It feels strange to be writing about books at all this year. I made a very conscious decision to go out more, and thus spent less time reading. I just had less patience for reading in general, which is particularly evident in the absence of fiction on this list.
But I believe in this list. I once read somewhere that you should write a review about every book you read, even ones you don’t like, because authors put their lives into these books and word of mouth is how they get read. I agree. I find a lot of books not from formal reviews in magazines and newspapers, but because someone mentioned them somewhere, and then months later I find that book in one of those free little libraries. Or a few people mention a book in passing, and I decide I’ve got to check it out.
Of course let’s be honest — this list is also a kind of diary. It was an interesting year for me to say the least, and in my own mind this list reflects that. The usual caveat applies — I’m not saying these are the best books from 2022. They are the ones I happened to read in 2022.
I tell people I’m reading a bunch of self-help or self-actualization stuff these days. These books have an aim of getting you to improve your life or be a better version of yourself. While they often have questionable literary merit, I do find the good ones almost always impart great advice that makes me wonder why more people don’t read this stuff.
I underline sentences and passages in book that I find insightful, and when I finished this particular philosophical book by Oliver Burkeman about how to use your time on earth, it was full of underlined passages. Here is an example of one that resonated with me:
“Life just is a process of engaging with problem after problem, giving each one the time it requires. The presence of problems in your life isn’t an impediment to a meaningful existence, but the very substance of one.”
I like this guy Arthur Brooks a lot — he writes articles for the Atlantic magazine and looks very seriously at research about what makes people happy and purposeful. His latest book is aimed at people who have achieved a fair amount of traditional life success in the first half of their lives, but might be looking at moving into a deeper, more meaningful second half of their lives. I don’t know that I fit his core reader demographic of work hard/play hard strivers, but it was worth reading because he makes a compelling case to deeply examine your life and focus on what is meaningful, even if that is really difficult. After talking a lot about the things he himself did to make his life deeper and fuller, such as being open about personal weaknesses and moving away for conventional measurements of success, he has this to say:
“None of these things came easily, or even naturally…And this leads me to underscore once again that nature is not destiny and, sometimes, we must fight our natural instinct if we want to by happy.”
I found this book in one of those little free libraries. It was short and charming. The best thing about the story is that it doesn’t try to do too much. It captures a moment when two people cross paths and have a profound sensual, emotional, and intellectual encounter that lasts less than a week. The ending raises a lot of interesting questions about duty vs. passion, family vs. romantic love. But it’s mostly just the story of a brief, wonderful love affair, and it doesn’t need to be anything more.
I check out a lot of cookbooks, and while they might be fun to look at, I don’t find them helpful with my cooking. The recipes are usually too involved and complicated — a recipe with more than 6–8 ingredients is a significant undertaking for me. I’m actually a good cook, I just don’t relish taking too much time to cook. I’ve got other stuff I want to do.
This book, however, is pitched at busy parents, so it’s very time-senstive and user-friendly. And the food is excellent. Not too simple, but not too complex. I’ve made several recipes and they came out great without taking a lot of time. Definitely far better than following a recipe off my phone, that’s for sure. Cooking off your phone is the worst, I’ve decided.
I went out of my way to a library in another neighborhood to pick up the much-lauded 800 page novel “A Little Life.” But upon getting home I quickly realized I didn’t have the patience to read that long book. I could, however, read a memoir by the drummer of the 1990’s rock band Hootie and the Blowfish, which I whimsically picked off a display shelf on that same library trip.
This book made me recall another book I read 20 years ago — Prisoner of Woodstock, by Dallas Green, the original Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young drummer. Both books are about a drummer’s rise to fame and their own eventual descent into drugs and alcohol, followed by recovery. I seem to be drawn to reading books by people who sit slightly on the margins of fame — or in this case behind the drum set — rather than in the spotlight. I’m not even a huge fan of either band’s music, but I enjoy reading about the lives of musicians. What can I say — I found this guy’s story interesting.
This is just a pulpy noir graphic novel with terrific artwork. I’ve read a lot of these gritty tales by this same team of author Ed Brubaker and illustrator Sean Phillips. They rely on clichés about criminals, detectives, and shadowy seductresses, but their stuff is always a ton of fun.
I checked this comic book out for my daughter, but I was the one who ended up reading it. It’s is a breezy look at how the author finds profound meaning in long-distance running. He doesn’t enjoy it — rather, he finds that the act of running has the effect of quieting the demons that sideline him from achieving things he wants to achieve in his life. I found his cartoon concept of these demons — “The Blerch” — unexpectedly resonant. Not a perfect book by any stretch, but I’ve decided to start running longer distances as a result.
Wow, can this guy draw. The artist in question here (Emmanuel Gilbert) tells the story of a childhood friend (Alan) who grew up in the Los Angeles area in the 1920’s. This book has a lot of lackluster reader reviews on Amazon that point to its lack of narrative arc. It’s true— this book really is just one disconnected anecdote after another. But you know what? That’s perfectly fine. I adore “slice of life” books like this, basically like listening to an old-timer ramble down memory lane. I find the absence of a plot gives a better sense of what life was really like, since that’s often how our days feel — one thing after another, without a coherent plot. This book beautifully captures the mundane and the surreal and the majestic texture of childhood, and the artwork is just wonderful.
Similar to the previous graphic novel above, here we have another book that doesn’t have much of a plot. I even put it down early on, expecting not to continue. But I’m glad I didn’t give up on it, since it does a surprisingly compelling job of depicting those periods in life when a person does things that don’t make much sense to others, yet if you are the person doing the puzzling things, from inside your bubble it’s impossible to see a way out of it. I’ve had these periods before.
In this case, Head drops out of art school at 19 and moves to Chicago with no job, money, or friends. Despite having parents back on the East Coast that he could live with, he becomes homeless during a brutal Chicago winter, has difficulty securing meals, and begs on the street for money. It is not at all a tale that glamorizes the plight of the starving artist — if anything it’s the exact opposite. The story ends with him moving back home.
That’s it for 2022!
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