Surveying my stacks of books that have now spilled out from the bookshelves and into piles, I decided it was time to participate in the Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge. As per the challenge, it is: ‘designed to help you tackle all the books you keep meaning to read and still haven’t’.
The guidelines are simple:
The book must be published in the previous year or earlier (for the 2023 challenge, anything published in 2022 or earlier counts).
You have to start and finish the book in 2023.
I’m adding a third guideline that I have to own a physical copy of the book, as this is the real impetus behind reading these
Any format, any genre. Re-reads count, and you don’t have to own the book. It’s open for the entire year so whenever you feel like jumping in, you can!
Prompt: meant to read it last year (and every year for the past 6 years)
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (2016)
Prompt: multiple points of view
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (2021)
Prompt: recommended by a bookseller
The Hierarchies by Ros Anderson (2020)
Prompt: more than 450 pages
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)
Prompt: featuring travel (time optional)
I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by Kim Bo-Young (2021)
Prompt: set on a continent you don’t live on
The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany (2018)
Honestly, I’ll be very happy if I get to these 6 this year without getting distracted by shiny new books!
2022, another year over. This was a pretty good reading year – 28 books in total, under my initial (and overly ambitious) reading goal of 40 but over my revised goal of 25. I am always in awe at readers who can manage 52+ (the only time I got close to that, other than when studying for my Literature degree 10+ years ago, was 2020).
Before I get on to my favourites, here’s a quick wrap up:
Of these 28:
17% were non-fiction, 83% fiction
All but one were written by women
57% of authors were American, 37% British, with the remaining being Irish and Australian. This is less geographically diverse than previous years and something I want to improve on in 2023!
I love these wrap-ups because they remind of how much joy there is in reading a book you adore. Here are my top reads of 2022…
‘A new creation by the author of Severance, the stories in Bliss Montage crash through our carefully built mirages… What happens when fantasy tears through the screen of the everyday to wake us up? Could that waking be our end?’
The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell
Genre: psychological thriller
‘From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell comes an intricate and affecting novel about twisted marriages, fractured families, and deadly obsessions in this standalone sequel to The Family Upstairs.’
We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama
Genre: historical fiction
‘For readers of Pachinko and We Need New Names, a compelling and profound debut novel about a Tibetan family’s journey through exile.’
I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by Bo-Young Kim
Genre: speculative fiction
‘In this mind-expanding work of speculative fiction, available in English for the first time, one of South Korea’s most treasured writers explores the driving forces of humanity—love, hope, creation, destruction, and the very meaning of existence—in two pairs of thematically interconnected stories.’
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Genre: speculative/literary fiction
‘…A novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.’
A Lie Someone Told You about Yourself by Peter Ho Davies
Genre: literary fiction
‘This spare, graceful narrative chronicles the flux of parenthood, marriage, and the day-to-day practice of loving someone. As challenging as it is vulnerable, as furious as it is tender, as touching as it is darkly comic… an unprecedented depiction of fatherhood.’
My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
‘A deeply honest investigation of what it means to be a woman and a commodity from Emily Ratajkowski, the archetypal, multi-hyphenate celebrity of our time.’
I’m stopping at 7 as that is already very ambitious! What’s on your TBR for these coming months?
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’m going to be doing a mini-series on books I’ve loved by AAPI authors in different genres – last time it was lit fic, today it’s dystopian fiction…
How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
I picked this book because of that beautiful cover and title, and this is a case of judging a book by its exterior completely paying off. If you’re mentally prepared for a (fictional) pandemic read, and aren’t opposed to a dose of sci-fi, give it a go.
I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this chilling novel about a woman who makes a mistake and risks losing her daughter forever. It feels very prescient today as I write this the morning before heading to the national march in support of a woman’s right to choose.
I still think about this book at least once a week. It’s a blistering satire on the millennial workplace and our late-capitalist malaise as a pandemic turns 99% of the population into zombies. One of the best books I’ve read in years.
I know this book is polarizing, but the GR description is just so compelling I think I’ll have to find out for myself: Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation… But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.
I haven’t read this one yet, so here’s a snip from the back cover copy: An astonishing story of an America that seems only too possible, and of a family struggling to maintain its humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value—even their very existence.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. I’m going to be doing a mini-series on books I’ve loved by AAPI authors in different genres, and coming up first are my favourite lit fic reads – to be enjoyed any time of the year!
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Read if you like: short, lyrical novels about growing up and discovering your sexuality, navigating the immigrant experience, the trauma of war, the power of storytelling and survival, and the occasional inscrutable metaphor.
Read if you like: books set in New York that celebrate girlhood in its many forms, the trope of being a ‘good immigrant daughter’, stylistically bold writing, and something you can read in half an afternoon.
I haven’t yet started this, so this is from Goodreads: All the Lovers in the Night is acute and insightful, entertaining and engaging; it will make readers laugh, and it will make them cry, but it will also remind them, as only the best books do, that sometimes the pain is worth it.
I can’t remember where I first saw it (if you’re the creator, let me know!) but I love the idea of this book tag. Disclaimer that everyone is entitled to their own bookish thoughts and feelings and just because they’re wrong about these books, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. 😉
I confess I did laugh out loud at: ‘If chapter 14 is an example of how Brits flirt, I can’t believe their whole race isn’t already extinct.’ Then I went back and read chapter 14, and laughed again to see Rochester’s line ‘does my forehead not please you?’
I think this reviewer needs a bit of a history lesson, though. This is stuffy and staid Victorian times, and this chapter 14 dialogue is about as risqué as you’re going to get.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”
– favourite line from Jane Eyre
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Did I read the same book as this reviewer? I am left scratching my head, wondering if I somehow missed a fifty shades esque romp couched in the language of a multi-generational family epic of love and loss in 20th century Korea.
The reviewer actually makes a fair point about getting attached to characters you then don’t see again, as the narrative jumps forward to the next generation. I don’t disagree that that was mildly dissatisfying at points. BUT – that is the only part of this review that is sensical to me.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
This did elicit a wry chuckle, perhaps ELaIC is pretentious – honestly, that’s never something that’s bothered me very much in and of itself, so I am the right market for this book.
I enjoyed how the scathing takedown of the book in paragraph two actually describes what I loved about the book – the charming wistfulness, the innovative prose, the playing around with traditional form.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I just want to preface this by saying I am no Sally Rooney stan. I enjoyed Normal People, didn’t love Conversations with Friends, so was intrigued by the hype around BWWAY but didn’t go into it with any real expectations.
But I do think it’s fascinating that she invokes such strong emotions in people. There is some real vitriol in the negative reviews for BWWAY. But I picked this one as I don’t actually disagree with it being self-indulgent, essentially plotless, with pretentious characters. I guess this is just a matter of to what to degree you enjoy and/or tolerate such literary tropes.
My reading fortune comes in waves. Sometimes I feel that everything I pick up that I’d been really looking forward to turns out to be a flop. But then – there are those gems that totally take you by surprise, and end up becoming firm favourites. This post is for the books that I went into without preconceptions or expectations of brilliance and ended up loving, and those that I was so looking forward to but ended up being a disappointment.
5 books that exceeded my expectations
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
I’m wary of judging books by their titles. This is such a good title I wasn’t sure if the book would live up to it – but boy is this a stunning, intense debut about heritage, addiction and love that took me by surprise in the best way possible.
Finding this was a stroke of luck – I’d never heard of the book or Diana Clarke, but one day I was browsing on Edelweiss and it caught my eye. And I’m so glad it did – this ended up being in my top 10 of 2020.
It’s no secret that I love a good psychological thriller, and this is Ruth Ware at her best. I wasn’t sure what to expect after enjoying, but being underwhelmed by, her previous two novels – but The Lying Game really hit the spot for me.
Contrary to what this chick-lit-ified cover would suggest, this is a darkly funny and clever book about the commodificiation of our online selves. A random Netgalley pick that ended up being utterly engrossing.
I had the excellent fortune of finding this in a Little Free Library in our neighbourhood. The reviews were mixed so I wasn’t sure what to expect – but I owned a shiny, like-new hardback copy so had nothing to lose. I loved the incisive, precise writing style and the insights into the nature of interpretation.
I loved Three Women and was psyched when I got an advanced copy of Animal – but after several failed attempts to get into the detached, caustic and pretty depraved narration, I relegated it to the DNF pile.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Sad times that this book wasn’t all it could have been, after the utter brilliance of All The Light We Cannot See. I finished it because I didn’t want to do it a disservice by not giving it a proper chance, but whilst it definitely had its merits, it fell short for me.
I want to be clear that I’m not trying to join the pile-on for this book (I actually rated it 3*s, ever-so-slightly higher than the Goodreads average). I loved it at the start, the irreverent voice and sharp social commentary – until it became rambling and incoherent. But I’d still give Lauren Oyler another chance.
Having been in a non-fiction slump for a while, I decided to try one of the most revered modern thinkers. The problem I had with this book was that I was unconvinced by his central premise, and many of the anecdotes he includes to support his theory feel shoe-horned in. It was pretty forgettable for me.