Favorite Books of 2022

A list of my favorite books I read in 2022

Because I have so many interests and love to learn, I read an eclectic mix of books. Non-fiction makes up the bulk of my reading. Thanks to audiobooks, I have greatly expanded my reading of fiction – but only if the narrator is a good teller of stories. But when I looked at the 30 or so fiction books I listened to, I couldn’t remember much about them. Research indicates that audiobooks are a more passive way to engage with written words so it makes sense that they would not stick. Still, I love the escape of a good story when I am doing mundane tasks like washing dishes, cleaning the house, shoveling soil, planting seeds, or weeding garden beds.

I rely on a variety of sources to select my books and I keep a Google document of books that appeal to me. I don’t rely on reviews that much as I have discovered that many reviews are gamed and paid for by publishers. And after several attempts at book club discussions, I now prefer to discover and ponder books on my own and then I read reviews.

Goodreads has proven to be my best source for finding news books because I can follow friends, authors, and like-minded readers to see what they are reading. I also have a couple of friends who are avid readers and they often share recommendations. There are two websites that offer an abundance of book suggestions, reviews and literature rabbit holes: Literary Hub and The Marginalian.

I have no idea if you are interested in my favorite books of the year but good books deserve to be shared. Reading can be a deeply personal experience and many factors influence our choices. The way I choose my favorite books is simple: I review each of the books listed on my Goodreads Annual Book Challenge, starting with my ratings and written reviews. Then I think about these questions:

  • What did I remember about the book?
  • How did the book make me feel?
  • What did I learn from the book?

Favorite Books for 2022

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks

Devolution book cover

A little-known secret about me: I love Sasquatch folklore.

This book was recommended by a friend and I was hesitant because the author is known for his written violence. And this book has its share of it. But the story was a page-turner for me and within the “horror” novel is a fascinating line of thinking about the nature of violence in primates. Two other Sasquatch books I recommend are Robert Michael Pyle’s Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide and Molly Gloss’ Wild Life.

Hagitude: Reimagining the Second Half of Life by Sharon Blackie

Hagitude Book Cover

A wonderfully written book that considers the modern and historical treatment of older women. The author is a mythologist and looks to the folkloric stories of northern Europe for inspiration and application to modern women. Her second book, If Women Rose Rooted, is one of my favorites.

Recollections of my Nonexistence: A Memoir  & Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

I have read most of Solnit’s books and her essay writing considers the importance of social and environmental justice in a world that mostly ignores it. The memoir quickly became a favorite as she described the subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny, indifference, and sexual confrontations she faced as a young woman and writer. I suspect most women have experienced similar treatment. I also enjoyed Orwell’s Roses which examines author George Orwell’s life as a political writer and his interest in roses as a metaphor for beauty in the world. Solnit’s ability to explore both topics in depth is what I enjoy the most about her writing.

Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction by Michelle Nijhuis

A fascinating book! I read a lot about the natural world and modern environmental efforts and this book offers a detailed accounting of the historical and current conservation movement. The author, Michelle, is an acquaintance who lives in my small village. I have followed her writing for over a decade and this first book is a wonderful read. I highly recommend this book as a place to start as we consider our roles and policies during the 6th extinction.

“A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden At Monticello by Peter J. Hatch

I visited family in Virginia last April and we spent a beautiful spring day at Jefferson’s farm, Monticello, now conserved as a World Heritage Site, historical plantation, and presidential library. Though I was aware that slave ownership was standard for the wealthy founding fathers, it was heartbreaking to learn that Jefferson enslaved over 600 humans throughout his life. Our tour included a walk through some of the preserved slave quarters, which were nothing more than small one-room cabins. This book is a beautiful history of Jefferson as a farmer and plant breeder. He grew a diversity of crops, far beyond the northern European tradition of cabbages and roots, and the author contends that he forever changed the American diet as a result. He utilized both the knowledge and the seeds of his enslaved workers, growing crops from other parts of the world. There are beautiful photos of gardens throughout the seasons in the book (there was not much growing on my visit) and an important acknowledgment that Jefferson did little of the physical work of farming. Jefferson was a meticulous note-taker and maintained a garden book for 50 years. You can view this short video about his garden notes here.

Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World & Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez.

Lopez died on Christmas Day in 2020 and this was his last book. He traveled the world with the eyes of an observer and the open mind of a learner. This is his most personal book and there are moments of great sadness revealed. His writing is beautiful. In January of 2022, I re-read Arctic Dreams, which won the 1986 National Book Award for Nonfiction. One of the benefits of re-reading some books is I can now access related content on the internet. Lopez refers to a lot of historical paintings about the arctic and I now was able to view them online. The long book explores the arctic region in ways that most of us would not have considered.  This year, I plan to re-read his first book, Of Wolves and Men

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

This is such an important book and I think the one that had the most impact on me this past year. I am haunted by an interview I heard a while back in which an author was asked why he did not have a presence on social media. His response was simple: “I have a busy life with many interests and if I am going to spend time reading and writing I want it to be important and relevant.”

Newport is a well-known author in the world of work and professional development. He offers many simple tips to reduce, restrict, and/or eliminate time spent on digital media.

What I have already employed:
1) No social media apps on my phone.
2) Use the Freedom app to block out online distractions when I am working on the computer.
3) Changed the way I worked so I am no longer going in and out of apps and browsers to gather information – this has been a huge time saver for me as a writer.
4) Cut the TV cable. We now watch mostly movies and news from European broadcasters which focus on actual issues, not entertainment.
5) It took a while, but I am now off all social media.
6) I have hobbies! Lots of them and I get far more satisfaction from them than almost anything I do online.

The tagline for this book should be “Get back your life!”

Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them By Dan Saladino

A fascinating book about the food we grow, create and eat. I enjoyed the content enormously but one complaint is his theme of extinction was repetitive…I simply skipped over those parts.

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl

A columnist for the Washington Post, this is Renkl’s first book, and it’s a terrific read. Organized in a series of essays alternating between her observations of nature in her backyard and her family’s stories of loss. 

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams

I have read all of Williams’ books and love her articulate and honest writing. This is one of my favorite books (and my second read of it) because she travels to less-popular national parks and dives into their history, geography, and ecology. I also recommend her books, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place and Erosion: Essays of Undoing.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A ten-year research effort to tell the story of how the medical community exploited the disease of a dying woman, making millions off her extracted cells for decades with little acknowledgment or payment to her descendants. The author does an amazing job of keeping the focus on Lacks and her family while also exposing the problems with a profit-based healthcare system. I listened to this book and the narrator did an excellent job.  

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I first learned of the Dear Sugar advice columns from the PDX-based The Rumpus website. First let me say, this is not your Dear Abby kind of advice column! If you are sensitive to salty language, you may want to skip this book. The book consists of letters, many of them filled with the agonies and despair that life is capable of dropping in our laps now and then, and Dear Sugar’s responses to them. I have listened to this book multiple times, mostly while on daily walks, and I laugh, tear up and thank the planet for writers like Cheryl Strayed. I have no idea how she became so wise at such a young age but am delighted that she chooses to share her wisdom. A new 10th edition is out and Strayed revealed in her newsletter that Hulu is producing a show around this book.

Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I have read little sci-fi or dystopian writing but was enthralled with these two books. A little late on my part since they were published in the 90s. I listened to both books while working in the garden. Lots of themes to ponder while digging.

In nature, plants and animals adapt to evolve. We will have to do the same. I believe developing a homesteading mindset, regardless of where you live, is the way forward. 

You don’t need acres of land to practice homestead thinking; the homesteading mindset is about abundance, purpose, and ethical living. Permaculture’s ethics, principles, and strategies are changing the lifestyles and lives of millions of people on this planet.

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Let’s embrace the abundance and simplicity of a homesteading mindset.