There aren't, unlike in the games roundup, any grand themes to my reading in 2022. I didn't set out to intentionally cover a particular subject, or to read something that I'd been putting off — in fact, I pretty much just read for pleasure. I think it was that kind of year.
My total, as of the time of writing, is 151 books finished, totalling about 55 thousand pages. Two thirds of those were by women or nonbinary authors, and about one third were people of color. Most of my reading was either science fiction, fantasy, or thriller. Twelve books were non-fiction, and only 20 were re-reads.
This is a lot of books and a lot of pages, and most of them weren't very good. In fact, I think one thing I learned this year was to trust myself more on first impressions: there are several titles in the sheet that I bailed on early, then saw in a list or in the "most popular" sort for the library, and thought "I'll give that another shot." Almost without exception I regretted it later.
Since there's no real theme to the reading, and a lot of it was chaff, let's take a look at some of the more exceptional titles.
I can't say enough good things about Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books. They start off as a kind of low fantasy, but it quickly becomes clear that there's more going on. The main character is a "steerswoman," a kind of roving scholar with a simple code: they'll answer any question you have, as long as you answer theirs. The four books in the series so far are satisfying in and of themselves — these were originally published by an actual company, but the rights belong to Kirstein now, and there are two more on the way. I'm extremely excited to see those out. In many ways these remind me of Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic series, in that they both mix wide scope with very personal ethics, and also that they're long-running books that are universally loved by the criminally small number of people who have read them.
Like her Claire DeWitt mysteries, Sarah Gran's The Book of the Most Precious Substance, combines a love of esoteric mystical literature with a noir tone. In this case, instead of a PI who learned her methodology from a French detection manual, it's a book dealer on the hunt for a Necronomicon-like book of magic that will net a profit — as well as more exotic rewards. Gran has a gift for a very specific voice, so if you've enjoyed her other works or you're looking for a capable-but-broken female protagonist, it might be worth checking any of these out.
Sarah Gailey's The Echo Wife remains one of my favorite books of the last decade, and if their Just Like Home can't quite reach those highs, it's still a page-turner. Vera Crowder returns home as her mother is dying, to the house where her father killed and buried half a dozen people during her childhood. The result is a queasy exploration of guilt and culpability, as Vera attempts to understand her own feelings toward her family, and her role in the murders. It may not quite land the ending, but Gailey still milks a tremendous amount of tension from an economical cast and setting, and I'm looking forward to re-reading it in a year or so for a reappraisal. It's wild to imagine all this from an author who first landed on the scene with a goofy fun "steampunk hippo cowboy" novella.
In a year when social networks seem to be imploding left and right, An Ugly Truth may feel redundant. Who needs to read a book about Facebook, i.e. 4Chan for your racist boomer relatives? Yet Frenkel and Kang's detailed account of the Cambridge Analytica era makes a strong case that we still haven't reckoned with just how dumb, sheltered, and destructive Mark Zuckerberg and his company have been. If you have not yet accepted that these kinds of tech companies are the Phillip Morris of our generation, this book might convince you.
Nona the Ninth was a tough read for me. I adore Tamsyn Muir's previous books, Gideon and Harrow, and I'm still very much interested to see how she wraps the whole series up. But the explanation around this book was that it started as the opening chapters to that final book, and as it kept growing, it was eventually split off into its own title. I think you can feel that: this is not a book where a lot is happening. It is backstory and setup for the actual ending — well-written, charming setup, because Muir is still funny as hell, but setup nonetheless. I finished it very much feeling like she was stalling for time, in a way that middle chapters often do, but rarely so explicitly.
Kate Beaton's Ducks was also long-anticipated, and here I think the hype was justified. Beaton is known for her history-nerd comic, Hark a Vagrant, as well as some children's books. She's a funny and expressive illustrator, but here she turns those talents to telling the story of her own experiences working on the oil sands in Canada. In many ways, it's a history of an abusive relationship — not just Beaton herself, but her community, trapped in a cycle of dependence on an abusive and destructive industry. Part of what makes this book compelling is Beaton is clear-eyed about the ways that same environment could be funny, or charming, without ignoring its inherent harm.
Finally, Ruthanna Emrys' A Half-Built Garden is, among other things, pointing a new direction for ecological science fiction in an era of climate change. A highly-networked anarchist commune working to clean up the Chesapeake watershed is shocked one day to find that aliens have landed in their backyard, who make an offer: they're here to help, and by help they mean "move humans off the earth," which they see as a doomed ecosystem. And even if the commune isn't interested, the corporations who ruined the planet most certainly are. The resulting negotiations give Emrys a way to poke at all kinds of interesting angles, including social software, for-profit pronouns, found family. While you could lump this into the "cozy sci-fi" movement that started with Becky Chambers, I think it would be a mistake, and that Garden has grander ambitions than it immediately seems. I think about this book a lot.