2022 was a year of reading that puzzles in retrospect, although in the thick of things I noticed nothing. It’s not that the amount of quality reading savored diminished in any way. I rated 64 books at my minimum mark of excellence, that is, 8 out of 10. What strikes me now is that many fine novels read during the year failed to excite me enough to elicit the penultimate accolade of 9 out of 10. In 2020, half of my Top 10 was nonfiction. Last year only two Top 10 books were not novels. But this year, eight of the ten most impressive books in terms of style and impact were nonfiction. Only two novels met the cut, one a slim masterpiece, the other a rambunctious space opera thriller. Peering into the results more closely, of the eight nonfiction books, three were about climate change, two were about the natural world (but probably I’m getting more interested in nature as I get on top of the climate crisis in factual terms), two were piercing memoirs, and one cropped up as a result of my mid-year health scare.
What this means is that I cannot commend this annual wrap-up to you, general reader, as heartily as I have in the past. If doomster tomes, nature tutorials, illness memoirs, and a food overview don’t interest you, the list below will be thin gruel indeed. For that I apologize. But hey, superb writing awaits with every one of these books, so if you want to explore new areas, this could be your chance. (The links below take you to my review.)
For the quality of his penmanship and the rigorousness of his righteous investigation, the one book that stood out most was George Monbiot’s Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet (10/10). This might seem like a dour subject to many but trust me, Monbiot turns a devilishly complex issue into a thrilling literary adventure.
The incredibly talented, ardent journalist Ed Yong penned the most informative and fascinating book of the year. An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (10/10) is a must-read for anyone with an ounce of curiosity.
Bedtime Story (10/10) by Chloe Hooper. A short memoir of illness, children, and literature/stories, told in a pacey yet lyrical style that is wondrous to read on every page. Moving and illuminating.
Koala: A Life in Trees (10/10) is a stunning, revelatory examination of the iconic Australian animal, told through a personal journey undertaken by naturalist/author Danielle Clode. Another essential read, especially if you’re not an Aussie.
Food for Life: The New Science of Eating Well (9/10) by Tim Spector is essential for anyone critically examining their own diet. A brilliantly structured and executed excavation of the current state of knowledge, it is also stylishly penned. I didn’t even agree with all of it but still gained immensely from the read.
Barely longer than a novella but packing a dispassionate emotional wallop, Small Things Like These (9/10) should have won Claire Keegan the Booker Prize (says he cheekily, having only read a couple on the shortlist).
Journalist Frank Bruni’s “graceful and profound” memoir of eyesight loss, The Beauty of Dusk (9/10). Very different in style and approach to Chloe Hooper’s memoir, it also lingers long after reading.
Simon Mundey’s eyewitness-to-climate-crisis tour de force, Race for Tomorrow: Survival, Innovation and Profit on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis (9/10) will lift off any remaining scales from your eyes.
Told from the other side of the trench by an IPCC hero-scientist, and offering more succor than the previous book, Joelle Gergis’s Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope (9/10) should also be in the canon of the subject.
Frank Kennedy is unwinding the longest, most complex, most involving space opera saga in years, and the fourth in the series, The Heartless Hinds (9/10), is my favorite so far (believe it or not, four more instalments were published over the rest of the year!). You must begin at Book 1, but treat yourself, why don’t you?