). To redress this, I made The Use of Man part of my 2022 European Literature month. The book transported me to the Balkans immediately before, during, and after the Second World War. The novel and its unflinching gaze captured the horrors of war. While the Serbian writer provided a little reprieve from the nightmarish landscape – this was, after all, the war – his honest storytelling captured in vivid details the horrors of the war. In this landscape, human bonds are volatile and heroes are nowhere to be found. The Use of Man was not just another novel about the war.
Author: Tan Twan Eng (Chinese: 陳團英; born 1972)
Books Read This Year: The Garden of the Evening Mists
Books I Am Looking Forward To: The Gift of Rain
It was a real-life friend that introduced me to the wonders of Tan Twan Eng’s prose. My friend, who back then visited Malaysia, gave a very glowing account of Tan’s debut novel, The Gift of Rain. I have since been hoping to encounter a copy of the book, hence, like The Use of Man, I would bury Tan in the recesses of my mind until a chance encounter with Tan a couple of years later. I saw a copy of his sophomore novel, The Garden of Evening Mists; not the one I was hoping for but it was a good substitute. In my desire to explore the prose of our South East Asian neighbors, I made the book part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. Like The Use of Man, the focal point of the story was the Second World War, but now in the Malaysian peninsula. The intersection of history, memory and the vast spectrum of humanity made The Garden of Evening Mists a potent and memorable work of contemporary fiction, a triumph of storytelling. It was a stellar book worthy of the accolades it earned, consolidating Tan’s status as one of the contemporary’s promising literary voices.
Author: Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust, more known as Marcel Proust (July 10, 1871, to November 18, 1922)
Books Read This Year: Swann’s Way
Books I Am Looking Forward To: The rest of In Search of Lost Time
Like in the case of Aleksandar Tišma and The Use of Man, it was through an online bookseller that I first encountered Marcel Proust and Swann’s Way. Despite having no iota about what the book was or who Proust was, I purchased the book. Please note that this was back in 2015 when I had very little idea of the vast spectrum of literature. But why the a long gap between the acquisition of the book and reading it? When I purchased it, I didn’t know that it was just the first volume in a monumental novel, Remembrance of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time, comprised of seven volumes. I then had to push back on my plans to read the book as I resolved to complete all volumes first. In 2020, I managed to obtain six of the seven books so I deemed it the right time to start reading the novel. Swann’s Way, as expected was complex. But it was also beautifully written. In the first volume of his popular novel, Proust was slowly laying out the landscape, making the readers accustomed to his prose and to the vast and eclectic set of characters that I assume will populate the entire novel. I can’t wait to complete reading all seven volumes.
Author: Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, more known for his abbreviated name V.S. Naipaul (August 17, 1932, to August 11, 2018)
Nationality: British, Trinidadian
Books Read This Year: A Bend in the River
Books I Am Looking Forward To: A House for Mr. Biswas, In A Free State
For the longest time, I have set my eyes on the works of Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul. The Nobel Laureate in Literature and his works were mainstays in must-read lists, including the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. It was through these lists that I first came across the Booker Prize-winning writer. However, obtaining a copy of his works proved to be a challenge. It was until 2021 that I was able to obtain one of them. With my anticipation building, I added A Bend in the River to my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. I had a lot of expectations for the book as well. This is V.S. Naipaul we are talking about! Gladly, the book did not disappoint. It being a work of historical fiction was already a nod its way. But more importantly, I was in awe of how Naipaul captured the spirit of the period when the call for independence from colonizers was gathering steam across Africa. Naipaul was simply resplendent and his storytelling kept me at the edge of my sit from the onset.
Author: Abdulrazak Gurnah FRSL (born December 20, 1948)
Books Read This Year: After Lives
Books I Am Looking Forward To: Paradise, The Last Gift
I guess I wasn’t the only one who was surprised when the relatively unknown Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Tanzanian writer’s works were unfamiliar to many. Nevertheless, I took it as an opportunity to explore a new literary world. Thankfully, following his Nobel win, his works were republished and I was immediately able to obtain two of them. I was hoping to read them as the year moves forward but I never got the chance. A new opportunity came along as I encountered Afterlives. I actually thought the novel was new, i.e. published this year. Besides, it has been cited by a popular publication as one of the best books of the year. I would learn it was published in 2020. Nevertheless, I let myself be consumed by the book which transported me to East Africa in the period prior to the First World War. When Gurnah was awarded the Nobel, what was often lauded was his examination of the legacy of colonization in his region, and, by extension, to Africa. This was palpable in Afterlives, a book, while not entirely perfect, that left me yearning for more of the Tanzanian writer’s prose.
Author: Jennifer Egan (born September 7, 1962)
Books Read This Year: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Books I Am Looking Forward To: The Candy House
It was through must-read lists that I first encountered Jennifer Egan. Her novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, was a constant in this list. It was even listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. While it piqued my interest, I was a little apprehensive about reading the book. A quick research yielded that it was a collection of short stories; Egan is also a renowned writer of short stories. You see, I am not really that much of a short story collection reader. But I guess I misread the information for I, later on, realized that it was a work of postmodern fiction, a genre that is not particularly defined by writing conventions. When I learned that Egan was releasing a new work in 2022, The Candy House, I resolved to read A Visit from the Goon Squad. It is said that The Candy House is a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning work. Indeed, Egan deviated from writing conventions in A Visit from the Goon Squad. It was a story about a music executive, and music was an integral part of the story although it tackled a vast array of subjects as youth culture, the search for happiness, aging, and the loss of innocence. I just might read The Candy House soon.
Author: Herta Müller (born August 17, 1953)
Books Read This Year: The Hunger Angel
Books I Am Looking Forward To: The Passport, The Land of Green Plums, The Appointment
The third Nobel Laureate in Literature in this list. I must say, the Nobel Prize has led me to writers who I wouldn’t normally encounter. Halldór Laxness, the 1955 awardee, Gurnah, and Herta Müller, the 2009 awardee, are among them. Müller is also among a very limited list of female writers to be awarded what is deemed the highest accolade in literature. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a copy of the Romanian-German writer’s The Hunger Angel early in 2020 through an online bookseller. I made the book part of my Women’s Literature month. The Hunger Angel was as bleak as The Use of Man. It captured a part of history that is as often discussed as, say, the Second World War. In a way, the story captured one of the consequences of the war, with the Soviet forces retaliating against the Germans for their war crimes. Over in Eastern Europe, the Soviets shipped those of German descent to gulags; it’s been a while since I encountered the term. The bleakness and the struggles of Leopold Ausberg, the novel’s main character, were vividly painted by Müller’s prose.
Author: Geetanjali Shree (born June 12, 1957)
Books Read This Year: Tomb of Sand
Books I Am Looking Forward To: Mai, The Empty Space
When the longlist for the 2022 Booker International Prize was released, I saw two familiar names: Olga Tokarczuk (The Books of Jacob) and Mieko Kawakami (Heaven). But there was another book that immediately piqued my interest, Indian writer Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand. The one element that immediately grabbed my attention was the book’s length; it was rather thick and for a reader who likes his books longer, it was an attribute in favor of the book. When it was announced the winner of the literary prize, my interest in the book grew bigger. The book just bested The Books of Jacob, the book cited by the Swedish Academy as Tokarczuk’s magnum opus to date. Anyway, I was lucky to find a copy of Tomb of Sand before the year ended. For sure, reading Tomb of Sand was no walk in the park. At the start, I struggled to find my footing. The story was stagnant in the first 200 pages and the action started picking up at the 200-page mark. It was then that I started to appreciate the direction Shree was stirring the story to. Its lightness and humor belie several sensitive and seminal subjects, many of which are relevant in the contemporary.
Author: Angela Carter (May 7, 1940 – February 16, 1992)
Books Read This Year: Nights at the Circus
Books I Am Looking Forward To: The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Wise Children
Like in the case of Egan, I would have not encountered British writer Angela Carter had it not been for must-read challenges. Some of her works were listed as some of the must-reads. One book, in particular, was a mainstay in these lists: Nights at the Circus. At first, I was hesitant to read the book because I associated it with Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, a book I didn’t have a very positive response. I would eventually overcome his ambivalence, and along with it was the acquisition of some of Carter’s works. While Nights at the Circus was my most recent acquisition, it was the one that I decided would be my first of her oeuvre; I wanted to check out what the hype was about. The novel was divided into three parts with the first part taking the form of an interview between American journalist Jack Walser and Sophie Fevvers, a celebrated aerialiste believed to have descended from a swan. For Walser, it was the scoop of his life but what he did not expect was his strong response to Fevvers. Overall, it was not an easy read but nonetheless interesting, making me look forward to her other works.
Author: Natalia Ginzburg (July 14, 1916 – October 7, 1991)
Books Read This Year: Family Sayings
Books I Am Looking Forward To: Voices in the Evening, The Little Virtues
One of the things I noted while going through the books I read since I started reading was that my foray into Italian literature was quite limited. Sure, I read the works of Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco but beyond them, my experience is rather paltry at best. I then made sure to read more works of Italian literature during my venture into European literature in 2022. One of the writers that made the cut was Natalia Ginzburg, a writer who I first encountered through online booksellers. I obtained a copy of Family Sayings despite having no iota about what the book was about or who the writer was; I didn’t even think that she was Italian. I didn’t have much of an expectation going into the book except maybe that it will provide me a different literary experience. For sure it did because the book, which had autobiographical elements to it, grappled with fascism in Italy and the early post-World War II years through the story of the Ginzburg family. Natalia herself sounded detached but it did not hamper her from reeling in the readers with the story of her childhood. I can’t wait to read more of Ginzburg’s oeuvre, especially with the renewed interest it has been gaining recently.
Below are other books written by new-to-me writers who made my 2022 reading journey more meaningful.
Bohumil Hrabal, The Little Town Where Time Stood Still
Jason Mott, Hell of a Book
Chingiz Aitmatov, The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years
Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go in the Dark
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
Tove Ditlevsen, The Copenhagen Trilogy
Rachel Cusk, Second Place
How about you fellow reader, which authors impressed you in 2022? I hope you get to share it in the comment box as I am more than interested in knowing your answers.