According to Goodreads, last year I read 49 books! The shortest book at 112 pages was Discover Galway, by Paul Walsh, which I read when I thought we may be going to Galway, Ireland (didn’t happen last year, but would still love to go). The longest book was by the same author as the longest book I read the previous year: Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon – her second book in her Scottish Highlander series, “Outlander,” at even longer than her first one, at 947 pages (way too long, so we’ll see if I’m inspired to read her third book this year). The most popular book was “The silent patient” by Alex Michaelides, which was read by at least 2,604,312 people on Goodreads. The least popular (read) book was Discovery Galway again (sorry Paul Walsh), which was on only 5 shelves of Goodreads readers.
Amongst those 50 or so books that I read in 2022, here are some that I would recommend reading:
Sailing true north: ten admirals and the voyage of character, by Admiral James Stavridis. Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which I attended for one year) sponsors a lecture series, called “The January Series.” I was able to catch some of the lectures online, including one by Admiral James Stavridis. I was so enchanted by his charisma that I sought out (i.e., purchased) several of his books for Michael. We enjoyed his writing and learned a lot about various admirals throughout history. Now we are reading his “Sailor’s bookshelf: fifty books to know the sea.” Some of the books we’ve read before, but he’s introducing us to more that are now on our “to read” list of “boat books.”
The Violin conspiracy: a novel, by Brendan Slocumb. Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, I picked up the violin (a lifelong dream), and have really enjoyed playing it (albeit still pretty badly). So, when I saw this title, I knew I had to read it. After the initial chapters, I checked the author bio, as it seemed like whoever wrote this had to be a musician. That was my favorite part of the book, the descriptions of Ray playing the violin. You could feel his passion. I also liked Ray’s story, of falling in love with the violin, and his challenges along the way (especially standing up to racism). This first novel is based somewhat on the experiences of the author (without the “conspiracy,” which while interesting, was not as compelling as the other parts).
My Story, by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. “My sister went to Abu Dhabi, and all she bought me was…” this amazing book by the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. Michael and I read a chapter each evening and agreed that this should be required reading for world leaders, or anyone interested in the politics of the Middle East. How refreshing to read about someplace in the Middle East that is not fraught with war and corruption. The chapters are deliciously short, well written, and interesting. The author spends a bit of time talking about his mother and his horses, but his wife gets only one brief mention (later I found out why – he’s not so great on the women in his life, aside from his mother). Overall, we were very impressed with this man, and his poetic soul and leadership.
Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times, by Katherine May. Okay, I admit it, I was a sucker for the beautiful cover, as well as the great title. While not all of this book grabbed me, there was so much that I felt like I would carry forward. I do at times feel like I am wintering – not only on the calendar, but with other factors in my life, including the pandemic. And I do admit to loving winter, although it can be challenging. I liked the approach of writing the book in monthly segments, and I also liked that the author is British and her home is in a seaside village. Katherine May intertwines her personal stories with experiences of other places and people and creatures. Her admission that this book turned out differently than she intended is quite true to life – despite our best intentions, life happens.
The bookshop of second chances: a novel, by Jackie Fraser. This is my kind of book – great setting, lovely characters, good story (even though predictable ending, which is just fine with me). I loved Thea and her wonderful honesty and introspection, as well as Edward and his curmudgeness (not a word, I know). And who can resist, in general, books where people escape their lives and start over in a small idyllic village somewhere – in this case in Scotland. And working in a bookstore! What could be better, indeed.
Wanderlost: Falling from grace and finding mercy in all the wrong places, by Natalie Toon Patton. I went on a spending spree at my favorite publisher, Paraclete Books, and this is one of the titles that intrigued me – I thought my friend Elizabeth may like it, as she is a spiritual soul who loves to travel. Of course, I had to read it first – and loved it! What an inspiring story, and so beautifully written (and very funny!). There is much here to chew on, and reread. Like the author, I’m also intrigued by the intersection of travel and spirituality. I loved how Natalie’s perceptions changed with her exposure to different cultures and faiths and people. I think that happens to some of us, whose faith evolves throughout life, and what we are drawn to (such as Celtic Christianity for me). Church and religion can disappoint us (reading “Jesus and John Wayne” the previous year was a real eye opener), and we peel away the layers we try to find what remains true.
Finding Dora Maar: An artist, an address book, a life, by Brigitte Benkemoun. I read about this book, in which the author finds an address book that she eventually realizes belonged to artist Dora Marr (1907-1997), in one of the magazines lying around our staff kitchen. It looked so interesting that I suggested it for my book group. I am so glad I read it – it’s right up my alley in so many ways. As an archivist I am always trying to puzzle items out – so I loved that aspect of the book. I also find that whole era of these 20th century French artists and writers fascinating. I had heard of some of the people in the book, but it was fun to learn about them all on a deeper level, and Dora’s relationship with them.
The Lost Apothecary: a novel, by Sarah Penner. This impressive and well written first novel, about a female apothecary in London who secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them, is a fun and fast read, with three different voices telling the story, in two different time periods. Yes, this seems to be a common way to tell historical fiction these days, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. For the most part this does work, and I found myself interested in the two stories, and caring about the women. The contemporary story of a marriage is also compelling, about how one can lose themselves in expectations and doing the “right” thing.
The Cottage Fairy Companion: A Cottagecore guide to slow living, connecting to nature, and becoming enchanted again, by Paola Merrill. A friend introduced me to the Cottage Fairy videos on YouTube, and I found myself falling into Paola’s beautiful world in a rural valley in Washington State. When I was on vacation in Rockland, Maine, I found a copy in a local bookstore, and purchased it. It’s the kind of book where you can read a few pages at a time, and just savor the good writing and beautiful photographs. Paola Merrill is an old soul, and is so thoughtful and sensitive about how she approaches life. I love how she grows as a person throughout her videos, and in her book. She also has a puckish sense of humor, and is a unique and honest individual. Having watched her videos for the past year or so I can hear her voice when I read her book. I like how the book is laid out in seasons, too, with various recipes to try.
This Year It Will Be Different, and other stories: a Christmas treasury, by Maeve Binchy. By the time Christmas rolls around I’m in the mood for light reading, especially Christmas stories. This book came into my hands at the perfect time, as I had been reading a lot of more serious books. The short stories were so readable, and while I liked some of them better than others, overall they were very enjoyable. They had a bit of depth to them, and not always the happy endings that one would imagine.