2022 was a year of changes for me. For one thing, I moved to Ireland to do a masters (and student life is tougher than I remembered it). I did not read as much as I would have liked, but I did read some fascinating books. Quality over quantity, right?
There There by Tommy Orange
This polyphonic and energetic novel was a pleasant surprise. Tommy Orange tells the story of several characters interconnected by their personal experiences of being of Native American heritage in contemporary California. The lives of mothers, artists, drug dealers and idle teenagers become intertwined at the Pow Wow to which they will all attend. Through their narratives we also glimpse at the identity struggles, discrimination and pains of Native American in contemporary America, of being neither from there nor there, of being racially profiled and surrounded by violence. This novel is a must read for everyone.
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa was one of the most enigmatic writers of his time, a sort of Portuguese Kafka who left behind a trail of manuscripts and letters pointing in a thousand directions, inviting the reader to know him but hiding behind his own unreliability. The Book of Disquiet is a peculiar book, a collection of writings from an office clerk about life and the world, about feeling melancholy and nostalgic about nothing and everything. It is a work of philosophy and literature, an unsettling read that left me musing about my own mortality for days. Also, superbly written.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
I read two novels by Ottessa Moshfegh this year, Eileen and Lapvona, but only Eileen left an indelible mark in my brain. Eileen lives in New England, she is insecure and her life is quite plainly terrible: her mother just died, her sister left and she has to take care of her alcoholic father. Behind her detached and quiet facade, Eileen is angry and dreams of mayhem and gore (no one can quite write a female underdog like Moshfegh can). But her life takes a turn when Rebecca, an attractive woman who is everything Eileen would like to be, shows up at the correctional where she works. This is possible one of my favourite novels ever: it is told with magnetic rhythm, landscape descriptions are immaculate and Eileen comes to life like few other characters I can think of. Despite being a very disturbing and unsettling book, Eileen is also a book to be savoured.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Can I just say how refreshing it is to hear someone talk about grief as an aesthetic experience rather than just a step towards healing? One thing I can guarantee about Bluets is that it is bleak and depressing, but it is also beautiful in its embrace of pain. Maggie Nelson writes about her obsession with the colour blue and all things blue in some hybrid between a list, a long poem and academic prose. In her study of the colour, she writes too of many others who have attempted to explain their obsessions with colour and light, she explores the relations between blue and sadness and her own personal experiences with heartbreak and loss.
Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
This is a book I recommend to every woman who finds herself at a crossroads or every woman wishing to learn more about herself. Through fairy tales from several cultures, Pinkola Estés explores what womanhood means and how we can recover the ancient powers of Wild Woman: intuition, devotion, decisiveness, fierceness. We get some Jungian psychoanalysis but also wisdom from shamanic traditions. I would say the book is equally spiritual and psychological… it is a self-help book, but it is so much more and I am happy it came into my life (I even gave it to my mum for Christmas): it is a book about sisterhood, a celebration for women, a warning and a door.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Murder, mystery, tormented men. Do we really need a summary?
On Writing by Stephen King
There are many guides to writing out there, but none as practical and entertaining at this one. Partially a memoir, partially a collection of writing tips and anecdotes, On Writing is a very helpful book to anyone wishing to become a better writer. It is also super entertaining and contains lots of insights for any Stephen King fan.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Lisbon sisters have mesmerised the boys from their small suburban community with their secludedness and beauty, but things take a dark turn when the youngest of the five, Cecilia, attempts to take her own life. Eugenides’ dark satire bewitched me. It also poses some very unsettling questions about American values, the male gaze and the utter pain of being a girl in her teens.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
This was the perfect Christmas read, but you’ll enjoy it anytime. Brilliant in its simplicity and precision, Keegan crafts a deeply moving tale. Set in a small Irish town in the 80s, Bill Furlong, a devoted father and husband, is confronted with a moral dilemma that could change his life forever. The way in which Keegan makes this little town come alive in about 100 pages is magnificent, a must read.
Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit
If you know me, you probably know I love Rebecca Solnit. My favourite book by her is A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which was actually conceived as a continuation of Wanderlust, A History of Walking. As its title suggests, Wanderlust explores what lead to the modern conception of “taking a walk”, its spiritual, psychological and political implications—specially in our auto mobilised world—, as well as the cultural history of walks and hikes, from Rousseau and Jane Austen and modern-day hikers and mountain climbers.