It’s become an annual tradition of mine to put together a post about my favourite books of the year, in part, I think, as I find reading to be such an essential part of writing, and one of the bits that I don’t, as a matter of course, write about. Each year I present my favourite five of, typically, about 50 books (48 this year – I blame having a young baby in the house for the slight shortfall!), because I think being in the ‘top ten percent’ of stuff that grabbed my attention within a year is a fairly strong recommendation.
This year’s selection is more ‘novelly’ than usual, and is shaped, I suspect, by being both exciting and fairly easy reading, so I could follow the text despite long bouts of being quite tired (again, that baby!). Nevertheless, I think it’s an excellent selection. Unusually, this year doesn’t feature any sports books. As usual, the ones I have picked are not necessarily (and in fact, in this case, exclusively not) books released in 2022. They’re just my favourite five that I have read. Here goes…
Panic by Lauren Oliver
Now an Amazon Prime series, Panic is the story of a small American town and an annual tradition of graduating school kids participating in a kind of ‘ultra dare’ game for a large prize fund contributed to by each of them over the course of the year. Some of the challenges are scary, some tailored to their specific fears, and others are full on life-threatening. As a consequence, the event has become notorious in hte town, bringing with it police attempts to shut it down, and occasional deaths.
What’s really well done here, though, is the character development. From those who run Panic (kept carefully hidden and passed on annually), to those who take part (for reasons that vary wildly), each person in this book feels distinctly ‘real’, even against such a wild premise. It won’t change your life, but it’s one of the most pleasant reads I’ve picked up in a long time.
David Attenborough’s Life On Air
I’m a huge fan of David Attenborough, and this chunky tome is an exploration of his life in full, so it was always giong to appeal. An interesting side of it is the almost coincidental way he ended up involved in doing environmental TV programming, and how it ended up absorbing his life, including having heaps of rare animals living in his home as a side effect of in-studio broadcasting. It sounded chaotic.
As well as the stunning life stories, the book also sets out Attenborough’s concerns for our future, taking on a kind of ‘Inconvenient Truth’ meets personal experience angle as he outlines what he’s seen environmentally as he’s globe trotted his way through some of the world’s less-visited corners. It’s compelling throughout.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun
I try to read the big Korean books each year as a way of staying at least a little in line with the culture I’ve loved since living there way back in the mid-00s. ‘The Disaster Tourist’ is terrible for that, aside from shining a light on Korea’s rather intense working culture, but it does have a quirky and imaginative plot that reeled me in.
The lead character, whose name escapes me months later, works for an agency that chases unusual locations for travel, in particular linked with natural or political issues. The book is themed around a visit to an island where the company are considering whether to maintain a programme, and the lead character has to make that call. It turns out there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Wacky and compelling.
A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson
From the understated title (Bill Bryson actually walks quite a large chunk of the Appalachian Trail) to the ludicrous set up (his main companion is an overweight liability who is barely able to walk the first few miles), A Walk In The Woods is one of those books in which not a lot happens, but it kind of speaks to the soul as it does so.
By Bryson’s own account it’s one of the hardest books he’s written, but it has this strange calming sense of repetition that probably comes naturally with the subject, and despite the exceedingly slow progress, a kind of ‘of the earth’ feel as he describes specific hills, trees, and occasionally threatening wildlife, as well as his irritation with other hikers, his companion Stephen Katz in particular. It stuck with me.
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin
Unlike ‘The Disaster Tourist’, ‘Winter In Sokcho’ speaks firmly to Korean culture, and I found it transporting, with Sokcho one of my favourite stop offs during my time in Korea (it’s a beach town on the East coast, close to the North Korean border, a slightly bleak feeling place overlooked by a huge mountainous national park).
In the story, the narrator is a local woman working in a guest house, with the main plot based around her odd interactions with a French cartoonist who is staying as a guest during the off-peak season. The more interesting side, from my perspective, was how firmly it outlined and then rebelled against Korean taboos, as well as its depiction go Sokcho itself.