Four books I enjoyed - Winter/Spring 2022
The latter half of 2022 was a roller coaster ride, with a kid approaching one year old and the family shifting cities. I spent a good deal of my reading year re-reading the Hornblower novels, which debuted in my 2020 list. Books tend to take one of two roles for me - either stretching me out, or providing comfort - and a re-read of the whole series was an exercise in comfort food for a trying time.
Unfortunately, a number of factors - including my journey through all of C. S. Forester’s flagship (hah) series, a couple of forays through longer books that I really didn’t enjoy, and the general disruption of a child-ful existence, meant I didn’t get through as much reading as I’d really like to do. Still, I did manage to get some good books read. Rather than try to expand this list to five and add in something sub-par, I’m going to cut one out just keep to the meat.
The Web of Life - Fritjof Capra. I started this book expecting to read an introduction to systems theory, and instead got a grand old tour through a holistic theory of life and relationships. Capra definitely has what I think is a polarising writing style (as opposed to scientific writers who will try to “step out of the way” of the reader) - you can tell that the subject matter is something he cares deeply about. That makes me wonder, at least a little, if he’s at all exaggerated the popularity and acceptance of the theories he discusses in his book, and I don’t have the background (or time, unfortunately) to find out - so I’m taking his claims with a grain of salt.
Braiding Sweetgrass - Robin Wall Kimmerer. I’d seen mention of this book in a number of places before I got around to reading it. It’s a great combination of personal narrative and handbook on personal ecological activism. Kimmerer does well to balance the tension between call to action and empathy - she understands how hard it is to care about your environment when you also have to live your life (and communicates that understanding so well), but still pushes you. I finished this book feeling a gentle ache in my heart. Pairs well with How to Do Nothing, which also featured on my 2020 list.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North. I love a good time travel science-fiction thriller, when done well, and this falls into that Groundhog Day sub-genre that I seem to just eat up. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle made it onto my 2021 list at least partly because it fits in there, and you can’t help but trace a line from there to here (the similarity between titles seems to suggest it at the very least). The hardest part of this genre is, I think, to stick the landing: this book does it about 85%, which is better than a lot.
Sea of Tranquility - Emily St. John Mandel. I discovered Mandel with Station Eleven, which I loved, but never read her follow-up novel The Glass Hotel (after it received pretty negative reviews from friends). So this was a nice return! My read-through of Station Eleven will always be coloured by COVID-19, and this book is a fitting follow-up to that - although a bit stronger on the science-fiction elements and feeling a bit grander in scope. In saying all that, I feel it was missing a bit of the core soul that Station Eleven had - it felt like a lighter touch, a quicker read, and thus not quite as gripping.