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2022 Books

A short review of some of the books I read in 2022…

Sorrow and Bliss, Meg Mason

Rating: 7/10

I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I was going to. It’s a story about a writer with a fairly severe but unnamed mental illness that intermittently affects her life. When she is not experiencing an episode, quotidian events are described with wit and intelligence, and even the darker periods are documented with a surprising levity meaning the depression never really dominates. The people, relationships, relatable quirks, and humor do.



The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett

Rating: 4/10

I pushed through this book but it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t relate much to the characters, especially to the “vanishing” twin and her decisions. Good writing, I can understand why others rated the book so highly but again, just not one I enjoyed too much.


Wealth Can’t Wait, David Osborn and Paul Morris

Rating: 5/10

A friend recommended this, and it is not bad. Part “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, part self-help / motivation book. Some useful kernels, but some of it easily forgettable too.


Normal People, Sally Rooney

Rating: 8/10

My first Sally Rooney read and I enjoyed Normal People a lot. As an Irishman living abroad, I do like reading books set in Ireland once in a while, and the ups-and-downs, will-they-wont-they of the smart but strange protagonists definitely kept my interest. Weird but great.

“… the snow keeps falling, like a ceaseless repetition of the same infinitesimally small mistake.”

Quality writing.


Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

Rating: 6/10

An enjoyable read from the author of The Martian. I’m guessing a movie is inevitable, and I’ll happily watch it.


Beautiful world, where are you, Sally Rooney

Rating: N/A

Not going to rate this book, since I didn’t finish the last couple of chapters. But as much as I like Rooney’s Normal People, I disliked this book!


Mayflies, Andrew O’Hagan

Rating: 7/10

Enjoyed this book a lot. Recommended. Set in Scotland, it’s a story on books, music, movies and poetry, but mostly a story of friendships at the start and end of life. I was reminded of the final line of Stand By Me “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”.


Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry

Rating: 7/10

A story about 2 old farts sitting at a port, waiting for someone. Whom they never find. And very little happens as they wait. Not exactly a great plot, but the writing and backstories make it a very good book. Because of the ‘2 guys waiting and nothing happens’ thing, I have heard it compared to Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, which I confess I have not read/seen, but maybe I should (update: I did, review below). And whether he is at Beckett’s level or not, Kevin Barry is a master of words. Subtle and blatant references to drugs, violence, and lives with questionable choices. A bit like Trainspotting in that much of the dialog is in a dialect (Southern Irish, and Cork in particular, in this case), and even though the characters are despicable, you can still empathize and even root for them. Recommended.


Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

Rating: Unrateable but memorable! I feel like I need to see the play live first.

Inspired by reading Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier, I bought “Waiting for Godot” on a visit to Ireland. It’s “a tragicomedy in two Acts” by Samuel Beckett about 2 men, Estragon (a.k.a. Gogo) and Valdimir (a.k.a. Didi), waiting for the titular Godot, who never arrives.

The play opens with: “Nothing to be done”
And ends with: [They do not move.]
And in between, the classic and oft-quoted line is:

Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.


Unsurprisingly then, it was a tough read. And yet, paradoxically, I was compelled to immediately read it again.

Is the plot, if you can call it that, worth summarizing more than “Nothing happens”? No, no it is not. A plot summary would be futile… “In all that, what truth will there be?”

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or I think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be?


So perhaps this line best summarizes it:

Yesterday evening, we spent blathering on about nothing in particular. That’s been going on now for half a century.

And did I understand it? No, no I did not. Were the men in Hell? Purgatory? A bad dream? Does Waiting for Godot represent waiting for death/God? Beckett was adamant that “if I had meant God, I would have said God, and not Godot”. But surely…
I’m sure smarter people than I may understand it. Academics perhaps. And I’m sure there have been some great English Lit. papers written on it. Perhaps I should read them, or the Clift Notes. Or, see it live and hope it all makes sense, though I doubt it will. But if I had to try, maybe the theme is about what to do with life while waiting for death, and the optimistic interpretation (and gross oversimplification) could be that life is short, accept it and make of it what you can.

One day, is that not enough for you, one day like any other, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?
They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it is night once more. On!


The pessimistic view could be that there is no meaning, and that hoping for intervention from a higher being is futile, but maybe we can delude ourselves into thinking there is meaning:

Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?
Vladimir: Yes, yes, we’re magicians


So, was this book worth reading? Yes, yes it was. Some of Beckett’s writing is simply beautiful. To paraphrase from the book:

It passed the time. It would have passed anyway, but not so rapidly.

Update: I read the Cliffs Notes. Yeah, I missed so much. I was glad that at least the Notes acknowledged that the 2 characters of Estragon and Vladimir are hard to distinguish to new readers (but are actually very different).


Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli

Rating: 7/10

On vacation, I started reading this, and a murder mystery book at the same time. This book quickly became the obvious superior and favorite. A book about journeys, migration, love, loss and deportations. It’s a road trip, and a commentary on losing things that matter. But mostly about separation. Some past, some happening in slow motion.

It doesn’t sound like a light-hearted read, and it is not, but it grabbed me in a way not many books have recently, leaving an indelible impression. That being said, I enjoyed the first half more. When the narrator changed from mother to son in the second half, and the writing deliberately goes from a mature, deep style to that of a young boy, I just didn’t enjoy it so much. For example, from

“Stories are a way of subtracting the future from the past, the only way of finding a clarity in hindsight”.

to a much chronological, procedural recounting:

“We drove a little farther after that, and when we arrived, it was still daytime.”

Still, whoever the narrator, the book has a lot of good quotes and references to other writings. I particularly liked this section and open reference:

My husband would walk over to the boy, pick him up, and, holding him in his arms, sing him some lines from a open he liked, by Galway Kinnell:

“When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.”

The boy clings to my arm now, as I try to turn the page of the book. It’s like a bedtime tug-of-war, except that the ropes are invisible, solely emotional. Before I can continue read, he asks:

But what if we also we left along, without you and Papa?

I think this would make a great book club book. Recommended. if you’re in the right mood for a heavier read, this book will stay with you for a while.


Where the crawdads sing, Delia Owens

Rating: 6/10

Enjoyed this book and although the final twist was a real stretch, that doesn’t take away too much. 


Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Rating: 7/10

I picked this book up blind in a second-hand book store, and wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it is a book I would to read again, since I’m sure I missed many key parts. But a very unexpected and enjoyable read.


The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday

Rating: 7/10

The only audiobook I listened to this year, but a) wow what a book and b) I should use audiobooks more often.

The book is about taking obstacles and turning them into opportunities. In fact, it argues that a lot of meaningful progress comes from supposed barriers. The book leans heavily on Stoicism, a school of philosophy I was previously largely unaware of, but it is not a heavy book to read. Instead, it’s an easy and indeed uplifting book. The audiobook is read by the author, Ryan Holiday. Recommended.


The Wright Brothers, David McCullough

Rating: 6/10

After McCullough died this year, a colleague recommended this book. I enjoyed it a lot. 2 focused, determined but previously unremarkable brothers persevering their way into the history books.



All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Rating: 7/10


Also, with my daughter, we read:

  • The false prince, Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • Three keys: a front desk novel, Kelly Yang
  • Frindle, Andrew Clements

Books I started but couldn’t finish

  • Inland, by Tea Obreht. 2 Western stories. I just couldn’t get into it.

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