Top 10 Books Of The Year 2022 – Part One (10-6)

I read 61 books this year which is a bit down on the last couple of years and short of my Good Reads goal of 70.  I retired from paid employment in 2022 and I thought that would mean I would have more time for reading – that obviously hasn’t proved to be the case.  Out of these 61 books, 15 got five star ratings which I think is the highest figure for top ratings I’ve ever given, which made picking the Top 10 from these very worthy books very difficult.  As always, if I’ve read it this year it is included, even if it was published in a previous year, or in the case of one of the titles below, due to be published in 2023.  There are 3 books on the list which were published in 2022, which seems to be the typical figure in these Top 10s. 

So, 61 books, 15 five star ratings, 31 four star reads and also 15 three stars.  59 of these have already been reviewed on the site and they can be found by scrolling through or using one of the two indexes – two titles, including one of the top 10 have not yet had their full reviews appear as I am holding out to nearer to the publication date in January 2023.  I spent quite a considerable time thinking about the books I’d  read this year in forming my Top 10 and once I had assigned positions I felt a little uneasy.  Last year I had a diverse list with a 50-50 gender split, 40% black authors and 30% identifying as LGBT+.  Although the latter figure stays the same there is a drop in both female and black writers (and no black female writers).  In fact, I thought the gender imbalance was unprecedented but this list matches my 2014 choices with which I launched reviewsrevues.com.  I’m not sure whether this is just a blip this year, I must admit some of the big female authored titles did not appeal to me, for example Bonnie Garmus’ “Lessons In Chemistry” was a title I’d had recommended to me and I know it’s one which will feature in many end of year lists but I couldn’t get beyond the very female orientated cover (nor the title actually).  I like to read a balance of books, fiction, non-fiction, newly published and backlisted titles written by a diverse range of authors and this will continue in 2023.  Three of the Top 10 are non-fiction and there are two debut novels and a chunky 50% of the authors have previously featured in my end of year best of lists, which may illustrate that in a year when I have had a lot of upheaval, moving house, relocating to a new area and leaving work I have been more likely to choose authors who have impressed me in the past. 

Here is the first part of the list 10-6.  Don’t be too shocked by the lack of female authors, there is more of a balance in the Top 5.  If you would like to read the full review (and I hope you do as these are the books I want to clamber onto rooftops and shout about) just click on the title.

10. The Queen Of Dirt Island – Donal Ryan (Doubleday 2022)

(Read in July, reviewed in August)

This is Irish author Donal Ryan’s second appearance in my Top 10.  His debut “The Spinning Heart” was my runner-up in 2013.  He has a real skill with characterisation.  In both the books of his which have blown me away he brings a whole community to life.  He is able to establish rich characters in a short space of time and he certainly does this here with his tale of four generations of a family from rural Tipperary.  It is set in the same location and with some of the same characters as “Strange Flowers” which won the Novel Of The Year Awards at the Irish Book Awards.  This was also shortlisted for the same award in 2022 but lost to “Trespasses” by Louise Kennedy.  I think it is a superior companion piece to “Strange Flowers” (and also works fine as a stand-alone).

9. My Revolutions – Hari Kunzru (Penguin 2007)

(Read and reviewed in December)

This is also British writer’s Hari Kunzru’s second appearance in my end of year Top 10, with his 2004 novel “Transmission” making it to number 3 in 2010.  This was perhaps my biggest reading surprise as I wouldn’t have thought this tale of radicalism in late 60’s/ early 70’s England would have appealed.  I was totally captivated by the story-telling and thought it was so rich a novel.  It skipped around in time, which I know some readers do not like but I think it worked really well here and each time-frame was as interesting as the others.  I described it as a book which explores “fighting for what you believe in and how easily idealism can become tainted so that the brave new world once thought possible goes increasingly out of reach.” In terms of scope I felt echoes of Ian McEwan’s 2022 publication “Lessons” but I think this is the stronger novel.

8. Let’s Do It – Jasper Rees (Trapeze 2020)

(Read and reviewed in April)

The authorised biography of Victoria Wood- this is a big book which I knew I was going to like, enough to get me forking out for a hardback edition.  Rees gets the split between the private and public person across so well and this was a big thing for Victoria, who privately was far removed from the bubbly confidence of perhaps the greatest British comedian of all time.  Rees celebrates her as a pioneer, which she undoubtedly was.  I described this as “the definitive biography of Victoria Wood, no one else need bother.

7. Dickens- Peter Ackroyd (Sinclair Stevenson 1990)

(Read and reviewed in March)

And talking of big books, this was my only 1000+ page read of the year, so thank goodness I loved it.  I suspected I was onto a winner as Ackroyd is my third most read author of all time and has made 6 previous appearances on my End of Year list (although not since 2010).  In fact, I had read this before in an edited edition but this full account of the life of Dickens is the real deal and made a greater impression.  It is just so thorough and really got me wanting to revisit the work of Dickens (as well as more Ackroyd).  It’s not actually the author’s best book- I’ll still give that to “London: The Biography” which was my book of the year in 2002 but it is extremely impressive and in the lengthy time it will take you to read this book (five weeks for me) you will be in the hands of a master biographer.

6. The New Life – Tom Crewe (Chatto & Windus 2023)

(Read in December. To be reviewed)

Advance warning for this outstanding debut which will be published in the UK on 12th January.  The author is a former editor of the London Review Of Books and he puts his literary awareness into play with this Victorian set novel which is described as “a daring new novel about desire and the search for freedom in Victorian England.”  My full review of this will follow in the New Year.  Expect comparisons to  “The Crimson Petal & The White” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”- two of my all-time favourites.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for my next post – The Top 5

Let’s Do It – Jasper Rees (2020)

Here’s a big book, the authorised biography of Victoria Wood that I’ve only just got round to despite it being one of my books I’d wished I’d read in 2020 (still only up to 70% of this list).  I think I’ve been a little nervous of this really hoping that Rees gets the balance right between the career and public persona and the very different private person and juggling also the humour of her work and zest for life with the inevitable sadness at reading of a life which ended too soon.

I don’t know of the author, but as a journalist, he seemed to have a professional but not close relationship with Victoria Wood in her latter years.  I was heartened by this book appearing on a number of Best Book Of The Year lists and one description of it was that it was “impeccable”.  It certainly is thorough.  This is the definitive biography of Victoria Wood, no one else need bother.  Rees has had access to all the right people and material and herein is included really all we would need to know.

He does indicate at the start that Victoria Wood was collecting material for a memoir, making audio tapes which he had access to.  It would have been fascinating to see how such a private person would have approached such a publication but it is unlikely that it would have been as thorough and probing as this biography.

It was so important to me that Rees got this right as Victoria Wood (1953-2016) is, in my opinion, the greatest British comedian.  I don’t think a single day goes by without at least one of her lines coming into my head.  Whilst reading this book I dug out a DVD of her award-winning “As Seen On TV” and was staggered to see how many of these were almost low-key asides in their original setting rather than fanfared jokes; often said by characters who were not central in the sketch.  This shows how good her writing was on every level.  And, despite this genius, not everything she did hit home, the same viewing showed that some of the early songs at piano have not dated well and yet, for many years, this was her bread and butter and the first flush of fame came when she performed comedy songs on 70’s TV talent show “New Faces” and topical songs on “That’s Life”.

As a shy, private person it must have been difficult for Victoria as fans felt that they had such a personal bond with her.  She tried to keep a brave face on in public but people could find her prickly and taciturn away from the limelight and even when in it.  I lived in Highgate when she did, would often see her around and was one time rendered speechless by her when teaching as she appeared in my classroom on a school visit for prospective parents (both of her children attended the Primary School I worked at).  This was a school which had more than its fair share of notable parents but this was the first time I felt myself floundering in presence of celebrity.  With someone as good as she was at analysing speech I felt my words being analysed as I spoke to the class, when, in reality, even if she was listening, she was just a mum looking around.

Rees gets this private/public person split very well.  She was demanding to work for, rewriting and striving for perfection and insisting on actors being word-perfect and not deviating from her script.  She was driven, as indeed she had to be, at the time there was no woman writing comedy in this way, there was much resistance to female led female written comedy on British television (“As Seen On TV” predated the first French & Saunders TV series by three years).  She was a pioneer, who achieved so many firsts in her career.  Jasper Rees is also strong in celebrating this, it made me want to go back and experience her work again, always a good marker for a biography.  What I don’t think I need to do is read any more about her life as it is all here- the years of struggling after the New Faces appearance, her marriage, the children, divorce and final illness set alongside the comedy magic she produced. This book deserves my five star rating.

Let’s Do It: Authorised Biography Of Victoria Wood was published by Trapeze in hardback in 2020 and paperback in 2021. Since then Jasper Rees has put together a collection of unseen sketches, songs and other memorabilia in his November 2021 publication “Victoria Wood Unseen On TV” which I am adding to my To Be Read list.