Books I read in 2022

BookWyrm says I’ve read about 6,500 pages this year (which probably includes a bunch of appendices and end notes that I didn’t actually read, but I’ll still take it). I feel like a very slow reader compared to some of my more literary friends, so making it through 20 books (including a couple of novellas and essay collections) feels like an accomplishment. Especially considering all of the other books I’ve started and set aside, or skimmed with the intention of returning to, or am still chipping away at when the mood hits, of which there are probably at least another dozen. I’m a very inconsistent reader, is what I’m getting at.

Which means the books I actually finish tend to be ones I’m genuinely enjoying—and that makes ranking into a pretty arbitrary task. So instead, just assume that if the description seems like something you’d be interested in, it’s probably worth the time investment. Keeping in mind my reading tastes can tend towards the dry and semi-academic.

I still need to do a better job of diversifying my reading. Of the 19 authors below, nine are women or people of colour, which means more than half are neither of those. Something to work on in the new year (and most of the books on my immediate to-read list will help with that, at least).

Books I actually finished this year:

Being PeaceThich Nhat HanhA guide to Buddhist thought, rooted in empathy and kindness.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil SandsKate BeatonAn unflinching graphic novel documenting Beaton’s time working in the oil sands—darker and heavier than I was expecting from Beaton, but the subject matter merits it.
In Praise of PathsTorbjørn EkelundMore a memoir than the book on walking that I was expecting, but still fairly enjoyable.
The Ministry for the FutureKim Stanley RobinsonFor a writer who’s often put at the forefront of optimistic sci-fi, Robinson’s near-future look at how humanity might navigate climate change still feels mighty bleak. I guess we’re at the point where “making it through will be incredibly difficult but not completely impossible” counts as optimism.
Moon of the Crusted SnowWaubgeshig RiceOne of two authors I had a chance to interview at Wordfest. Apocalyptic fiction from an Indigenous perspective, with the resilience and practicality that comes from having survived other cultural apocalypses already.
My View of the WorldErwin SchrödingerViews on the nature of self, connectedness, and reality. Yes, the cat in a box guy. No, that isn’t in this book.
New Dark AgeJames BridleHow our technology and culture are undermining our ability to understand the world, and what we can potentially do about it.
SSOTBMELionel Snell/Ramsey DukesThe most esoteric book on this list, but a very thought-provoking one on four systems for navigating the world: magic, science, religion, and art.
Strength to LoveMartin Luther King JrAdapted from King’s sermons, so more overtly Christian than most of what I read, but it seemed overdue to try to get a better sense of his actual thinking vs the sanitized hand-me-down version in popular culture.
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of HumanityDavid Graeber, David WengrowA massive book that aims to redefine how we view human pre-history, in the hopes that will change how we can imagine the future.
The Great God PanArthur MachenOne of the earliest “weird fiction” novellas. Still full of eerie atmosphere, but its ideas have been borrowed so many times that it’s tricky to see it with fresh eyes.
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western WorldIain McGilchristAnother of those “reframing human history and experience” books, this time through the lens of the brain’s two hemispheres, in a much more nuanced manner than the usual pop-sci “left vs right brain” way. McGilchrist is impressively well-read in (Western) history, art, and philosophy, to an extent that the book suffers a bit from his thoroughness, but it’s argument is a profound one.
The Midnight BargainCL PolkThe other Wordfest selection, a fun, fast-paced fantasy romance with a vividly imagined world and a clever central metaphor.
The Taiga SyndromeCristina Rivera GarzaA poetic, dream-like detective story with an excellent sense of nature and place. Quick but cryptic, and nearly a year after reading it I remember the mood more than any of the particulars.
The Three Body ProblemCixin LiuLiu has a skill for explaining interesting concepts, but so far I’ve found his storytelling a bit stiff, which made the cynicism of Three Body Problem harder to take. I’m glad to have read it, but not sure I’ll follow up with the sequels.
There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness : And Other Thoughts on Physics, Philosophy and the WorldCarlo RovelliSome wonderful moments, and a fantastic title, but these short essays on a range of topics don’t quite have the impact of Rovelli’s more focused works—which are some of the most approachable and thoughtful explanations of quantum physics that I’ve ever read.
Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty, and TimeGaia VinceAnother way of contextualizing human history, this time by looking at four key technologies—fire, language, beauty, and time. Optimistic and thought-provoking, and the only book I’ve read that encourages humanity to act more like a slime mold.
Ways of BeingJames BridleAn attempt to find a more generous definition of “intelligence”, one that goes beyond “the thing that humans do” to encompass the perception and cognition of the natural (“more-than-human”) world. I think Bridle and I have been reading a lot of the same authors lately, as a lot of the anecdotes felt quite familiar. Still, I appreciated their interpretations, even if I didn’t always agree with them.
Web of MeaningJeremy LentThematic echoes with Bridle’s Ways of Being and McGilchrist’s Master and His Emissary, in that all three want to rebalance the analytical, fragmented, computational mentality of modern Western thought with other, more holistic ways of knowing. Lent provides a quick gloss of a lot of philosophies, not always convincingly, but it’d make for a good jumping-off point for a lot of further reading.
When Things Fall ApartPema ChodronApplying Buddhist teaching to develop resilience and compassion. An excellent companion to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace, with slightly more focus on personal well-being. Not sugar-coating the nature of reality (the title is when, not if), but making acceptance a little easier.

What I Read in January 2022


New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (James Bridle, 2018)

Read in preparation for Bridle’s upcoming Ways of Being, which sounds like a more optimistic expansions of New Dark Age’s themes. Not that I think Bridle was wrong to be concerned about the consequences of our current technological direction, and New Dark Age makes an excellent case that the desire to conflate the real with the computable is causing more harm than good. Well-chosen examples make for an enjoyable read, but Bridle’s critiques have permeated the culture over the last few years. Diagnosing the problem is important, but dark as things get, the future never truly ends, and I’m looking forward to something with a little more hope.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (David Graeber & David Wengrow, 2021)

If there’s one key arguments I took from this—and given its massive scope, it’s probably foolish to reduce it to a single message—but if there is, it’s that society and humanity are much more malleable than we usually think. The Davids take it as their task to complicate our notion of pre-history. Instead of a straightforward progression from utopian foraging cultures to hierarchical farming states, they point out that there’s been an incredible variety in how societies organize. Some societies even change their models seasonally, choosing different structures, hierarchies, and even identities throughout the year.

Given all that variety, the question is: how did we get so stuck in one model of society, and how do we start imagining a way forward? I’ve seen grumblings that Dawn of Everything’s history isn’t as radical as it presents itself, and that it isn’t as accurate as it should be, but taken as a prompt for imagining better futures, it’s still well worth a read.

My View of the World (Erwin Schrödinger, 1951)

Maria Popova’s Marginalian blog prompted this one, and while her summary does a fantastic job capturing both the meaning and the spirit of Schrödinger’s essays, I’m still glad to have read its entirety. Popular memory of cultural figures tends to reduce them to a single idea, and for Schrödinger it’s the one thought experiment; if it wasn’t for Popova’s post I would never have guessed he was writing on notions of panpsychism or universal consciousness while he was also helping redefine our understand of the nature of reality. His writing is wonderfully poetic in places (“What is it that has called you so suddenly out of nothingness to enjoy for a brief while a spectacle which remains quite indifferent to you?”), a touch overly technical in others, but I guess that’s to be expected for someone with such wide-roaming thoughts.


The Taiga Syndrome (Cristina Rivera Garza, 2018)

Referenced in Jack Young’s phenomenal essay, Making sense of our multispecies world: Body-Forest as community, Garza’s book is something like a detective story, a poem, a fairy tale, and a collection of cryptic koans. Difficult to pin down, in other words, but fortunately it’s short enough to be read in one sitting, which makes it more inviting for future re-reading. Given how obliquely it approaches its subjects, it strikes me as one that will reward time spent percolating in the unconscious, too.