2022 Books Read

Some re-reads this year, but a lot of new-to-me authors as well. New novels written by faves. Been a year of upheaval and transitions. I’ve managed to keep up my regular reading schedule. I just don’t feel right if I’m not reading something. For fun, for education, for escape, for whatever. It was a good reading year.

1. A Journal of the Plague Year: Being Observations or Memorials of the Most Remarkable Occurences, as Well Public as Private, Which Happened in London During the Last Great Visitation in 1665, by Daniel Defoe
I had never read this! I figured, all things considered, it was about time. It did not disappoint.

2. The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul, and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles, by Don Wolfe
I had this sitting around for years. I’ve read many of the books pertaining to this case, the Hodel book, the Ellroy book, etc. I think Wolfe makes the most convincing case (backed up by the newly opened LAPD files). This poor woman. She was just trying to survive but she was “hanging out” with not just unsavory people, but bad bad people.

3. Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, by Dana Stevens
One of my favorite reads of the year, made even more special since it’s written by a friend and colleague of mine, fellow NYFCC member Dana Stevens. It’s not your run-of-the-mill door-stop biography. I interviewed Dana about it for Ebert.

4. A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel
A daunting novel about the French revolution, as seen through the eyes of three of its main figures – Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins. I read it some years ago, post Wolf Hall, and had always wanted to return to it. I know the story behind this book. It was basically deemed unpublishable. It’s a 900-page dense detailed book about the French Revolution. Who cares. Well, to quote Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club: “I care.” Suddenly Mantel’s star rises, and suddenly this massive TOME about POWER and how power operates – and how power changes people (or doesn’t) – doesn’t seem so unpublishable after all. I honestly think in a lot of ways it’s superior to Wolf Hall. At any rate, I love Mantel (RIP), and this was a super fun re-read. It takes forever though. It’s huge. There are 800 characters. I mean, they’re famous – Marat, etc. – so that helps, but … I actually created an index for all the names. It helped. Some character disappears for 400 pages, then suddenly re-appears, and I’d have no way to quickly check and figure out “wait, who is this again?”

5. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
As good as everyone says. I am overwhelmed. The final chapter UNDID me.

6. The Camera Lies: Acting for Hitchcock, by Dan Callahan
My friend Dan’s book came out last year, and it was in storage, unfortunately, I couldn’t get to it. Finally I got my own place, and I eagerly jumped into it. For any fans of Hitchcock, this is an essential addition to the library. As always, Dan makes you want to pop in each movie and re-watch as you go along, so you can pick up on all the things he points out. Proud of my friend.

7. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (Books That Changed the World), by Christopher Hitchens
I’ve read this thing like 5 times.

8. The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick
She’s new to me – or at least, her writing is – and I am so glad I have made her acquaintance now. I inhaled it, so I probably need to go back and re-read at a slower pace.

9. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart
This is an astonishing book.

10. The Assumption of the Rogues & Rascals, by Elizabeth Smart
A sort of loose sequel to the above. It’s unfashionable now to be “undone” by love like this, to cry over a man, to want love, even. All that girl-boss bullshit. I mean, good for you if it works for you, but for those of us who have been lovelorn, who have loved, lost, been totally undone – women who love too much? Yeah, okay, whatever, if you need a label – then Elizabeth’s Smarts words are haunting, piercingly true, and … upsetting. I have no distance. She doesn’t allow it.

11. Walled Gardens: Scenes from an Anglo-Irish Childhood, by Annabell Davis-Goff
My father gave me this book years ago and I am very regretful I am only reading it now. I don’t understand myself. Wouldn’t it have been nice to talk with him about it? Annabell Davis-Goff (who eventually married Mike Nichols – for a time) wrote a gorgeous and detailed memoir about growing up steeped in Anglo-Irish gentility and tradition, but almost like growing up in a forgotten world, a world passing them by. It’s beautiful.

12. Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, by Janet Malcolm
I hadn’t read Malcolm’s two books in re: psychoanalysis and have always wanted to rectify that. Malcolm is relentless. People who agreed to be interviewed by her should have their heads examined. Pun intended.

13. Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, by William Hazlitt
I’d been wanting to read this for a while – it’s quoted all the time – but Hazlitt’s stuff is not as widely available as it should be. You can read his collected essays (which I also did this year), but I was forced to buy a janky copy of this one, featuring a nondescript cover of a stock photo sunrise, and riddled with typos. No matter. Hazlitt can be a bit of a gushing fanboy – so there’s a lot of “even if this plot hole is a flaw, Shakespeare MEANT it to be a flaw to show the FLAWED nature of humankind” etc. But he’s such a marvelous writer, so fun to read, so much to think about.

14. Robert De Niro (Anatomy of an Actor), by Glenn Kenny
I read this back when it first came out. Glenn is a friend. It’s so fantastic. I re-read it in preparation for my video-essay for the Raging Bull release. I especially appreciate Glenn’s featuring of De Niro’s incredible performance in Stone, which deserves to stand alongside his greatest performances.

15. Tulipomania : The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, by Mike Dash
I read this when it first came out and decided on a whim to re-read. I do enjoy speculative bubbles, in the same way I enjoy reading about brainwashing, culty groupthink, and propaganda. It’s all related.

16. Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story, by Julie K. Brown
Julie K. Brown is a hero. This book is such a grotesque read, it’s so infuriating and vile. I’ll just put my cards on the table: The only way this makes sense to me is if Jeffrey Epstein was an intelligence asset, working for one, maybe two, maybe even three governments. No one on Wall Street ever traded with the guy. Every time I see him described as “financier” – and that’s all he’s described as – everyone calls him that – NY Times, WaPo, everyone – it’s so irritating. Language matters. He wasn’t a financier. Financiers DO FINANCE. Epstein didn’t. If he WAS an intelligence asset, then I think CLEARLY something went wrong in the vetting process (although assets are often cultivated from unsavory types with unsavory appetites). The only currency for Jeffrey Epstein was blackmail. This all sounds so conspiracy-theory-ish but honestly it makes way more sense than the “financier gone wild” story.

17. This Time for Me: A Memoir, by Alexandra Billings
So damn proud of my friend. Proud to be her friend, and just proud of her in general.

18. Sonata for Jukebox: Pop Music, Memory, and the Imagined Life, by Geoffrey O’Brien
One of the reads of the year. I am a little ashamed I hadn’t read this before. The book really does read like a sonata and like a jukebox: the childhood sections are particularly fascinating, because O’Brien manages to capture what it was like to be a child and music is just in the air, seeping into you from all sides, and you are absorbing everything, without any context, because you are a child, and instead of adding context after the fact, he immerses you in the language of what it feels like to be in that open pure state. It’s hard to explain, but it made me think about my own relationship to music – which I’ve written about a lot here – and the records in my parents’ album collection, and how they were my entryways into the world of music. This obviously isn’t the case anymore: kids are able to find their own music on their own. But we listened to what my parents listened to and it’s still amazing to me the connections I was trying to make – as an 8 year old, 9 year old – the connections I felt opening up between me and, say, the Clancy Brothers, or Ian & Sylvia, or the Beatles – how I was making sense of things, without any context. All I had was the sound. O’Brien is a master. The Beach Boys chapter alone is worth the price of admission. But the chapter about what it felt like when the Beatles appeared – as if from out of nowhere – gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

19. Let Me Tell You What I Mean, by Joan Didion
Bittersweet to read some new-to-me pieces by her. I am hoping there will be more to come. All of her New York Review of Books pieces, for example.

20. Unruly Times: Wordsworth And Coleridge In Their Time, by A.S. Byatt
Byatt’s first book! It came out in 1970, I think, and – again, I think – was basically her dissertation in book form. For whatever reason, and not by design, this year I read a bunch of books by and about people formed by the French Revolution – or at least seriously altered by it – as everyone was, I suppose. Hazlitt, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Burke – plus Mantel’s novel. Oh, and Thomas Paine, too!

21. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays, by Anne Fadiman
A re-read. She’s very calming. Her subject matter is, on the face of it, banal: coffee. Ice cream. Butterflies. She starts with the personal, i.e. “the familiar” – I love coffee. I love ice cream. I collected butterflies as a kid. But she veers off very quickly from the personal into the historical/cultural/social history of the given subject matter. So she ropes in the historical connection between coffee and writing (would Balzac’s output have been the same if he hadn’t drank coffee 24/7?), or Nabokov’s obsession with butterflies … Olivia Laing does a similar thing in her writing (she is currently working on a book on gardening. I can’t wait. I don’t care about gardening. But I can’t wait for her to make me care about it.)

22. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman
A re-read. My dad gave this book to all of us one Christmas and it quickly became a favorite. It’s a special book for me, as are all the books dad gave me.

23. L.A. Woman, by Eve Babitz
Oh, Eve. I love you so.

24. The Big Green Tent, by Ludmila Ulitskaya
My friend Ted gave this to me a couple years ago – hell, maybe even 5 years ago – but it’s so massive I had to wait to be ready to tackle it. I mentioned to him that I wanted to read some contemporary Russian authors, an unknown landscape to me, and he gave me this book. It is massive, but it reads like a bat out of hell. It’s the story of three friends – together and apart – and their experiences growing up in Cold War Russia (the book starts with the death of Stalin). Amazing characters, intense atmosphere.

25. Selected Writings, by William Hazlitt
I’d only read his most famous essays – some which I reference all the time (in my head, but sometimes in my writing, too) – The Fight, The Indian Jugglers, The Pleasure of Hating – all essential reading. Important. He was an interesting guy, a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge – and Charles Lamb – and a masterful writer himself. I’ll be revisiting this one. It took me half the year to get through it.

26. In the Freud Archives, by Janet Malcolm
Again with the relentless Malcolm. What a fascinating story, though. All those Freudians warring with each other, all these sketchy characters. It reminds me a lot of the Actors Studio, and the huge battle following Strasberg’s death in regards to his estate. It would have been a good subject for Malcolm.

27. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos

28. Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945, by Volker Ullrich
I finished the first massive volume last year, and had to take some time off before tackling the second volume. Hitler is such a bore. And he got even more boring as he approached his phantasmagorical and entirely fitting end. Complete la-la land in that inner circle. Ullrich has done a masterful job at painting the picture of those final days in the bunker – it’s amazing how many of those people actually lived to tell the tale. Not sorry to finish this one, but it’s an admirable work.

29. The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner
Her The Flamethrowers impressed me so much I’ve almost been hesitant to read more. She is so fucking good. I was upset to see her name on the petition protesting PEN awarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. So I was “off” her for a while. A meaningless protest on my part, perhaps, and one that didn’t last, but we each have to follow our own conscience in these matters. You wouldn’t know that from the bullies out there who demand “purity” and consistency from everyone – but I don’t listen to people who demand purity. People who demand purity have been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes against humanity in the annals of history. And a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. So, no thanks. I have no way of verifying if Kushner’s portrayal of prison life in Mars Room is accurate, but it feels well-researched and lived-in – just as her portrayal of 1970s Italy feels well-researched and lived-in in The Flamethrowers.

30. The View From Penthouse B, by Elinor Lipman
One of my favorite contemporary authors. I love that there is a new Elinor Lipman book, on average, a book a year. So much to look forward to.

31. Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens

32. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, by Bob Stanley
I read this way too fast. I inhaled it in almost one single read – and it’s a long book – during my family’s vacation last summer. I’ll go back to it often. It’s incredible.

33. Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, by Mark Lewisohn
THE read of the year for me, and I realize I’m basically a decade behind the times. This is only part 1! Part 2 is to come. It’s not here yet. Is it done yet? When is it coming? I NEED IT NOW.

34. The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
Another memoir my dad gave me, this time from Jill Ker Conway, who grew up on an isolated desert farm in Australia – before moving to Sydney with her mother in around middle school – and eventually went on to be the President of Smith College (the first woman in that role). This is really a coming-of-age tale, and her memories of this farm – the brutal isolation, the hardships, but also the comfort – she grew up in almost complete isolation, schooled at home, only seeing her parents and the hired hands. Her book is all an act of memory. I can see why Dad gave it to me.

35. Divorcing, by Susan Taubes
WOW. A devastating book, a roman a clef, about the breakup of a marriage – obviously based on Taubin’s own. I’ve made a lot of new “friends” this year – meaning, writers I discovered – I pair Divorcing in my head with Elizabeth Smart’s heartbreaking By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, although the styles are very different. In both, women who have been flayed raw by their emotions, their love, their misery … and the writer pushes the form of writing hard into very experimental impressionistic territory.

36. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
This is my second time through. I had been itching to re-read it, and almost picked it up last year. I forgot how hilarious this surreal book is. Like, the cat is truly awful, but the cat is also high vaudeville, lolling about drinking champagne, jumping onto a streetcar. Also, the scene where everyone in the writers’ collective has been put under a spell where they MUST sing. They don’t WANT to sing, and they try to stop themselves, but they open their mouths and begin shrieking an aria. I was dying. It’s a testament to Bulgakov’s courage that this book even EXISTS. It was burned. He burned the manuscript. The whole book is about a banned book … “Manuscripts don’t burn” – the most famous line.

37. Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney
Her writing is fascinating because there is almost no subtext. You get what people say and what they do. It’s up to us to fill in the feelings. This is a slight exaggeration but not by much. Because you only get what people say and do, you are forced to meet them as if for the first time, the way you would someone at a party. You form impressions, you make assumptions, you get things wrong.

38. Midnight in the Century, by Victor Serge
Serge’s novel about being sent into exile in Siberia (based on his own experiences). The title alone brings a shiver of dread.

39. Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens
People have gotten irritated that I still read him – I mean, not constantly, lol, but there have been times when I’ve mentioned him and/or quoted him, and people bristle. The words “get some real problems other than what some random woman is reading” come to mind. He got a lot of things wrong – a lot of BIG things – but I like a lot of authors who got things wrong. If you read authors who were writing in the 20s and 30s, then you are reading people who got things wrong. Guaran-damn-tee. People were switching sides, backing the wrong horse – which seemed like the right horse at the time – it was complete chaos and very hard to keep your bearings. The ones who got things right – Victor Serge, for example – or, later, Orwell – are rarities. I’m probably “getting things wrong” in my own life as we speak – things that will only become clear years down the road. Shrug. I like good writers and Hitchens can WRITE. Also, in general, I like his cultural pieces better than his political pieces. I like his writing on writers, and he’s introduced me to a lot of authors I now love. So there. Fill your own bookshelves with the books you love, and I’ll do the same.

40. The Parthenon Marbles: The Case for Reunification, by Christopher Hitchens, Nadine Gordimer, and Charalamabos Bouras
One of his earliest books, if I’m not mistaken, and I hadn’t read it before. It’s just outrageous that the British Museum hasn’t done what is clearly the right thing. Hitchens, Gordimer and Bouras make the case for the Parthenon Marbles – NOT the “Elgin marbles” – to be returned to where they belong.

41. The Kremlin Ball, by Curzio Malaparte
I first read this book a couple years ago, when NYRB Classics issued it in translation (first time in English, I believe). I couldn’t believe this book had existed for decades and I had never read it. Malaparte’s “novel” about wandering around through Soviet Moscow in the years right after the Revolution. The 20s. Stalin in power, but it’s not the 30s yet. Moscow in the 20s is described as a decadent re-creation of the exact same social hierarchy the Bolsheviks declared they wanted to destroy. A “Soviet elite” enjoying the spoils, all the perks of being high up in the regime. It’s gossipy, mean, and beautiful. Malaparte’s “Le Cote Basque”.

42. A Hitch in Time: Writings from the London Review of Books, by Christoper Hitchens
A new collection! Stuff I haven’t read!

43. Looking To Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing, by Peter Guralnick
I finally got to this one. I have been so looking forward to it. It’s rich and beautiful and personal, with detailed profiles of Dick Curliss, Tammy Wynette, Howlin’ Wolf, and on and on. I’ll be going back to this one again and again.

44. Language of the Third Reich: LTI: Lingua Tertii Imperii, by Victor Klemperer
Victor Klemperer’s two-volume journal – I Will Bear Witness – details his life in 1930s Dresden, married to an Aryan wife, and yet still feeling the vice tightening around them, bit by bit, chipping away at his freedom. Lost job, lost house, lost everything. It’s amazing that these diaries – broken up into pieces and hidden in cupboards or passed off to friends – survived the war, survived what happened in Dresden. One of the ways Klemperer kept himself sane, after he lost his job, as he watched the Nazi menace rear up all around him, was to take notes – every day – on how the language was changing, on what propaganda was doing to the language he loved so much. These notes he called Lingua Tertii Imperii (or LTI) – the Language of the Third Reich. If the madness ever ended, Klemperer thought he’d might like to write a book about all this one day. Well, the war did end. Klemperer survived. And he DID write that book. It’s not as well-known as it should be. I think it wasn’t translated into English for years. But it is a masterful indispensable work on propaganda.

45. From Bauhaus to Our House, by Tom Wolfe
There’s something about Tom Wolfe … I hadn’t read this one, and just had no idea about Bauhaus or any of this shit. It’s hilarious. Or, the way he writes about it is hilarious. I think of James Joyce’s comment, “I have come to the realization that I cannot write without offending people.” I think Tom Wolfe knew from the jump. I will annoy people, and I MUST annoy people, and I will use my writing to PIERCE the waves of self-deception around this or that “movement”. Anyway! The Bauhaus infiltration as told by someone who despised it all. lol

46. The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe
See comments above. ^^ Here, he leaves architecture behind and goes after fine arts, painting.

47. Notebooks: 1936-1947, by Victor Serge
I am so grateful to NYRB for bringing out all of Serge’s stuff, with informative introductions, good translations, the whole nine yards. These notebooks are fascinating and upsetting and REVEALING. Serge died in 1947. In many ways, he remained a true believer – in the original ideals of Socialism – but he saw the writing on the wall early – earlier than anyone else, at least on the inside. And for that, he was exiled, or imprisoned, or on the run for the rest of his life. Here, he arrives in Mexico – and is thrust into the middle of a Communist/Socialist/Stalinist/Trotskyite war – like, a real war. I mean, Trotsky was murdered. Serge had a target on his back. He couldn’t get published since Stalinists – or just good old-fashioned scaredy-cat liberals – had so infiltrated the publishing world in America and elsewhere, that he couldn’t catch a break. He was un-publishable. I have no idea how he survived. There were editors who tried to help. Even amidst the despair of a ragged life lived on the run, he wrote in his notebook every day, describing what he saw, who he met, and also reading the tea leaves about what was going on in Russia. He was, 9 times out of 10, right on all counts.

48. Another Day of Life, by Ryszard Kapuściński
It’s been a while. He’s one of my favorite authors. This is about one of his first big assignments as a foreign journalist, covering the complete chaos in Angola after the Portuguese left.

49. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?: A Memoir, by Séamas O’Reilly
Oh God, this is so good. I was laughing out loud throughout, an amazing thing since it’s about his mother dying when he was five, leaving his dad to raise their eleven – yes, eleven – children alone. But of course it’s hilarious. It’s an Irish story.

50. The Trial of Henry Kissinger, by Christopher Hitchens
Hitchens as prosecutor.

51. Two by Two: Tango, Two-Step, and the L.A. Night, by Eve Babitz
I hadn’t read this. It was the book Eve Babitz was working on when she accidentally set herself on fire, an accident which led to her stopping writing for about 20 years. The book is a charming funny tour through the various dance scenes in Los Angeles. Eve loved dancing, and so it’s a personal journey – of her experiences seeking out the best places to dance, to learn to dance. I love her.

52. Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine: And Other Stories, Sketches, and Essays, by Tom Wolfe
This is the collection where Tom Wolfe not only goes off on the “Me Decade”, but gives the “Me Decade” its name.

53. The Girl Who Wanted a Boy, by Paul Zindel
There’s a pretty funny story about this book from my high school years but I’ll tell it some other time. I haven’t read it SINCE then. But I still have my original copy, a cheap paperback, from way back then. I love Paul Zindel. I think I’m going to do a re-read of all of his stuff this year. Something about this book struck such a deep chord in me when I was 15, 16 – and I still remember the feeling. I felt it again as I read it this past time. And you know what? It still works. Don’t let the title fool you. It’s a bad title. It’s about a teenage girl who falls madly in love with a guy whose picture she sees in the paper. She gets swept away. He is hers. They are soulmates. So she decides to go out and get him. She projects like crazy. He is all that is good and right and beautiful and even mythic. Meanwhile, she lives in total chaos. Her home life is nuts. No stability. Her dad has de-camped. She doesn’t really have friends. It’s all very blue-collar Staten Island, as all of Zindel’s books are. It’s actually very very DARK. And something in that darkness really spoke to me as a kid. It was good to re-visit. It all came back to me vividly as I was reading it. It was like no time had passed at all.

54. The Portable Edmund Burke, by Edmund Burke
Yet another entry in the French Revolution Generation theme of 2022 reading. His book on the French Revolution is a classic, which I’ve read a number of times. I am also familiar with his equally classic essay on aesthetics – the “sublime and the beautiful” – an opening salvo of the Romantic movement. But the majority of writing in this portable collection was new to me. Speeches in Parliament on the Irish question, the Indian question, the American Revolution, on France, on domestic issues … Even though he’s known as the father of conservatism, dedicated to preserving tradition, etc., he’s also quite forward-thinking, especially in regards to dealing with poverty and the poor – In fact, much of what he says could be boiled down to Socialism or at the very least Socialistic solutions, and any conservative Burkean nerd who doesn’t see that is indoctrinated beyond all hope. He was pro American Revolution, he was anti French Revolution, and his thoughts on the British Empire’s role in India is fascinating, to say the least. One line, and I’m paraphrasing – “They had magnificent civilizations while we were living in huts in the woods.” So have a little respect, in other words. I read one essay (or speech, or pamphlet) a day. A palate cleanser.

55. Diary of a Foreigner in Paris, by Curzio Malaparte
Malaparte again! I have NYRB to thank, AGAIN. For bringing these rare books to us. This is the diary of his time in Paris right after the Second World War ended. His behavior during the war was seen as suspect – he had this reputation for cozying up to the tyrants of the Axis powers. Kaputt was what did this to him. What was Malaparte FOR? It was a very for/against time. And it wasn’t clear what he was for, beyond “being next to whoever was in power”. He’s such an interesting guy. An opportunist? Maybe. An adventurer? For sure. Full of contradictions. At any rate, he found himself ostracized in Paris, which he writes about ad nauseum, in tones of blase indifference and also aggrieved self-pity. A mix. He keeps mentioning that he actually spent time in prison in Italy for resisting Mussolini – meanwhile France had surrendered to Germany, so who were they to criticize him? Lots of guilt and shame swirling around in the air. Such an interesting read.

56. How to Be an Artist, by Jerry Saltz
I finally read it! I love him!

57. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, by Lorrie Moore
More novella than novel, a wispy little thing, but filled with poignancy, and perceptive insights on being a teenager, on small town life, on teenage-girl friendships. Lorrie Moore has a gift for weaving together uneasy truths and outright comedy, sensory reality and character development, atmosphere, and she does all this without ever seeming like she’s straining for effect. I read this when it first came out – I’m a big Lorrie Moore fan – but it’s been years.

58. A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary, 1939-1940, by Iris Origo
Fascinating! Origo was a writer, and this slim diary wasn’t published until years and years after her death. It’s a diary of a very short period of time, very short but packed with events and import. Living in Italy with her husband – and pregnant (although her pregnancy gets maybe one line in the whole thing. You read this diary and suddenly she’s like “Oh yeah and I went into labor two days ago” and you’re like “You’ve been pregnant this whole time??”) – They live on a farm, and they are waiting to see which way Italy will go in Hitler’s upcoming clash with all of Europe. Will they be on Hitler’s side? What will happen then? Nobody wants to be buddies with Hitler. The main theme of the book – and what she writes about every single day – is how difficult it is to discern what is actually going on in an atmosphere drenched in propagada. Every news item has to be basically translated OUT of propaganda-speak. There’s a constant struggle to find radio stations that might be a bit more truthful, and … there’s such a real sense of isolation, how propaganda creates a bubble from which a thinking person can’t find their way out. Very glad I read this one.

59. Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell, by Charles Simic
A lovely little book by the poet Charles Simic about Joseph Cornell’s boxes. An impressionistic collage of pieces, using 9 boxes as inspiration: what do the boxes make you think, or feel, or dream? Despite my full-immersion into Jospeh Cornell years ago, when I was working on the theatre project we were developing about Cornell’s life … I don’t think I read this.

60. Women Talking, by Miriam Toews
I read in preparation for the film, which I reviewed for Ebert. There’s a phoniness going on here that I can’t shake. In the film and in the book. I gave the film three stars, but I think it’s pretty obvious I wasn’t as blown away by it as many others seem to be.

61. The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli
I read this once every couple of years. It’s a go-to, particularly in times of political strife. And, when ISN’T it a time of political strife, amirite?

62. The Gadget, by Paul Zindel
This would make a great film! A teenage kid is brought to America with his scientist father, after nearly dying in a Blitz attack from Nazi planes. His father is part of a team of people brought together to work on something top-secret in America. The kid misses his mother (who stayed in England), and feels a sense of dislocation, particularly when he and his dad move to a remote weird little town in New Mexico called Los Alamos. The town is so weird it’s not even on a map. What’s THAT about, the kid wonders. He notices lots of strange things going on. His father is too busy with his work to pay attention to his kid. The kid gets close to the secret, the secret of what is Really Going On out there in the desert. Seriously: this should be a movie.

63. Cinema Speculation, by Quentin Tarantino
Love it. Caveat: There are so many typos and it’s very irritating. QT deserves better. But it’s fun to listen to him talk. He seems to have seen every film ever made. He makes references and connections, looping together timelines and inspirations, and his speculations are also fun. For example: let’s imagine Taxi Driver as directed by Brian De Palma? Also, his tribute to Floyd is sincere and touching. I also was so happy to hear his praise of “Elvis movies”.

64. Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film, by Alan Rode
I know I’m years late to this. I’ve had it since it came out. It’s just so massive and I needed to clear the deck. It’s a definitive work, and I admire so much the amount of research done to fill out our picture of this great director. Rode is a wonderful writer and scholar.

65. Hons and Rebels, by Jessica Mitford
I was just in Memphis last week and was laid low for two days by a massive flu. I thought it was Covid, but it wasn’t. It was so irritating. I’m in Memphis and I can’t DO anything but lie around in bed, nursing this massive cold. It was weird, the flu hit me like a freight train, and then … it vanished just as quickly. Anyway, I read Hons and Rebels in those two days. I can’t get enough of the Mitfords, and I had somehow never read this. The image of Jessica scratching a hammer and sickle into the window, and then her sister Unity scratching a swastika right next to it … this is how the book opens. This is the Mitford family. Wild. Hons and Rebels ends with the death of her husband, whom she ran away with to go fight in the Spanish Civil War. She was still a teenager. Growing up in THAT family, you’d have to do something extraordinary to break free. You couldn’t just walk away. Extraordinary book.

66. The Door, by Magda Szabó –
Originally published in 1987, finally translated into English in 1995, and then translated again in 2005. This novel is major. We English speakers are so reliant on translation. More books AREN’T translated than ARE. So I am very grateful to all the translators out there, and all the publishers who invest in translations, so we can read these magnificent books written in other languages. I was, frankly, blown away by The Door. A novel about a writer – obviously loosely based on the author herself – who is sometimes “in” with the Hungarian Communist party, and sometimes “out” – and the writer takes in a maid. Emerence shows up. She’s no ordinary maid. In fact, she takes over the writer’s life. She dominates the writer’s mind. She is a MASSIVE force of nature, and I will never ever forget Emerence. Szabo had her own issues with The Powers That Be in Hungary’s oppressive Communist government – and success always means compromise to some degree: to get success, you have to play nice. This element is seemingly background noise to the main event, which is Emerence … but it’s all part of the nightmare-scape atmosphere of shame, complicity, misunderstanding, guilt, suspicion. The Door is a masterpiece. I will read more of Szabo’s work now.

2022 tally (I count it by books, not author. If the same author appears multiple times, I count the author each time)
19 fiction
47 non-fiction
29 books by women
37 books by men


2021 books read
2020 books read
2019 books read
2018 books read
2017 books read
2016 books read
2015 books read
2014 books read
2013 books read
2012 books read
2011 books read
2010 books read
2009 books read
2008 books read
2007 books read
2006 books read
2005 books read

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10 Responses to 2022 Books Read

  1. I have long thought that it is very useful to have a critic whose taste, or prejudices, or preferences you trust, and yours inspire trust in me. I have read a few of these (I’m in the middle of Sonata for Jukebox right now) and I am looking forward to trying some of the others on this list. Thank you for your guidance.

    • sheila says:

      Isn’t Sonata for Jukebox just wonderful? I will definitely go back to re-read that one – and I have already re-read the Beach Boys chapter multiple times.

      He’s just so so good.

      Thanks for the kind words – would love to hear your thoughts on any other books on the list!

  2. TraceyK says:

    Agree with you regarding Christopher Hitchens. I disagreed with him on many things, but agreed with many more. A brilliant man who wrote brilliantly. And I have distaste for people slamming him (or any writer) who had differing opinions than their own, so they demand his “cancellation “. Also, I found his take on Elizabeth the Queen Mother (and the cultural hysteria on Diana’s death) a breath of fresh air.

    • sheila says:

      Oh God, I remember that Diana piece.

      // so they demand his “cancellation “. //

      I hope eventually people will realize that you are literally unable to “cancel” the past. And to even want to do so is Orwellian in the extreme – I think of Winston Smith stuffing papers into the “memory hole” – never to be seen again.

      The past is there to be grappled with – and to be understood – and also for sure the past can change. We can learn more, and look back at the way things were, and strive to do better, etc. But … you can’t CANCEL it. You can try – like with banned books, etc. – but then there’s something like Master and Margarita – and Bulgakovs “manuscripts don’t burn”. Even if they DO burn, they still exist and that matters.

  3. Bill Wolfe says:

    There were two books that hit me hardest this year – in the best possible way. One was A Bright and Guilty Place, about political corruption in Los Angeles in the 1920 and early 1930s, with a focus on a man named Dave Clark, an Assistant D.A., whose story arc is worthy of Shakespeare (and directly inspired Raymond Chandler’s writing). The second was Hollywood Eden, Joel Selvin’s history of the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll in Los Angeles from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s. Chockful of vivid characters, with the standouts being Jan Berry, who turns out to have been something less than heroic, and Jill Gibson, who was. The description of the recording of “He’s a Rebel” were the most exciting pages I read this year. (Selvin’s Here Comes the Night, about producer/songwriter Bert Berns and the New York City music scene from the early 1950s through the late 1960s, is an even better book.)

  4. Madeleine says:

    Wow this is an epic list, with at least 10 “wow gotta read that” titles jumping out at me just on first glance. Thank you!

  5. Ted says:

    What a year! I love how you have category projects going over decades and how that keeps the “project” going. I’m really hankering to read Hilary Mantel’s A PLACE OF GREAT SAFETY! You remind me that I have got to get back on the TUNE IN wagon or how will I ever read Vol II when it finally comes!

    A fine reading year for me as well: 20 non-fiction, 1 poetry, 42 fiction. Highlights for me were all of Antony Sher’s diaries, The Lincoln Highway, Cassandra at the Wedding, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, Mercury Pictures Presents, and two processy books: What Makes an Apple, and Putting it Together.

    • sheila says:

      Have you read Tune In? It’s so massive – it took me a while to get through it – but I was so into it! I know the basic story, of course, but the level of detail was just nuts!! I am dying for the second part to come out, already!

      A Place of Greater Safety is unbelievable – another book about power – and just like she seems to have had a special insight into Thomas Cromwell – who did so many bad things – she also seems to have an insight into Robespierre. She loves him, in a way. It’s complicated. She clearly has done her research – the level of detail is just nuts – and if I’m not mistaken every single character in this book is a real-life person. Maybe one or two are invented? It’s so impressive!

      I’m gonna read Lincoln Highway this year. My mother just finished it and loved it. I have to look up the other ones you mentioned.

      We need to get together soon!! Happy new year!

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