2022 book review

Once again, here are the books I read this year, and especially the ones I’d recommend.

One interesting thing I noticed about this year: in years past, I mentioned trying to read more books written by women. Well this year, without consciously trying, 9 out of the 13 books I read were written by women. I’d pat myself on the back, but if I did a full accounting of all the books I’ve read in my lifetime, I probably have a huge deficit to make up.

In any case, bring on the books!

Quick links

Fiction

Nonfiction

Fiction

The MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood (2003-2013)

Probably my favorite books I read all year. I’m a sucker for good sci-fi, and Atwood’s feels especially prescient. I can’t believe the first one (Oryx and Crake) was written almost two decades ago – the concerns about genetic manipulation and climate change are very top-of-mind nowadays.

The first two books are equally compelling, and they feel like separate, self-contained novels. Whereas the third one (while less thrilling to me) does a good job of bringing the two storylines together and tying up loose ends.

Also, this trilogy is just begging to be made into a prestige TV series – I wouldn’t be surprised if we get one in the next few years.

The Cage by Audrey Schulman (1994)

Audrey Schulman is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. She writes true science fiction – with an emphasis on the “science” part. In each of her books you can tell she really does her research. In this one in particular, there are so many little touches (like the details on how cameras react to the extreme cold, or how frostbite feels on the skin) that you know she must have dug deep to bring this story to life.

Add on the vivid characters – she’s especially good at communicating what it feels like to be a woman in a male-dominated environment, in a “Jody Foster in Silence of the Lambs” kind of way – and you end up with an amazing first novel.

The Dolphin House by Audrey Schulman (2022)

The latest book from Audrey Schulman, and equally as good as her first one. It’s best to read it without reading any blurbs about what it’s about. I’ll just say that, once again, the amount of research she does (especially into animal behavior) and the depth of her characters, make for an absorbing and satisfying read.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

A moving story about love and loss. At first it reminded me a bit of Madame Bovary (the boredom of a cooped-up housewife), but the story moves at such a brisk pace with so many different subplots that you can’t really compare it to one single thing. Somber at times, funny at others, ultimately uplifting.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami (2004)

A strange book (aren’t all Murakami books strange?) but a compelling one. What Steven King has for horror, Murakami seems to have for these kinds of uncanny situations that defy explanation. A short, fun read.

The Concubine by Norah Lofts (1963)

There are plenty of books, movies, and TV miniseries about the Anne Boleyn story, but this one was recommended to be as one of the best characterizations. Here we see Anne mostly as a tragic figure – a teenage girl who tries to master her own destiny but gets in way over her head. Meanwhile, Henry mostly comes off as a lecherous boor, quick to invent whatever moral authority he needs in the moment to justify his whims. A great but somewhat depressing book.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

I really enjoyed the first half of this book – the story of an ambitious but detached teenager is something I can personally identify with. The second half is where I lost interest, maybe because mental health and depression aren’t something I’ve had to deal with much. I imagine this book must have been a jaw-dropper when it was first released, at a time when mental health issues weren’t discussed with this much candor. I also think I would have enjoyed this book more when I was a mopey teenager.

The Alchemist by Paulo Caoelho (1988)

A strange little book, somewhat reminiscent of The Little Prince. I can’t say I really loved it, but it’s a nice short story.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)

The family drama and meditations on faith and hypocrisy stuck with me the most, although I can’t say this was my favorite book I read this year. Worth a read, though.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (2021)

The first half is a pretty good approximation of what it feels like to mainline Twitter directly into your veins. I’m ashamed of how many of the references I got. However, it feels like the book runs out of steam about halfway through, like it was trying to make a point about how real-life events can tear you away from “the portal,” but it didn’t quite land for me.

Nonfiction

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (2019)

I was enthralled by the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, so I picked up this book. It’s equally riveting, and I found it hard to put down. Something about the horror of the event, combined with the banality of the bureaucratic fumbling around it, fills me with awe and fascination. And honestly, some of the descriptions of toadying, cover-ups, and fudging of the truth that were rife in the Soviet Union remind me more than a little bit of working in big companies (although thankfully the stakes are substantially lower than Chernobyl).

Out of the Software Crisis by Baldur Bjarnason (2022)

A great book on software development, and one I might need to re-read. So much of our industry feels like it’s driven by hearsay, hunches, and charisma (what Bjarnason calls “the pop culture”), and as an antidote to that, this book is like a breath of fresh air.

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