This year-end round-up of my “top books” is always one of my favorite posts to write. I always look forward to the retrospective of my year, not just because I get to remember everything I read, but also because my memories of my actual life are so intertwined with what I read. (When I’m trying to remember when something happened in my life, I will often ask, “What was I reading at the time?”—then I can look up the book in my reading log and find the date.)
As I’m still in between permanent living circumstances, most of my books are in boxes. This has been a mixed blessing. For the first time in a very long time, I haven’t felt a subtle sense of overwhelm whenever I look at my (literally) five-foot TBR pile. Rather, I opened just one box of books and slowly worked through its contents, supplemented by whatever randomly came my way through PaperbackSwap, and, of course, whatever most tickled my fancy on Kindle.
Like so many other areas of my life during these past years, my reading life has felt rather under siege. I went from consistently reading 100+ books every year in my 20s to sometimes scraping into the end of the year with under 40 books. For a while there, I just didn’t feel like reading (which disturbed me almost as much as the fact that I also didn’t feel like writing during that time). Thankfully, many things have started to shift for me this year, and the desire to read (particularly fiction) has returned to me. This has been my most prolific reading year since 2016.
It’s also been a year in which I’ve just had fun. I didn’t pay much attention to most of my personal reading challenges (the classics, the Pulitzer winners, histories of countries). I read whatever seemed most interesting and pertinent. And now I am pleased to share with you some of my favorites from the year. I hope you will share some of yours with me as well!
Total books read: 69
Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 37:32
Number of books per rating: 5 stars (4), 4 stars (28), 3 stars (27), 2 stars (5), 1 star (0).
(Note: All links are Amazon affiliate links.)
The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall
Not quite a “writing” book, but a deeply interesting and informative look behind the curtains of why the human brain seems to be so wired for interacting with stories—and therefore why stories are of such importance. Some of the examples are a little gross-out or juvenile on occasion, but overall I find it a well-considered examination (more questions than answers) of our relationship with story.
Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass
Maass is never a disappointment. One of my favorite things about his writing on writing is that he brings as much heart to the table as he does how-to. He is a powerful proponent for “stories that matter,” and as always he does an excellent job sharing his experience as an agent in a way that helps writers write more efficiently and knowledgeably, but also more passionately.
The Magic System Blueprint by C.J. Rowenson
This is a thoughtfully engineered approach to creating comprehensive and cohesive fictional magic systems. Overall, a super-helpful tool, complete with fleshed-out examples from popular stories in different speculative genres.
The Relaxed Author by Joanna Penn and Mark Leslie Lefebvre
Solid and practical advice about building and maintaining a long-term authorial life of quality—from two long-time professionals who know what they’re talking about and thoroughly cover all possible subjects with candor and approachability.
The Secrets of Character by Matt Bird
Bird’s first book Secrets of Story instantly became one of my favorite writing guides. This follow-up dives under the water to take an even more in-depth look at the iceberg of character development. Meticulously researched and brimming with examples, it offers advice that is both precise and actionable. It reveals the genre-spanning patterns of memorable and resonant characters in a easy-to-access reference format that makes for both fun reading and a great tool to keep on your desk for easy thumb-through inspiration.
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
I adore Pratchett. Or maybe I just adore Captain Carrot. Regardless, Pratchett’s genius is on full display here in yet another entry in which he somehow manages to write a book that is “light reading,” low-brow comedy, good-natured affirmation of humanity, and high-brow philosophy all at the same time.
Sing My Name by Ellen O’Connell
Such a lovely book. Wonderful characters, beautiful romance, great western vibe. Deep and heart-wrenching story. Non-formulaic, but kept my attention throughout.
Without Words by Ellen O’Connell
I adore the characters in this one and their story. In some ways it’s my favorite of O’Connell’s books (really, they’re all great once you get past the covers). I’ve read the good bits over at least a dozen times probably, even though as a whole it is also one of her slower and perhaps less well-structured books.
Slightly Married by Mary Balogh
Very lovely Regency novel, with a deeply likable and realistic strong and silent hero. Beautiful love story.
The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan
Ryan’s Blood Song is one of my all-time favorite books—unfortunately marred by two sequels in which I was beyond disappointed. When I stumbled onto a duology he wrote as a follow-up to the original trilogy and the reviews promised it fixed the problems from the sequels and returned to all the good stuff from the first book, I had to give it a try. I’m glad I did. It’s not the first book, but it’s also not the sequels. Although it takes a bit to get going in the beginning, this is a solid and interesting fantasy that kept me wanting to read more. It answers the question of what happened to Vaelin’s love interest (who totally disappeared in the sequels), while putting the attention squarely back where it belongs: on Vaelin and his sole POV. I’m happy again.
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
I think this book just changed my life. Most of the information in it was stuff I’d already intuited or learned elsewhere, but the way it was framed here under the label of “HSP” (rather than just “introversion”) made something finally click about how I experience life. It helped me reframe many of the things I’ve struggled with all my life or made “wrong” about myself. Gives me a much different perspective moving forward.
Aggressively Happy by Joy Marie Clarkson
I have long enjoyed Sarah Clarkson’s writings; most of her books have been life-changing experiences for me. I was curious if I would feel the same about her sister Joy’s writings, and I’m happy to find that I do. Joy’s style and message is very similar to her sister’s, underlined by the idea that it is necessary for people to decide upon and live out “their own stories.” Earnestly honest, engaging, plucky, and heartfelt—there is much goodness to be found in this fast read of nine essays on the challenges to (and for) being happy in a difficult world.
Educated by Tara Westover
It seems wrong somehow for me to give this five stars. After all, I didn’t love it. It was a painful and often difficult read. But without question, it is a book that hugely impacted me, that reflected back to me some of my own difficult experiences growing up in the stay-at-home-daughter culture, and that by the end felt both sobering and empowering.
The Portuguese: A Modern History by Barry Hatton
This is a very readable, often critical, but ultimately loving exploration of Portuguese culture and history.
The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
I have been a fan of Riso and Hudson almost since the beginning of my Enneagram journey. This one is probably more accessible than their classic Personality Types, with the emphasis here being more on positive growth rather than potential devolution. The chapters on the nine types are all solid, as expected, with wonderful guidelines and exercises for bringing awareness to each type’s ego “projects” (as they call them). The opening and closing chapters are gold in themselves, offering different models both for theorizing more deeply about the Enneagram itself and the personal growth journey in general.
And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile this year, here are a few more!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2022? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!