Well, here we are at the close of another year – and what a year it was! 2022 will be one of the more unforgettable years in my life, opening as it did with me on dialysis and the sudden death of a good friend – only to bring blessings like a kidney transplant, unexpected friendships, and a newfound sense of purpose despite ongoing challenges. “A hell of a year,” a friend of mine described it. Can’t argue there! Connected to all of this were the books, so let’s yak about that. I hope you’re not stuffed full of Christmas goodies, still, because I brought data pie as usual.
First up, some general stats. Nonfiction crushed fiction this year, with a 70/30 split. Ebooks increased their lead over for-realsies books, at 57/43. Only 34% of my books were purchased this year; 26% were library books; 20% were Kindle Unlimited titles; and the rest were previously owned, gifts, or (my favorite) “read in the store like a big ol’ cheapskate”. Next year’s mission is to drive books-purchased down further. Unfortunately, the biggest trend this year was not reviewing books: just over a fifth of the books I read in 2022 don’t have posted reviews, though a number of them have substantial drafts that just need to be finished.
In the world of Kindle, my top five most-highlighted books were:
- The World-Ending Fire 87
- Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, 62
- The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life 60
- Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection, 46
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, 46
In January, I had structured goals and specific targets for the Science Survey, the Classics Club, Readin’ Dixie, and the immortal Pile of Doom. The science survey went well, each category being filled by September. I’d wanted to end up with 20 books altogether, but only managed nineteen. The rest of my challenges were a mixed bag, with only three classics read, marginal progress at best on Mount Doom, and a year-end spurt of southern literature instead of a year-long series. The fight will continue next year!
History lead the pack, as usual .My easy favorite was Bringing Columbia Home: the Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and her Crew, about the recovery process following Columbia’s catastrophic reentry loss in 2003. Being someone who struggles with a lot of political jadedness, the reflex cooperation of civilians and all levels of government to find the bodies of the fallen, and piece together what had happened to America’s first space shuttle*, moved me. The Secret Life of Groceries was also excellent: I’ve read a number of similar books and it stood out among them, covering logistics and marketing as well as food production and processing. Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War was another memorable title, though I still disagree with the author’s premise that the two tech giants’ competition will one day end in a general monopoly.
Science had a fine year, though I was hoping to crack twenty. The best in this category was An Immense World, by Ed Yong, on how studying animal sensation can greatly expand our appreciation of this world and its wonders. I’m reminded of that line from “The Circle of Life” — there’s far too to take in here, more to find than can ever be found — because of Yong’s lesson, that animal species all have unique sense-sets and are open to and guided by experiences of the world that other species are absolutely blind to. It was an awe-some book in the literalist sense of that, because it stirred wonder in me like no science read in quite a few years. I can’t not mention the cover and title of Ms. Adventure, my geology read. Great choice on both by her marketing peeps.
Science Fiction had a slow start, but came out firing with J.M. Berger’s Optimal and getting only better as the year wore on. Dave Eggers’ The Every was a worthy successor to his chilling satire The Circle, and every book I read by Blake Crouch was an instant favorite. Recursion, Dark Matter, and Upgrade are all top tens for the year.
Historical Fiction was good in quality, if not quantity: the star would be Ben Kane’s Richard the Lionheart trilogy. Excellent stuff! I also started a World War 2 trilogy by James Holland that I anticipate continuing in 2023.
Society and Culture had an unusually strong year, in part because I’m increasingly concerned about the disintegration of both, and certain trends have pushed me away from let-’er-be-libertarianism to a more up-men-and-to-your-posts mentality — particularly, the aggressive ‘medical correction’ of children related to transmania, and relatedly the rates of mental disease, substance abuse, and suicide in the United States. Some of the books I read along these lines were Dopesick, Irreversible Damage, Live not by Lies, Porn Generation, The End of Gender, and the Flipside of Feminism.
In Religion and Philosophy, I was delighted to make a return to Alain de Botton, whose On Love proved more relevant than I’d expected when first picking it up. Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins was an excellent Lenten read, but the year’s favorite was How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. I also studied C.S. Lewis a bit, reading his Letters to an American Lady, and a couple of guides to his The Abolition of Man.
Politics and Civic Awareness had a good year. I enjoyed reading about the growth of people-friendly cities in the Netherlands, England, and New York City, and also read a bit in connection to my social concerns. Andy Ngo’s Unmasked, and Shellenberger’s San Fransicko were notable. The first was on the rise of antifa, and the latter on how housing and substance abuse policies in a few major metro areas not only fail, but exacerbate the problems they’re intended to address.
Other notables: in Southern Literature, I was delighted to return to Wendell Berry’s nonfiction with an excellent anthology of his work, The World-Ending Fire, and finished reading Rick Bragg’s southern stories books. OF course, I can’t close without mentioning Postcards from Ed, one of my very very favorites for the year. More Abbey inbound!
So, what’s up for next year? My standing themes/challenges will continue, of course: the Science Survey, the Classics Club, and Mount Doom. I’m also going to be doing two Big Reads this year, with the books getting the Gulag Archipelago treatment — reviews posted as I finish major milestones of the texts. The Shahnameh will be reviewed in three parts, and The Jewish Annotated New Testament will be reviewed in bits as they suggest themselves. I had planned a massive series called “A Century of Reading” in which I moved, decade by decade, through the 20th century — with nonfiction and fiction for both. I need more time to develop the books for it, though, and more importantly I need to finish Mount Doom before I buy any more bloody books!
New Year’s resolutions?
- No new books until serious progress on Mount TBR is made. Yes, even $0.99 Star Trek books count. I didn’t buy any in November and December, and life went on.
- Finish reviews for books that I really want to have reviews posted for.
- Focus more on ‘good news’ ….or as Perry Como would advise, accentunate the positive. Relatedly, be more active about reading books I’ll disagree with, or books that humanize people (politicians) whose names cause me to spit venom.
[*] Sorry, Enterprise, you don’t count. You were an atmospheric tester only.