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Top Five Books of '22

rather solipsistically 2022 is when I read them, not necessarily when they came out

By Madoka MoriPublished 11 months ago 6 min read
Top Story - August 2023

In 2021 I noticed that my reading was slipping. I’ve always been a big reader, but when talking about my favourite books of the year so far I realised that I couldn’t bring very many to mind. It was about halfway through the year and I’d only read around four or five.

You’d think the switch to remote work would have increased my time reading, but I found it was doing quite the opposite — the lack of clear delineation between work and downtime meant I was whiling away hours on the computer even after I punched out, and even the blessing of not having to commute any more proved to be a double-edged sword. I always used to read on the train, and that would get me in reading mode meaning I would likely continue when I got home. Without that little hook to get me started, my motivation to crack open a new book kept sliding.

When you start missing a Tokyo commute something has gone seriously awry. Steps had to be taken.

I made a resolution to read a book a week. To facilitate this I set up a kanban board (seen in the main image above). This gives me a place to jot down all my book recommendations, meaning I’m never at a loss for what to read next, as well as letting me keep track of the ones I've read.

Here's where we're up to this year so far. I'm on a bit of a horror kick at the mo.

For the new Bookclub community I thought it would be fun to go back through last year’s list of finished books and pick out my top five. So here are some spoiler-free mini-reviews for each, in no particular order.

Vurt

Jeff Noon

I think this was brought to my attention by Made in DNA when I asked him for cyberpunk recommendations before the sci-fi challenge. He's great for recommending sci-fi, that one is. I’d never even vaguely heard of this book before, and it completely blew me away.

Set in a peculiar version of near-future Manchester, this grungy, filthy, gutter-brawl of a novel edges into the fantastical over science fiction. We follow our protagonist, Scribble, as he and his gang pursue the ultimate fix of the novel’s eponymous drug, vurt. Sounds like standard cyberpunk fare so far.

But this drug comes in the form of differently-coloured feathers that — when sucked on — allow people to dream together in a kind of collective unconscious virtual reality, populated with the symbols & myths of humanity, indigenous species, shady corporate types trying to monetize it, and very real danger. In the crumbling city outside dogmen and robots (and robodogmen) roam the streets as oppressed minorities both feared and fetishized, cops are shadow beings with fierce power and seemingly no oversight, and a universal lubricant called ‘vaz’ is used for picking locks, sex, computer hacking (?!?); as pomade and gun-grease. Scribble’s driving motivation is to find his sister, lost in the vurt — but not for cuddly feel-good reasons: they love-love each other. Yes, in that way.*

So obviously this book is not going to be for everyone — I don’t even think it’s for most people, to be honest. But I can say I’ve never before read anything this weird that remained so genuine. It’s hallucinatory and strange but it’s never trying to impress you with how strange it is, like a goth or art student might. If you want to read something truly unique then I can’t recommend it enough.

The Passenger/Stella Maris

Cormac McCarthy

We lost McCarthy this June, so these novels proved to be the last of his work published during his lifetime. They work as companion pieces telling the story of the two adult children of a colleague of Oppenheimer: The Passenger telling the story of the brother, Stella Maris the sister.

McCarthy started work on The Passenger in the 80s — even before he started the Border Trilogy — and you can feel how it has evolved alongside the author. It has the directionless lassitude of Suttree, the humour of his earliest novels, and the blue-collar good-ol-boy make-your-own-way attitude of No Country and Cities of the Plain. But it expresses the same joy in science and mathematics as McCarthy himself in the last twenty years, where he was a resident scholar at the Santa Fe Institute.

The fact it was in development for so long has led some to call it disjointed (which I’d agree with), and that Stella Maris acts as a necessary coda to tie the loose ends together (which I disagree with heartily). The Passenger by itself is about on the level of Suttree, I suppose — somewhere on the lower end of McCarthy’s oeuvre (for a literary titan like McCarthy this is still head and shoulders above more common fare). But Stella Maris is a departure from McCarthy’s usual style in many ways, and it burns furiously bright. Hallucinatory where he is normally stolid, dreamlike where he is normally stark, intricate where he is normally cyclopean. Stella Maris is not an endcap to The Passenger; The Passenger is the solid-fuel rocket to Stella Maris’ space shuttle, existing solely to muscle that more delicate machinery into the element for which it is designed.

So yes: Stella Maris is the best book I read last year, but you need to read The Passenger first. I promise it's worth it.

From Hell

Alan Moore

Alan Moore famously does not allow his name to be attached to any films based on his work. He hates the way they get chopped up and put back together in forms he doesn’t like and has no say in. I knew this, and I knew he made this rule for himself (giving up the potential of earning millions, repeat MILLIONS of dollars) sort-of around when this movie came out, but I had always laid the blame solely at the feet of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. I’d seen the From Hell movie with Johnny Depp in it and thought, “how different could the comic be?”

Holy shit. Very different, as it turns out.

This telephone-directory-sized (modern translation: it’s as big as errr two-thirds of a hoverboard?) graphic novel is a work of genius, in the full sense of the word. Moore takes the facts of the Jack the Ripper case and weaves from them a compelling mystery, incredible narrative, and scalpel-sharp critique on modern culture. The ending in particular floored me so completely that I sat quietly for about an hour once I finished it, just digesting what I'd read.

Please don’t be daunted by its size; as a graphic novel it reads much quicker than the heft and page count would have you think.

Sudden Traveller

Sarah Hall

The baby is some kind of axis, a fixed point in time, though he grows every day, fingers lengthening, face passing through echoes of all your relatives, and the other relatives, heart chambers expanding, blood reproducing. It is like holding a star in your arms. All the moments of your life, all its meanings and dimensions, seem to lead to and from him.

Everything Sarah Hall writes is like that. That's it; that's my review and my recommendation. If that quote doesn't do anything for you then nothing I say will.

This collection of short stories was my favourite of hers, but you can start anywhere really — they’re all fantastic. With the passing of Cormac McCarthy I think she might be the best writer of prose working today.

A Collapse of Horses

Brian Evenson

You know that feeling when you read a book by an author you don’t know, or hear a song by an unfamiliar band, and then when you look them up you find they have been active for years and there’s a massive body of work for you to start munching your way through? That warm and comfortable feeling? I had that with Brian Evenson right at the beginning of last year. A Collapse of Horses was the first of his books I read, and a year and a half later I’m still luxuriating in his back catalogue like a capybara in a hotspring.

mood

Evenson is, in my opinion, this generation's torchbearer of weird horror. His tales can be fantastical or totally grounded, but are always jetblack dark. He is able to perfectly capture the flowing logic of a dream, and uses it to draw in the reader and trigger genuine, visceral response.

Have you ever had a nightmare which terrified you, but when you try to explain what happened it sounds foolish and superficial? Evenson can convey his nightmares with no information loss. I think it borderline criminal that he does not have more recognition.

Fin

If you haven't read any of these I can recommend them (almost) unreservedly (Vurt is a tough sell I think). I love having a good natter about books, so if you've got any insight or opinions on the above please feel free to pop them in the comments.

I also welcome suggestions for the Great Book Kanban!

~~~

*If I had a nickel for every book I read featuring an incestuous relationship in the last year-and-a-bit I’d have 20 cents, which isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things but feels oddly high?

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Madoka Mori

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Comments (11)

  • Morgana Miller11 months ago

    You've just made Vurt the book recommendation equivalent of "You won't." And damnit, now I have to read it. Your tastes are so much more literary and sophisticated than my normal rotation of chick-lit/thriller/fantasy. Is that why you're a genius? IS THIS YOUR SECRET?

  • Cathy holmes11 months ago

    I haven't read any of them but would be most interested in Hell and The Sudden Traveller. Great review. Congrats on the TS - for real this time.

  • Cyrus Davies 11 months ago

    I will have to find time to read these books

  • Interesting selections. Haven't read a single one of them, but you make them sound quite good.

  • Kelly Khoo11 months ago

    Engaging, Diverse, Thought-Provoking.

  • Some interesting selections there, excellent article. I am a slow reader, but have two on the go at the moment

  • Babs Iverson11 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!° Madoka, this is a marvelous list with spectacular reviews!!! Loved reading it!!!💕♥️♥️

  • Ashley Lima11 months ago

    Great list! I'm gonna have to check them out. Thanks for this article and congrats on Top Story!

  • Matthew Fromm11 months ago

    I've had my eye on From Hell for a bit as I've been on a Moore/Lloyd kick. Moving it up the list!

  • J. S. Wade11 months ago

    Thank you for the recommendations. I need to read more. Trusted recommendations are invaluable. 😎

Madoka MoriWritten by Madoka Mori

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