2022 in books

My reading fell off a little from 2021 as the world reopened. I read 77 books, 57 fiction and 20 non-fiction. 30 titles were translated from other languages; many of those were mystery/crime novels but I still get points in the “exploring other cultures” category, right?

The non-fiction “best of” portion is easy this year. These four books would make such a list in any year.

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapucinski (transl. from the Polish)
We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History of Ireland by Fintan O’Toole
The Black Sea by Neal Ascherson
From the Holy Mountain, A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium by William Dalrymple

Making choices among the novels is always a little harder. The best shine out but some of the very good must be left behind.

The Devils’ Dance by Hamid Ismailov (transl. from the Uzbek)
Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane
Lady Joker, vol. 1 and 2 by TAKAMURA Kaoru (transl. from the Japanese)
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Augustus by John Williams
Olav Audunsson, vol. 1: Vows by Sigrid Undset (transl. from the Norwegian)
Country by Michael Hughes
The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers (transl. from the German)
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Eight Dogs or Hakkenden, An Ill-considered Jest by BAKIN Kyokutei (transl. from the Japanese)

World Noir favorites

Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo (transl. from the French)
The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Erikson (transl. from the Swedish)
Northern Heist by Richard O’Rawe
Silver Bullets by Elmer Mendoza (transl. from the Spanish)
Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette (transl. from the French)
The Body Snatcher by Patricia Melo (transl. from the Portuguese)

Best “off-beat, make you smile, life-affirming story” category

Long Live the Post Horn by Vigdis Hjorth (transl. from the Norwegian)

And finally, special recognition in the “best book I bought for its title” category

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard (transl. from the French)

Reading List 2022


Lady Joker volume 2 by TAKAMURA Kaoru, translated from the Japanese by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell; (c1997) English ed. Soho Press 2022
an absorbing and monumental novel, 19th century-esque in scale and ambition; a cross-section of the political/legal/business establishment of 1990’s Japan as a specimen slide under the author’s microscope

There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job by TSUMURA Kikuko, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton; (c2015) English edition Bloomsbury 2020
a witty, agreeably odd exploration of the nature of Work in the modern world as a young woman undertakes a series of peculiar temporary jobs

A Waiter in Paris: Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City by Edward Chisholm, Pegasus Books 2022
inspired by Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris, the fascinating and appalling memoir of the author’s four years in the decidedly non-glamorous life of the restaurant workers in Paris

The Bachelors by Muriel Spark, 1960
a distinctively Spark-ian story of several London bachelors and their entanglements

Fallout by Paul Thomas, 2014 Upstart Press
Maori detective Tito Ihaka mystery

Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski, translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewska; (c2004) English ed. 2008 Penguin
fascinating, deeply engaging work by the famed Polish reporter; how he found a guide in Herodotus who exercised his curiosity, asked questions, and talked directly with people to discern the truth


The Dead Hour by Denise Mina; Little, Brown and Co 2006
Glasgow noir, unusual and interesting protagonist

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse, (c1917) BBC Audiobooks America 2011
read by Jonathan Cecil
a hilariously complicated story elevated to the sublimely funny by the performance of Mr. Cecil (and baseball figures in the plot)

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea; Little, Brown & Co. 2009
a delightful novel, comic but not trivial; well drawn characters, beautifully paced storytelling, serious elements carried lightly in a picaresque quest tale
(book group)

Algerian White by Assia Djebar, translated from the French by David Kelley and Marjolijn de Jager; (c1995) English ed. Seven Stories Press 2000
a singular work; a lyrical meditation on Algeria’s revolution and continuing cultural/political violence, the role of language and writing in a nation’s life, and a lament for the many deaths of friends and fellow writers

Brotherhood by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, translated from the French by Alexia Trigo; (c2015) English ed. Europa 2021
multi prize winning novel about a city taken over by an Islamist group; thoughtful exploration of the ways people react to the violent imposition of the Brotherhood’s control, individually and as “the people”

Giving Up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1545-1879 by Noel Perrin; David R. Godine 1979
a fascinating story of a deliberate retreat from a more “advanced” technology


Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks, Europa Ed. 2021
crime novel 1970’s Glasgow, lots of drugs and rock and roll

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, W. W. Norton 1970
vividly evokes the sense of change and menace in urban life circa 1970; outstanding literary quality, subtle, spare and insightful prose (book group)
“Ticking away inside the carapace of ordinary life and its sketchy agreements was anarchy.”

Morocco Since 1830, a history by C. R. Pennell; NY University Press 2000
very readable history, dense with fact and insight

Points In Time, tales from Morocco by Paul Bowles; Peter Owen 1982
impressionistic short pieces blending history and fiction

In Morocco by Edith Wharton, (c1920) John Beaufoy Publishing 2015
fascinating account of travel in “a country without a guidebook”, Morocco in the last days before post-war modernity rushes over it


Black Cabs by John McLaren, Simon & Schuster UK 1999
amusing thriller in which several London cabbies get the better of City hotshots

The Politics Of Pain: Postwar England And The Rise Of Nationalism by Fintan O’Toole, (c2018) US ed. W.W. Norton & Co. 2019
an unsparing, insightful analysis of post-war UK politics culminating in the black comedy that is Brexit; engrossing, witty, disturbing


The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson, translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg; Thomas Dunne Books 2006
strong characters, psychological suspense in the Scandinavian noir style

Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo, translated from the French by Howard Curtis; (c1995) Europa 2005
noir in Marseilles: fine riff on the hard-boiled American detctive story in which Life is hard but the food is better; “In which Dawn Is Merely An Illusion That The World Is Beautiful”

My Life As A Fan by Wilfrid Sheed, Simon & Schuster 1993
a memoir of the ardent obsession of his childhood with baseball; funny, affectionate, insightful answer to the question “what was it like”

The Khan by Saima Mir, Point Blank 2021
Polemic slickly delivered as a feminist thriller


Bloody January by Alan Parks, (c2017) Europa edition 2018
One of Europa’s World Noir series; vivid story of the dark side of 1970’s Glasgow

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth by Henry Gee, St. Martin’s Press 2021
subtitled: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters which neatly, if too modestly, encapsulates the contents; a very model of popular science writing

Country by Michael Hughes, Custom House 2019
the Iliad as a tale of Northern Ireland in the Troubles; haunting and beautiful
“We can’t get rid of our grief, neither one of us, so let’s leave it there on the floor, for it does us no good. But there’s no way out of it either, for life is nothing only grief.”

We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland by Fintan O’Toole; Liveright Publishing 2021
an extraordinary work; dense with personalities, incident, personal observation and experience; sympathetic unsparing analysis of Irish society entering the modern world

The Devils’ Dance by Hamid Ismailov, translated from the Uzbek by Donald Rayfield; (c2016) English ed. Tilted Axis Press 2017
extraordinary immersive novel; the story of a novelist imprisoned for unknown political reasons intertwines with the historical novel he is writing about people victimized by the ruthless politics of Central Asia in the Great Game era

Read more: Reading List 2022


The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood, Poisoned Pen Press 2021
smoothly written, amusing mystery

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, FSG 2007
charming novella imagines Queen Elizabeth accidentally visiting a bookmobile and discovering the pleasures of books and reading

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2014
something like a dark fable/fairy tale, improbably poetic story of death row

Signs Preceding The End Of The World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman; (c2009) English ed. & Other Stories 2015
slim haunting story of negotiating borders physical, emotional, cultural

Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund; (c2013) English edition Verso 2020
lots of heart and humor in this story of a young woman finding purpose and her own voice; a love letter (pun intended) to the postal service (book group)

Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund; (c2016) English edition Verso 2019
guilt, denial, and the limits of forgiveness; fine novel of a woman’s struggle to heal from abuse as a child and the pain of her family’s denial of her suffering

Northern Heist by Richard O’Rawe, Melville House 2021
well-paced story of a Belfast bank robbery

The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene, Heinemann 1951

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym, Penguin 1977
Pym’s wry humor, lack of sentimentality, and writerly craft well-displayed in the story of four people at the edge of retirement; my favorite of her novels (book group)


Silver Bullets by Elmer Mendoza, translated from the Spanish by Mark Fried; (c2008) Maclehose Press 2015
an exceptional, headspinning take on the classic hard-boiled detective story; 58 characters (I was grateful for the scorecard) populate the 200 pages of this blackly comic Mexican noir; stylistically interesting, contributes to the sense of chaos and uncertainty in a society ravaged by the corruption and violence of the drug trade

A World Beneath The Sands: The Golden Age Of Egyptology by Toby Wilkinson, Norton 2020
from the Rosetta stone to King Tut’s tomb; a lively account of the discoveries, personalities, and scholarship of Egyptology and the political/historical context of European rivalries and the developing Egyptian nationalism

Black Sea by Neal Ascherson, Jonathan Cape 1995
an extraordinary history of the whirlpool of peoples and cultures that is the Black Sea region; fascinating and disturbingly relevant

The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott, Putnam 2016
noirish crime story in the Big Bend territory of West Texas; interesting characters and very good sense of the country

How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard, translated from the French by Jeffrey Mehlman; Bloomsbury 2007
witty, provocative, and thoughtful exploration of what we mean by “reading” and why we do it; a good discussion in book group where I was amused to learn that I was the only person who finished it (book group)

Ukraine, A History by Orest Subtelny, University of Toronto Press 1988
from earliest times through the Soviet period, tells of the centuries long struggle of Ukrainian people to achieve statehood, provides a bitter context to the current war

High White Sun by J. Todd Scott, Putnam’s 2018
good follow-up story to The Far Empty


Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches; (c2014) Transit 2021
gracefully written essays on themes of migration

Olav Audunsson, Vol.I Vows by Sigrid Undset, translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnaly; (c1925) Univ. of Minnesota 2020
wonderfully evocative, immersive story of medieval Norway

The Name Is Archer by Ross Macdonald, Bantam Books 1955
short story collection

The Shadow of the Empire, A Judge Dee Investigation by Qiu Xiaolong; Severn House 2021
author of popular Inspector Chen series reworks one of Dee’s cases

The Emissary by TAWADA Yoko, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutami; (c2014) New Directions 2018
not your usual dystopia; poignant, funny, thoughtful

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane, Jonathan Cape 1996
second reading even richer experience; wonderful language, complex layering and interweaving of stories (book group)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Grove Press 2021
novella asks if we can choose to be courageous and kind when it’s easier to look away

Malice by HIGASHINO Keigo, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith; (c1996) Minotaur Books 2014
a very clever puzzler and treat for fans of literary/psychological mysteries

Under The Midnight Sun by HIGASHINO Keigo, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith; (c1999) Minotaur Books 2016
extended, complex story of a crime and its aftermath


The Ivory Grin by Ross Macdonald, c1947 Knopf
Macdonald’s Lew Archer series exemplifies the pleasures of the hard-boiled detective story

Velvet Was The Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Ray 2021
seriously entertaining or entertainingly serious, take your pick; very interesting and enjoyable story of people caught up in the political turmoil of 1970’s Mexico City (book group)

The Basel Killings by Hansjorg Schneider, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell; (c2010) Bitter Lemon Press 2021
first of a mystery series set in Basel Switzerland; interesting detective, characters and plot show cross-currents of contemporary Europe

The Window Trail by J J Rusz, 2018
“A Big Bend Country Mystery”; a nicely told story, appealing characters and excellent local color; a pleasure to read, especially while traveling in the Park

Silver Pebbles by Hansjorg Schneider, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell; (c2011) Bitter Lemon Prss 2022
drug deal diamonds go astray and are found by an unlikely couple on the margins of society

Fatale by Jean-Ptrick Manchette, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith; (c1977) NYRB 2011
very dark noir from the great French crime novelist; opening scene of hunters “…hunting for a good three hours and still had not killed anything. Everyone was frustrated and crotchety.” There will be plenty of killing with a cold edge of black comedy.

Eight Dogs or Hakkenden, Part One of An Ill-Considered Jest by BAKIN Kyokutei, translated from the Japanese by Glynne Walley; Cornell University Press 2021
wonderfully entertaining saga with elements of adventure, fantasy, folklore and historical romance

The Body Snatcher by Patricia Melo, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers; (c2010) Bitter Lemon Press 2015
crushing heat and pervasive corruption, moral and physical, in a remote western Brazil town; complex surprising plot


From the Holy Mountain, A Journey In The Shadow Of Byzantium by William Dalrymple, HarperCollins 1997
the author’s courage, scholarship, humor and humanity are all evident in this modern classic of travel writing; it’s an absolutely wonderful, engrossing account of an extraordinary journey to discover the survivals, physical and cultural, of the Byzantine world in the contemporary Middle East

The Aosawa Murders by ONDA Riku, translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts; (c2005) Bitter Lemon Press 2020
a painstaking reinvestigation of a shocking murder builds surprising tension and horror

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, Bloomsbury 2020
seemingly effortless classic storytelling; the flow of a hundred years of history and politics seen through the ordinary lives of an Arican town (book group)

Augustus by John Williams, (c1972) NYRB 2014
a biography of Augustus, a history of the founding of the Roman Empire, a subtle study of power and politics – all in the form of an epistolary novel; an extraordinary accomplishment

In Translation, Translators On Their Work And What It Means edited by Esther Allen and Susan Bernofsky, Columbia University Press 2013
some essays were on technical topics but there was much for the general reader interested in the history, issues, and challenges of translation


Inside Dope by Paul Thomas, Hachette New Zealand 1996
extremely entertaining comic crime story; author has a real flair for character and description, sharp humor

Legends of the Condor Heroes 1: A Hero Born by YONG Jin, translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood; (c1959) English ed. Maclehose Press 2018
a wonderfully entertaining martial arts fantasy adventure tale with memorable characters and briskly moving action; excellent translation

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Riverhead Books 2020
(book group) several stories of different forms of “passing”; novel overcrowded, felt labored

A Brief History Of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage, Bloomsbury 2021
title says it all; engaging style, lively anecdotes, cautionary observations about the unforseen consequences of technology and good intentions

Lady Joker by TAKAMURA Kaoru, translated from the Japanese by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell; (c1997) English edition Soho Press 2021
Vol. 1 immersive fascinating portrait of Japanese society in the guise of a crime novel

The Meaning Of Travel by Emily Thomas, Oxford Univ. Press 2020
a pleasurable tour with “philosophers abroad”, contemplates the who and why of travel and what we think of where we’ve been

The Village Of Eight Graves by YOKOMIZO Seishi, translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk; (c1971) English edition Pushkin Press 2021
an irresistable title; another delightfully complex problem for detective KINDAICHI Kosuke complete with a lost Samurai treasure hoard

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins; (c2016) Daunt Books 2020/Open Letter 2021
award winner for translation; language both spare and unsparing in description; enigmatic storyof borders and uncertain identities, its tone as cold as the weather in the shabby out-of-season resort town

Dancing On The Ropes, Translators and the Balance of History by Anna Aslanyan, Profile Books 2021
entertaining stories of the role of translators/interpreters in history illustrate the challenges and philosophies of cross-language communication

Prefecture D by YOKOYAMA Hideo, translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies; (c1998) English edition Riverrun 2019
early stories set in the Japanese Police unit that became the setting of the author’s excellent 2012 novel Six Four

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo; (c1946) NYRB 2018
psychologically insightful, intensely suspensful story of escape from a Nazi prison camp for political dissidents before the war