This year I wasn’t able to enjoy as many books as usual, and mostly because I spent a solid 3+ months backpacking on either the Appalachian Trail or the Arizona Trail. Sure, lots of folks still manage to devour books while on the trail, but for me, nosing into one after hiking all day only amounts to sleep.
Still, the titles I read were, for the most part, really good ones! I’ve put my favorite 2022 reads in bold below. And if I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably say it’s the one I’m ending the year with. Scroll through the list to find out what it is!
Thanks so much for stopping in! Read on, friends!
How to Walk (NF) by Thich Nhat Hanh: A lovely little thought-provoker on walking and awareness. How can I arrive fully in the present moment? Just walk! Can it really be this simple? Yes! A great read to kick off the year. Also, Thich died a week after I finished this book. R.I.P.
The Tree (NF) by John Fowles: Long essay with an intro by my favorite guy, Barry Lopez. So many smart nuggets in this piece about the perceived “separateness” between humans and nature. A study of the often misunderstood and distrusted “wildness” of the natural world. The irony of tending to and grooming a garden, for example, as an attempt to control it. An exploration of self, our addiction to purpose, and our collective unwillingness to let go. Definitely a re-read at some point. Loved this line (paraphrased): ‘Almost all the richness of our confused existence derives from an eternally present confused consciousness of both internal and external reality.’ Woah. Good stuff.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating (NF) by Elisabeth Nova Bailey: Lovely and quiet little account of a sick woman who convalesced while watching a wild snail (gifted to her by a friend) go about its slow life. She credits this snail and her close-looking at it for the reminder that life is worth living. I learned a lot about snails! Including, “foot-drinking,” wherein a snail sets its foot (its body, actually) into a puddle and water is thus absorbed through its skin. So rad.
Scattered All Over the Earth (F) by Yoko Towada: A dreamy book with imaginative narratives that are left for the reader to explain (which, at times, reminded me of Murakami). Same author as 2021’s read The Emissary and equally as delightful. A group of unexpected friends travel around examining language and lineage as countries slowly cease to exist. Really enjoy this author and the translations.
An Old Man Remembering Birds (NF) by Michael BaughmanEssays about the author’s ponderings while watching birds in his yard (and other places). Each was wonderful—but overall it was a bit much and sort of got a little played out. Loved each piece as individual works, but found myself a burnt out by the theme as I neared the end.
Milo Imagines the World (C) by Matt de la Pena: Lovely book about a little boy (a budding artist!) taking the subway to a place revealed at the end (a bit of a surprise)—the destination inspires an immediate reread and subsequent tears as the affect changes when the reader is able to better understand the child’s motivations and worldview. Wonderful stuff for kids and adults to read. Read aloud with a friend and we both cried.
Outside, Inside (C) by LeUyen Pham: Another amazing kid’s book written in the early pandemic days. Offers a necessary glimpse into how we began this traumatic couple of years. Didn’t take much for it to bring me to tears. Simple language, lovely illustrations, and a poignant reminder of what we’ve all endured. Read aloud with a friend and we both cried (again).
Slow Days, Fast Company (F) by Eve Babitz: Amazing collection of fictional essays based on real life written by one of LA’s most important socialites. Eve dates Jim Morrison, Harrison Ford, and lots of other A-list celebrities of her day—she, in real life, had a rep for being utterly magnetic. Wrote this book for an elusive BF who never read what she wrote—so she prefaced every piece in this collection with a note to him. Absolutely loved it and how well she captured the grittiness and artful feel of the real Los Angeles.
Let Me Tell You What I Mean (NF/essays) by Joan Didion: Inspired to read Didion after the Babitz book (above). Loved her essays on writing and process perspectives. Strong and important voice.
Long Distance Hiking Zine #5: The Arizona Trail (NF) by Carrot Quinn: Carrot’s self published zine of typo-riddled blog posts with photos depicting her 2021 AZT thru hike. Loved it. Her language style is so fresh and appealing. She could have refined this piece and fixed the copyedits, but it IS a zine. And frankly, the “mistakes” add to its realness anyhow. Mades me want to do the AZT even more (which I ended up doing in the Fall).
Walking: One Step at a Time (NF) by Erling Kagge: My annual read of Kagge’s great book on the profundity of walking. I always take something new away. This time I was most intrigued by the bit on the futility of time.
Railroad Semantics ‘zine, 2011 #5 (NF) by an unknown author: A man’s journey hopping rails around the PNW (including Spokane, where the best line regarding the town is, “This shit hole keeps getting worse.” Ha.) Enjoyed the journey and was marveled by the author’s knowledge of trains and towns and where to go to catch a rail and what to do to stay safe, etc. Fascinating. If I were maybe 20 (or 30) years younger I’d drop everything and hit the rail yards.
Good Talk (Graphic Novel) by Mira Jacob: An amazing read that made me cry like 3x. About Mira (East Indian) and her husband (white) raising a brown child who is curious about the world. Set in the era when DT is elected which makes it poignant, triggering, and fucking devastating. A wonderful book. One of the best ones so far.
Horizon (NF) by Barry Lopez: Is it possible to write one’s own eulogy? I feel like Lopez did this with his final book. Basically a self reflection through various stages of life, which made me think differently about the previous/younger/immature versions of me. I love everything Barry Lopez writes, and this one was an extra important reminder of our short, adventurous, and weird lives. NOTE: To save weight while hiking the Appalachian Trail this spring, I chopped this book into sections and read it in literal chunks.
Be Holding (P) by Ross Gay: Beloved Ross Gay’s 2020 book that starts with him viewing Dr. J.’s famous behind the backboard flight layup and uses it as a segue into the experience of being Black (Specifically, of literally and metaphorically flying and descending). Also delves into violence, trees and gardening, and the utter joy of this human experience. A glorious book I read over a 6 oz. americano hours before the NCAA National Championship game (UNC v. Kansas). Go Heels!
A Brave Cat (Children’s) by Marianna Coopo: Bought for and read as an audio file for my nephew and niece, Oliver And Audrey
Itty Bitty Kitty (Children’s) by Hale and Pham: Bought for and read as an audio file for my nephew and niece, Oliver And Audrey
Bears in the Night (Children’s) by Stan and Jan Berenstain: Bought for and read as an audio file for my nephew and niece, Oliver And Audrey. Also, this was one of the first books I remember as a kid reading cover to cover. I remember liking to read it fast.
Body Work (NF) by Melissa Febos: Probably my favorite book of the year so far. An amazing “craft” book that’s as much about living as it is about writing. Squeezed it in after a delay in returning to the Appalachian Trail for stint #3. A couple excerpts: “I refuse to let the narratives that once infected my thinking also infect my art. This requires a different type of vigor—in thinking, living, and creation. Whereas writing was once an exercise in transcription, it has become an exercise in transformation. I urge you told your life and work to this higher standard.” AND “We think love will redeem us, and it will, but not that of any human lover and not that of any material substance. I have found a church in art, a form of work that is also a form of worship—it is a means of understanding myself, all my past selves, and all of you as beloved.”
Recitatif (short story) by Toni Morrison: A brilliant study of racial coding—Morrison wrote this short story book to purposely make ambiguous the “typical” codes that make us identify black or white characters. The story of two women (one white and one black) in which it’s never clarified who is who and yet the reader (I) couldn’t help but draw these conclusions myself. It’s as much a social experiment as it is a great story. It’s also the only short story Toni Morrison ever published, which I find fascinating.
How High We Go In the Dark (F) by Sequoia Nagamatsu: An amazing and timely read after a dry spell (due to hiking the Appalachian Trail). Published during the pandemic about a world infected with a deadly virus (one in which organs turn into other organs!)—but the book’s concept was imagined more than a decade ago. Life imitates art! I loved the speculative nature of it all—started with some archaeology to hook me, then symbols and tokens that were carried throughout the story (which was told in sort of a Venn diagram overlap for the reader to make connections). A joy! Loved the piece at the end where light years of travel in space is translated to Earth years. Mind boggling! A top read.
Among the Hedges (F) by Sara Mesa: Another amazing (and quick) read. Translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell—a powerful book about the culture/perception of taboo relationships and how quickly the agreed-upon paradigm influences belief. A young girl cutting school befriends an old man—which causes immediate tension—and though she’s initially distant from him, she eventually falls in love with him—which is innocent enough until someone gets a hold of her diary where she’s been embellishing their visits. The story poses a question that the books ends with—What’s OK? Another amazing and thought-provoking read.
Klara and the Sun (F) by Kazuo Ishiguro: Loved this book. Couldn’t wait to read it whenever I had a chance. About an AI robot who goes home with a sick girl and does everything she can to help that sick girl get better. A story of what love can look like without human consciousness.
Happy Sands (F) by Barb Howard: Short and terrible. Made me think the author was a female Bill Bryson. Dad jokes (Mom jokes?). Blah, regardless. She also had a certain way of writing that really, really, really turned me off. Zero stars.
TAAQTUMI: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories (F) by various authors: Enjoyed most from this collection. The one about a person eating human flesh made my skin crawl. The one about a mom trying to protect her un-pacified baby from a rushing polar bear was beautiful and troublesome. And who knew there was a Inuktitut word for “zombie?” A great limit-stretcher in a genre I rarely read.
Gender Queer (NF Graphic Novel) by Maia Kobabe: I sat down to read a few pages and knocked it out in one swoop. Story of the author’s identity struggles as a young nonbinary person. A beautifully told story that really made me feel something—I cried through multiple bits as e described eir coming to terms with eir being in the world. Tragic, too, that it’s currently being banned all over the place. Fuck you, American hypocrites! Which is to say, fuck you, America!
Craft in the Real World (NF) by Matthew Salesses: Didn’t finish (a library book that I had to return before traveling). But what I read I’ve LOVED! Eschewing the traditional writing craft workshop with a fresh approach. Awesome and necessary to interrupt the white agenda.
Night of the Living Rez (F) by Morgan Talty: Took me a while to read because I was so busy with work, but I enjoyed the tragic realities of the same characters throughout the stories of this book. A novel written in short stories has always been appealing to me, and Talty rocked it.
Dirtbag, Massachusetts (NF) by Isaac Fitzgerald: Dang. At so many (too many, in fact) points in the book I wondered, “How can someone have such a similar life experience as me?” But I guess being a white, cis, Catholic-raised, dark-bar-loving creative type churns many similar outcomes—down to the smallest detail. Regardless, this is a smart and awesome book written by one of the biggest hearts in writer land. I’ve known of Fitzgerald since I started following poet Saeed Jones back on 2015 or so, so what a treat it is to read this long project. A wonderful whirlwind!
On the AZT—no books read! Ugh!
On the AZT—no books read! Double Ugh!
Of Walking On Ice (NF) by Werner Herzog: The famous director as a young man sets out afoot to Paris when he learns of his colleague/mentor Lotte Eisner’s illness. Things are looking bleak, but he insists his walking to see her will keep her alive. It takes 3 weeks from Southern Germany to her hospital, and along the way he has terrific (yet mostly normal) experiences. People, road conditions, weather, gear—all become characters in this short document about what it means to live, while an undertone of impending death waits around every corner. Lotte ends up surviving long past her ailment, which adds a legendary twist to the narrative. Wonderful account. One of my favorites this year.
The Twilight World (F) by Werner Herzog: The opening note is magical: “Most details are factually correct; some are not. What was important to the author was something other than accuracy, some essence he thought he glimpsed when he encountered the protagonist of this story.” The story is about Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who was given orders to protect a Philippine forest and did so for 29 years, thinking WWII was still going on. Herzog imagines this narrative after actually meeting Onoda, and ends the story by questioning the idea of memory. What is it like to have no proof for 29 years of life? None except having slept, walked millions of steps, dreamed, watched the sun rise and set? Might all of our day to day actions just be an illusion? Does it even matter? Love this sort of stuff.
Weasels in the Attic (F) by Hiroko Oyamada: Short translation from Japanese—great little novella that exposes a new perspective and cultural sensibility. Dabbles in masculinity, intimacy, and exposes the sorts of things we think we want, when in reality we don’t. Loved the strangeness of it.
Inciting Joy (NF Essays) by Ross Gay: In true Ross Gay fashion, a book about how to harvest and notice more joy in our lives. And also a meditation on how sorrow is a necessary component for joy to exist in the first place. Yay for sorrow! Yay for joy!
Novelist as a Vocation (NF) by Haruki Murakami: This writer can’t write a bad book! A non-craft study about how the author has written so prolifically for the past 25+ years. Nuggets of writing wisdom on every page. Which, turns out, are also nuggets of LIFE wisdom, too. Win-win!
Coaching A-Z, An Extraordinary Use of Ordinary Words (NF) by Hamsun Moon: I’ve always said the best books/classes/conversations transcend the obvious topics and apply to…LIFE! This book is a prime example. It follows the standard business book format—starts with the topic in abstract, then offers an illustrative anecdote, then delves into the topic in reality, culminating with an activity. It could be 1/2 as long as it is, but it’s also a wealth of amazing info on how to be a better professional/leadership coach. I’m struck by how good coaching requires a lot of self-analysis to keep the coach tuned-into the client (rather than on themself). We work on ourselves so we can be more present for others! Yes!
all about love (NF) by bell hooks: I want to mail a copy of this book to everyone I know! Dang, what a doozy. Check this out: “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” (Actually a definition of love by M. Scott Peck, not the author). But Bell Hooks did say this (which will likely become part of my 2023 focus/intentions): “To truly love its to mix various ingredients: care, affection, recognition, respect, trust, commitment, and open/honest communication.” Dang. This book is a game (if not life) changer. A perfect read to end the year with as I navigate a few tricky (and thus, important) details of life.
Thanks for checking out my list!