As long lanky bean
green wires stretching to the earth
keep the spark alive
mother creates symmetry—
tomatoes in vines.
Insect and human,
along busy city streets,
a silkworm delicacy—
its glory unseen.
It’s been a good reading year for me. I managed to finish 53 books, with 2 more unfinished. Many of the 53 were audiobooks, often consumed in bed, while cooking, or while stretching muscles. Some required my rapt attention while others were shallow enough for me to be scrolling mindlessly while listening. But all of them were enlightening in a different way. Here’re my favourite reads of 2022.
- Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmania Salmon Industry, Richard Flannagan – non-fiction
You can almost hear Flannagan despair at the transformation of his homeland. The Tasmanian author illustrates the realities of the farmed fish industry that keeps most of Australia fuelled every week. We learn about the intense and disgusting conditions of salmon farming, paired with gory details of what constitutes food for the fish we so desire. Brilliantly confronting.
- Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: River of Dreams, Anita Heiss – historical fiction
Sheer beauty—both the narrative and the setting. The tale of a woman’s connection to land, family, and the joys and challenges of fitting into a society unlike your own. This is a captivating read that explores the often unspoken elements of inter-racial friendships and relationships. Set in colonial Australia, it’s a good perspective into the lives and loves of people who made this country.
- Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts, Julian Rubinstein – biography
A gripping telling of the life and adventures of Attila Ambrus, a Transylvanian immigrant in Hungary. This is an outrageous and hilarious life story of a renowned ice hockey player, who’s had a range of oddly interesting jobs including gravedigger, church painter, building superintendent, and a bank robber. Oh, and he loves his whiskey. Reading this book is like watching a thriller TV series from the ‘70s. There’s humour, silliness, stupidity, and lots of running around.
- The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science and The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Norman Doidge – Science
The most educational books I’ve read in a while. Lots of fascinating facts about the brain and its miraculous ability to retrain itself after what most people would consider irreversible damage. They stand as seperate books, and you don’t have to read one to understand the other. However, since I read both in that order, it helped connect them both better. The author explains how our brains are wired and how one portion of the brain can “learn” to compensate for another. Both books refer to medical journals on neuroscience, but they’re are written for the average reader with no medical knowledge or experience. You don’t even need to know the lobes of the brain to appreciate neuroplasticity. The second book brims with stories and anecdotes from people who’ve experienced neuroplasticity in their lives. Like the man with Parkinson’s Disease who controlled and nearly eliminated all his symptoms just by walking at a specific pace and routine. Absolutely worth your time, and both books will leave you craving more knowledge on the subject.
- On Eating Meat: The truth about its production and the ethics of eating it, Matthew Evans – non-fiction
This is a no BS, no greenwashing book about the realities of being a meat lover in a society that’s increasingly meat conscious. A confronting book, you could say. Former food critic and chef, the author is now a farmer living in a large farm with his family and a few cows. Most of the book is self-referential, almost memoir-like. Evans outlines the evils of today’s meat farming industry, but also explains why vegans shouldn’t be the ones demanding to stop it. In a time where vegan activism is taking over the news, the author argues that meat eaters should be fighting for a better way of creating meat for humanity. It’s an interesting read—especially if you eat meat. This isn’t an attack on meat eaters or vegans. It’s an interesting examination of the way we exploit animals for cheap meat, diminishing their dignity and trivialising death. I’ve been vegan for almost 5 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed a meat-eater’s perspective on sustainable meat.
- Devotion, Hannah Kent – historical fiction
If you’ve read anything by this author, you’ll know you can rely on her to rattle your core. Set in 1836, the story follows the protagonist, her family, and their village of Old Lutherans embarking on their journey from Prussia to Adelaide, South Australia. The first half is a vividly-beautiful illustration of the Prussian village, contrasted sharply in the second half, by the harshness of living in a sickly and overcrowded ship for months. This is the story of a young girl who loves and loses two great things in her life: the nature in her village and her best friend. At the time in colonial Australia, the first free-settlers were arriving in the country. South Australia is the only state in the country that wasn’t a penal colony, and so the arrival of European settlers is a big part of the state’s long and proud history. Beautiful writing—worth every moment.
- The Stranger, Kathryn More – dystopia
For a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1986, this book wasn’t hard to like. It’s set in a fictional town in the middle of nowhere where the teenage protagonist lives as the lover of the town’s leader/protector. Cut off from the rest of humanity, the people of this little town live in constant fear of the mystery illness that plagues the “outside”. A stranger rides into the town one day, challenging everything the townsfolk and our protagonist have ever known. Though Covid is never mentioned, you often get the feeling that this town’s story could’ve easily been the reality we escaped. This is described as a feminist book, but I think it’s also a clichéd narrative of feminism: gun-wielding woman teaches abusive men a lesson, empowers young girl. Still, the storyline is interesting and the setting is curious enough to read this book.
- Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens – historical fiction
Set in 1960s America. This is essentially a nature book. Such glorious descriptions of nature and the young girl who lives alone in the marsh. This is an interesting read because it’s a coming-of-age story, weaved in with a crime investigation. There’s a lot of sharp plot turns and twists to keep you entertained and wanting more. It’s also a fascinating idea to feature an independent main character who becomes an accomplished naturalist and creative, when all the world looks at her as an illiterate, naive, and vulnerable girl. I love a good strong female lead. There’s a hero, too, of course. He teaches her to read, falls in love with her and leaves her, only to come back and become the only one who stays by her. The romance is young, awkward, and silly, and so artfully portrayed.
- Wild Abandon, Emily Bitto – literary fiction
This book stayed with me a long time after I read it. It’s a raw depiction of a range of characters who’re the most human they can be. This is a study of human characteristics and how no one can know what or why someone does something. The story follows a young Australian who travels to the United States to get over his break-up, get some perspective, and enjoy himself. He meets eccentric people with uncommon hobbies, and ends up taking care of and feeding exotic animals in a veteran’s property. When all is said and done, he returns home a changed man. I love that the author has taken a storyline that’s already beaten to death, and has successfully revived it.
- Before You Knew My Name, Jacqueline Bublitz – fiction-thriller
The 18-year-old protagonist moves to New York City to find a better life. She soon becomes Jane Doe—an unidentified body by the river. Another, slightly older woman, has also moved to NYC at the same time to recover and find a fresh start. Except, she’s the one who finds the body. The story follows the intertwining lives of the two women, uncovering the killer in the end. This is not a pleasant read. There’s a lot of trauma in the storyline. But it’s a well-told story that’ll make you feel things.
What’re your favourites of 2022?