Reading Roundup 2022

Partly inspired by a grim realization about the finite number of books I’ve got left to read given an average life expectancy – it’s been a good year for reading for me, both in terms of quantity and quality.

The Stand by Stephen King

Started the year by finishing off a book that had taken up most of the latter half of 2021. As always with Stephen King, the characters jump out the page. Some brilliant set pieces. The committee section dragged a little, but otherwise this was as epic somehow deserving of its mammoth size.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Following The Stand, I was really looking forward to this as a something small and punchy. And on some measures it was exactly that – a sense of the epic but folded up till it fits in your pocket. But (mild spoiler alert here) – the way the Piranesi reality was folded into our base reality, shrunk the epicness down into something that I felt robbed it of its otherwise immense sense of scale. I’m sure some of this reaction will come down to it having followed The Stand though.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

A real haymaker of a novel. Shuggie Bain was a sprawling landscape of a young boy’s life. Young Mungo, in comparison, is (to quote one of it’s perhaps overused descriptions) “all muscle and sinew”. Every scene performs a well defined purpose in delivering the final impact, which you can see lined up to devestate you right from the very start. Living in Glasgow, the characters don’t so much jump out of the page, as live out of the page. There is love and comedy here, but painfully woven through with neglect and horror.

No More Heroes edited by Ian Whates

Anthology from PS publishing inspired by musicians that have been taken from us too soon. This was a really strong anthology, with as much enjoyment to be gained from learning about the musicians and thinking about how the stories relate to them as from the stories themselves. Great gift for a music lover.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Bought on a whim when I found myself in Edinburgh without a book. I read this very quickly, pulled on as much by the rich, evocative, emotive prose as by the intensity of the love story. Second person perspective will put a lot of people off but not me.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Dosh

Really excellent story here. Toxic relationship between mother and daugher, told with good tension/mystery about just how toxic/dark it is and/or will get. Great twist.

Under the Moon by E. M. Faulds

This anthology by EM Faulds is a real flex of short story prowess. Full of surprises, each story turning to different nooks and crannies of the speculative fiction umbrella and settling you in there with conviction. Even the prose keeps you on your toes with its unexpected but effective use of vocabulary.

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky

It’s difficult to keep up with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s output, and having been blown away by the creativity of Children of Time, I have since dipped in and out, not finding anything quite as impressive. This changed that. Excellent space opera. I’ll be picking up the rest of the trilogy with high expectations.

Queen of Clouds by Neil Williamson

I wrote a short blog about this previously here. Of all the books I’ve read this year, this is the richest in terms of sheer breadth of imagination. 

A Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnett

His Bloody Project was one of those books that everyone around me seemed to have read. This, from the same author, offers a similar “primary source” mystery full of unreliable narrators. The mystery of the truth here is less the main focus than the characters, which are fantastic, particularly the strand of anti-psychiatrist he has woven into the 1970s movement.

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Bought on a whim, looking for a new poet to connect with, I was really pleased with how this landed. Engaging, meaningful, powerful. I’ve lent it to a friend and will read it again.

Small Things Like These by Clare Keegan

Extremely short, sparse, sad and sweet. Begging to be read in one sitting on or around Christmas. Would make a great present for the same.

Babel by R. F. Kuang

I loved the sheer expertise with which a simple fantasy concept was executed in The Poppy War, but couldn’t stomach the sheer violence of the latter half. This is every bit as excellent but nowhere near as gruesome. The concepts, the metaphors, the character interactions, the story – all masterful. If there is other fantasy as good as this, please tell me where it is.

The Arctic by Don Paterson

I still miss the more tightly wound abstract word puzzles of Don Paterson’s earlier poetry, and some of the perhaps more direct and loose verse on offer here somehow leaves me a little colder, but throughout this he does still flex his superhuman ability to wrap up philosophical/metaphysical concepts in beautiful rhyming packages.

Jackdaw by Tade Thompson

Beyond well deserved praise, the less said here the better. Interesting to consider alongside A Case Study, but here the case study is artist Francis Bacon, or perhaps Tade Thompson himself. 

Wergen: The Alien Love War by Mercurio D. Rivera

This is my jam. Loved it. A simple enough sci-fi concept, explored via a series of interlinked short stories in a dozen different directions, documenting the epic human – wergen relations along the way. I found the ending disappointing, not because it was particularly weak, it just wasn’t as consistently strong as every other piece in here

Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles

I visited Orkney a few years ago. Maybe I loved this more because of that, but even if this is your first experience of Orkney, it’s a damn fine one. It’s written in parallel Orcadian and English verse. If you have some rudimentary Scots knowledge you can get by mostly focussing on the Orcadian, although the English translation does open up another layer of interest around the impossibility of translation (perhaps a good companion piece to Babel for that reason). For me, the more interesting parallel though was thinking about how this story would look on Earth’s Orkney, rather than this wonderful Orcadian space station.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Likely to see me through to 2023 this one. The Good Place, but set in civil war torn Sri Lanka. A lot of bleak stuff here but lightened with punchy dialogue and black humour. I’m enjoying.

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