Another year has started, and another shelf has been added to my Goodreads account to track my reading. However, in 2022, I did something a bit different: I consciously did not set a goal for the annual Goodreads reading challenge.
I’ve learned by now that these sorts of things — reading X books per year, writing Y words per day, etc — is a source of stress for me. Goals like that assume some sort of consistent, linear progress, and my habits are much more jagged. I can go without finishing a book for 2 months, then read 5 in a month.
The nice thing was that I still read 30 books in 2022! Some of them were for work, and some were non-fiction, but roughly 1/3 of the books I finished fit under the spec-fic umbrella. Here’s a look at a few of the books I really liked last year:
The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield
I often compare my reading habits to being like a python: if the right book grabs me at the right time, I will swallow the thing whole. It may be a while before I come across another book I inhale, but I’ll sit there and digest what I’ve read in the interim.
The Embroidered Book is this year’s classic example of a python book: I read all 600+ pages in just over 2 days. Having read Heartfield’s Armed in Her Fashion a few years ago, I was unsurprised to see her continued nuanced portrayal of multiple female characters, or her deft incorporation of trans characters into the narrative. But the real beating heart of the book is the relationship between Antoine and her sister Charlotte, and how their rivalling paths on opposite sides of a magical conflict curdles, but doesn’t entirely destroy, their affection for each other. The final chapters (where Antoine meets her fate and Charlotte makes a very particular magical sacrifice) are heartbreaking.
Bonus: if you listen to the Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan, you’ll get an extra kick out of seeing how the real events of the French Revolution intertwine with the magical events of the book.
The Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein
I have spilled many words on here about the Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein. And I even wrote an entire post about how The Language of Power illustrates the power of social contracts. So yes, this was one of my favourite books of the year, and I highly recommend the series. It even got a small reference in a recent XKCD comic!
The Centaur’s Wife by Amanda Leduc
This was a weird one for me. I read it in less than 24 hours, but both loved it and was emotionally exhausted by it in the end. It felt laser-targeted to me, in a painful way, like Leduc wrote it specifically for me at this point in my life. I read it when I was 37, the same age as the main character. And the main character’s experience of giving birth right before a cataclysmic, world-ending event is one of my own greatest fears. On top of that, the main character’s father died when she was 12, and I was a similar age when mine died. And on top of that, I read it immediately after watching the DS9 episode “Doctor Bashir, I Presume”, in which it’s revealed that Julian Bashir’s parents did a medical intervention on him as a child without his consent in order to remove a perceived disability. Something very similar happens to the main character in the book and is a major source of trauma for her, so the parallels were hard to ignore.
The Centaur’s Wife felt like a pile of salt rubbed into my own personal wounds, but I can’t hate it; it’s so densely layered and thoughtfully constructed of multiple overlapping narratives. And the author herself, Amanda Leduc, is a compelling reader — I first learned about the book when she read the opening as part of the Ephemera reading series.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
A friend of mine teaches a course on children’s literature at Toronto Metro University, and The Amazing Maurice is part of the reading list. Any book by Terry Pratchett is worth your time, but I hadn’t read this one yet.
I went in expecting something fun but anodyne, sanded down to meet the needs of children. But that was my mistake: Pratchett rarely pulls any punches, even (or perhaps especially) in books written for kids.