I haven’t been great at logging the things I liked the most in a given year. So, I’m hoping to change that. First up, are my top 10 favorite books (in no particular order) that I read in 2022. Caveats: these are my favorites, not some “best of.” They may not all be printed in 2022, but I read them in 2022. And, of course, there are always more I wish I’d gotten to.
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
One of the many great things about switching to Mastodon (it really is such a lovely space, there when you need it, not demanding attention) was the recommendation to read Legends & Lattes, a “cozy” fantasy book. I have, in the past, been wary of cozy books. My only real encounter with them before was via the podcast 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back. And that was to (lovingly) make fun of a cozy murder mystery book. It was hilarious, but not what you’d call good. And that was my general view of the genre. But, I loved the idea of this. A chill hangout in a fantasy world where hacking body parts off in grim battles isn’t the main thrust. Not that I mind those things, but it’s nice to make a change. Well, too keep a possibly long write-up relatively short, I’ll just say I loved it. Full of well-drawn characters, it did a great job of pulling the reader along. A lovely, quick read that I enjoyed immensely.
Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
Highly recommended. Hogarth brought the characters to rich, dark, and often wickedly funny life. Seriously impressive. Some of the humor was, it has to be said, a little gross for my tastes. But that was a pretty self-contained “bit” early on that thankfully didn’t happen a lot. The rest of the book was just pure joy. I grabbed this at my local bookshop, The Lit. Yay for a local bookshop here finally!
Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom
Dark Archives was absolutely fascinating. As a lover of books as physical objects and odd history I couldn’t resist. As is expected, this wasn’t a creepy read. Other than the central concept, of course. It’s a deftly told series of examinations of the way history, ethics, science, and human fascination have all intersected around the stories of these books. The reality of skin-covered books is both more mundane and, in some cases, more horrific than expected. The horrors are not of the gothic spell-summoning type that might be conjured when the topic is brought up. Rather, it’s more horror at the casual, class and race-driven disregard that “reputable” men operated in. And all of this wasn’t that long ago.
Revival by Stephen King
This one took a while to get going (it might have actually hurt me, for once, going into a book having no clue what it was actually about) because I didn’t really know where it was all heading. Still, with King, even when you’re not sure where he’s going, it’s still enjoyable because of his character work. And the careful, deliberately-paced setup was well worth the pay off.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translator)
When I reviewed this originally, I wrote: “A beautifully told symphony of fact, fiction, awe, dread, quantum physics, madness, and genius.” That still sums it up well. But I’ll try to expand on that a bit. The book is a collection of stories that blends fact and fiction to explore what happens when scientific minds grapple with the consequences—personal and worldwide—of their discoveries. I found Labatut’s (via West) prose engaging. Using fiction to illuminate figures from the past and try to get inside their heads in a way no one really had access to is an intriguing exercise. You do run the risk of people taking fiction for fact, and we don’t need any more of that in this world, but this is done with enough sensitivity I don’t think that’s an issue.
In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft by W. Scott Poole
Poole brings the eye of a fan to this book, but a fan whose devotion doesn’t blind him to Lovecraft’s racism. Neither does it just accept general academic thought about Lovecraft. To call the man a divisive figure is understating things. There are people who want to strip the genre he inspired of the term “Lovecraftian” and simply call it “cosmic” or “weird” horror. I, personally, would much rather talk about the man’s personal failings (and the important note that he was not simply “a man of his time” as his views were scorned by contemporaries, of course) in the context of his work. Because there’s a fascinating figure here, and I think it’s important to look at and grapple with our “problematic faves” from the past as a guide for how we interact with their work in the present. If you’ve read his stories or seen anything inspired by them (there’s a lot) I think this is well worth your time.
The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
Remember when I said not all of these were published in 2022? This is a great example. It was first published in 1908! A fantastic example of weird fiction, I was drawn to this Swan River Press edition because of it’s strange and wonderfully illustrated cover. It features a lot more fantastic illustrations inside by the same artist and an introduction by Alan Moore. Considered a classic in the genre, I can see why. Style-wise, it reads like it was written in 1908 but in a way I found pleasant. By this, I mean there are certain details a modern writer might skip over and other stylistic things. But the tale remains no less intriguing, and Hodgson does a fantastic job of painting a picture of mind-boggling vistas.
The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus , Chris Shehan, Jason Wordie, Jim Campbell
As anyone who has read my book In the Dark of the Grove, you know that I like folk horror. More specifically the intersection of nature and horror. I think it’s fair to say the book explores a lot of tropey things. A family moves into a new town, town secrets, etc. I don’t mind that. To me, it’s all about the execution, and there are some well crafted characters here with really beautifully rendered and colored art. I didn’t find it “terrifying” so much as “creepy vibes” but, again, that’s mostly what I want out of these sort of stories. Very few works of horror actually scare me, so your mileage may vary.
Happy Go Lucky by David Sedaris
I’m going to cheat and just copy and paste my GoodReads review here, because frankly I don’t think I can sum it up any better:
There are few people as reliably funny to me as David Sedaris. There have been some bumps in the road. I didn’t enjoy his first diary book as much as I did his essays, so I skipped the second one (although I’ll probably go back and read it) but this is the seventh book of his I’ve read, and it was good to get back to more familiar territory. I applaud artists and writers of all kinds who push into different areas and try new things. But, for Sedaris this really feels like where he shines the best. It’s interesting, having read so many of his books, how his essays can feel a bit like Michael Apted’s Up Series of movies now in that we get to catch up (as much as Sedaris has anything to say) with his various family members. Sometimes the passage of time or new events bring new facets into focus.
As he gets older, there are certainly notes that can sound a little sour. It’s not the Sedaris isn’t aware of these sour notes. He realizes he’s coming off sounding incredibly privileged at this point in his life. But one of the refreshing things about his writing is its appearance of honesty. As with any writer, I’m sure he’s selective about what he shares and doesn’t to a certain extent. But he goes way beyond what most of us would, even if it makes him look bad. And, to be frank, in an era where everyone feels like they need to be THE PERFECT PERSON™ every second of every day (and will find a variety of scolds and hall monitors online to critique the way they talk about things) it’s become even more refreshing for someone to just write like a normal human being. Especially since Sedaris is self-deprecating and self-aware enough to balance things out.
Gideon Falls Deluxe Edition, Book One by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Dave Stewart
I started reading the single issues of this comic book when it first came out. About four issues in, I realized that I’d enjoy it better collected. I was losing too much of the plot between months, which is more a “me” problem than the book’s problem. In any case, I’m glad I did. The art and color do a ton of work here creating a creepy, unsettling tone early on. I got a little worried when a shift in the storytelling took place at one point. I wasn’t sure if I was going to care for it, but Lemire and company brought it home. I am looking forward to reading book 2, which I just picked up over the holidays.