Looking back on a year of reading...
We are not closed circuits, plastic wrapped—without words, things still speak to us, jolt us, free us, and change us. This isn’t really surprising. The outside world, human and non-human, is not a painted backdrop to our lives and experiences, but makes them, is part of them. –Rebecca Tamás, Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman, 2020
It has been a tough year, which is also to say (because reading happens best from a certain state of mind, and that is not a distracted and anxious one) that it has also been a tough year for my reading. But equally, I feel that after a prolonged period of slowed reading around the pandemic, being forced to move home, and bereavements, 2022 has been the year when my reading has recovered its pace. These last few months have felt a return to form, when it comes to reading, and this return has persisted even during notable turbulences to my goals and health.
So, I feel genuinely able to celebrate my reading this year. And to do so, I want to take up a favourite (if a little frivolous) style of blog-essay, my reading year in review. So here are choice favourites; books that I have read (so far, I hope to finish some more still) this year that have left an indelible impression on me, from the soul shattering best stories to the most insightful non-fictions. And hopefully a couple of these books might strike your fancy, too.
(A note on inclusion, but for various reasons I will not include any books that I have edited in a professional capacity here. All of which I have also greatly enjoyed.)
A Catalogue of Books
Many of the books I have read this year I have also already written about, either on this blog or elsewhere. And a few (my mum’s book, Jan Fortune’s Writing Down Deep; Mitchell Cohen’s The Wager of Lucien Goldmann; and Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke’s Transgender Marxism) I intend to write about at length, likely in the earlier period of next year. Therefore, I won’t discuss these now, other to commend and recommend them all.
But if you want to read previous reviews, either on this blog or elsewhere, you can find my writings on Belinda Cererar’s Feminine Power; Paul Watson’s Myth and Masks, Jonas Čeika’s How to Philosophise with a Hammer and Sickle; Michelle Angharad Pashley’s The Killer Within; Pete Wharmby’s What I Want to Talk About; Christopher Bowden’s Mr Magenta; Jay Hulme’s The Backwater Sermons, Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan’s edited anthology 100 Queer Poems, alongside Joelle Taylor’s C+nto & Othered Poems (here); and Catherine Castro’s Call Me Nathan alongside Dancia Uskert’s Unsustainable (here).
And for the final category of books about which I will write more later, are those I have not reviewed but incorporated into a work of theory I am currently composing with a comrade. These include Four Arrows and Darcia Narvaez’s Restoring the Kinship Worldview, Hil Malatino’s Trans Care, Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, Charles Landry’s (et al.) What a way to Run a Railroad, David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rhyd Wildermuth’s All That Is Sacred Is Profaned and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. Not since my doctorate have I done so much reading centered on one project.
These listed books cover topics as diverse as the origins of human society; the nature of the agency of the marginalised; the problems of socialist organising and marxism’s relationship to philosophy and religion. (To be clear, I do not endorse all the ideas of every one of these books, but they have all advanced mine and my collaborator’s thinking on some vital subject.) More will be written on this project in the future, so watch this space.
Then there are books by comrades, such as Ian Parker’s Stalinist Realism and Open Communism that offers a critique and contrast between stalinism and approaches to socialism that stress human liberatory agency, or my wonderful and much missed comrade Neil Faulkner and his provocatively titled Mind Fuck: The Mass Psychology of Creeping Fascism. Faulkner supplied a serious attempt to understand the motives and drives of reactionaries today, taking up but significantly updating and strengthening arguments dating back to the postwar Frankfurt School. Meanwhile, I read socialists outside my acquaintance too; Marta Russell’s Capitalism and Disability: Selected Writings has been my introduction to disability theory, something I want to take up more in 2023.
For the pure fun of reading them, I have enjoyed books such as my friend’s Lex H. Jones’s The Anti-Climatic Adventures of Detective Vampire (illustrated by Liam 'Pais' Hill). A hilarious spoof series of shorts about a monster who turns out to be the cause of all the crimes he investigates. Both Hayao Miyazaki’s Starting Point and Andrey Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time have allowed me to get to better know two of my favourite auteur directors in their own words.
Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games is a touching memoir from a trans woman, and Rebecca Tamás’s Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman is a stunning collection with finely crafted prose surveying everything from panpsychism to hospitality. And finally, James Hoffman’s How to Make the Best Coffee at Home is a pure indulgence book, initiating me on my journey to being a full coffee snob.
While pleased by all this reading, there are far too few novels (outside of my editing day job) and that is a gap I fully plan to fill in the New Year. (One of my resolutions being to read a minimum of 30 novels.) Additionally, I am slightly ashamed to have taken a long hiatus on my project of reading through Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope on this blog, which I definitely plan to finish in ’23. In the meanwhile, what have you been reading? I would be fascinated to hear in the comments of some of your favourites of this last year, and your reading plans for the next.
If you enjoyed my essay, you can become a Rowan Tree Editing patron for as little as £1.00 per month and receive essays five-days early as well as other benefits.