I know, I know. After not posting for a year, I’m on a roll. Initially, I was going to include this post in my 2022 gift guide, but the gift guide got too long and I thought it was best to split them up into two.
Given how much I love reading, I wanted to spotlight the books that I thought were worth spending some time on. I can’t read anywhere near as much as I used to, given my spinal CSF leak, but when my brain is up for it reading remains one of my favourite things to do.
I have divided the books I’m recommending into categories, to make it easier for you to choose what you may want for your loved ones—or yourself! These are mostly books released in 2022, and hopefully feature some titles you haven’t already read.
BEST FOOD BOOKS OF 2022
The Miracle of Salt: Recipes and Techniques to Preserve, Ferment, and Transform Your Food, by Naomi Duguid. Duguid’s newest book is a deep dive into the “miracle of salt”, and how important it is to food preparation and traditions around the world. As with her other books, it’s a combination of recipes and learning, with techniques for sauerkraut, miso, pickles, brined eggs, and more, alongside condiments to make any dish sparkle. These are sadly not recipes I can handle with my immune issues, as my diet is quite limited. But I still loved learning through her work as she takes on salt across countries and continents.
Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka, by Cynthia Shanmugalingam. A wonderful cookbook that of Sri Lankan recipes with a twist. We don’t see many Sri Lankan restaurants here in Ottawa, and the cuisine often gets relegated to a back seat in favour of more well-known dishes from India. So I wanted to make sure I shared this wonderful cookbook, with its lovely photography and delicious South Asian meals designed, as the promo suggests, “to deliver as much edible Sri Lankan joy as possible.”
On the Himalayan Trail: Recipes and Stories from Kashmir to Ladakh, by Romy Gill. Another interesting cookbook from a region rarely featured in North America, Romy Gill’s book brings the food of Kashmir and Ladakh to your table. The book has over 80 recipes, spotlighting Kashmiri cuisine and influences from surrounding countries. Gill, who was born in India and raised in West Bengal, notes that with so much political uncertainty in the region, its cuisine and culture is increasingly difficult to access. She wanted the world to know about this area, partly to share its food but also to preserve the recipes and stories of a region so often embroiled in conflict. An interesting, delicious read.
The Explorer’s Library: Books That Inspire Wonder, by the Atlas Obscura and Gastro Obscura website teams. This 2-book set was released during the holidays, and is a combination of their books about food and travel. Both websites have grown to huge audience numbers based on how they teach people about the weird, wild, and quirky around the world. This is a costly gift, but the gift of wonder is a worthwhile choice if it’s within your budget.
BEST FICTION BOOKS OF 2022
Five-Part Invention, by Andrea J. Buchanan. Fellow leak patient Andi Buchanan is someone I’ve featured before with her prior nonfiction book about her spinal CSF leak journey. Her newest is a fiction read, spanning five generations of women and the trauma they unwittingly pass down to the next generation. A really haunting, beautiful book.
Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation, by Liana Finck. This award-winning illustrated book is a retelling of the story of Genesis, as viewed from the perspective of god—who, in this version, is female. Irreverent (as you’d imagine), entertaining, sarcastic and more, it also has Abraham living in New York City. Finck re-weaves the stories of Genesis with humour and wonder, prompting thoughtful questions about how we treat one another and the role of our baggage in causing us to act as we do. This isn’t a gift for everyone, as you’d imagine. I enjoyed the creativity, joy, and whimsy in her illustrations. Others may not agree. If your loved ones are in the same boat as me and don’t take themselves (or the story of creation) literally, this may be a great gift to add to the list.
Afterlives, by Abdulrazak Gurnah. This novel initially came out in 2020, but its paperback edition was released in North America this year. The book follows four protagonists in what is now Tanzania, from the time of German colonial rule to independence and beyond. It is a powerful, often heartbreaking, snapshot of an era disrupted by the colonization of East Africa, starting with a young boy, Ilyas, who was snatched away from his parents by German troops. The book follows his trajectory, and those of the characters he loves (and loses) along the way. Afterlives was longlisted for the Orwell Prize of Political Fiction in 2021.
BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF 2022
River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile, by Candice Millard. A master at narrative nonfiction, Millard’s newest book takes on the dangerous quest to locate the Nile river’s headwaters, something that for much of history was simply a mystery. As European countries sent out explorers to expand their colonial empires, Richard Burton and John Hanging Speke were sent by the Royal Geographical Society to claim claim the Nile for England. The two men, each brilliant in their own right, clashed with each other and with the environment. Their setbacks, mishaps, and the subsequent political posturing led them to become what Millard calls “venomous enemies”, with the public choosing one to support over the other as they each claimed to have found what England was looking for.
And yet, historic accounts buried the exploration and expeditions of a third man on these trips, a gentleman named Sidi Mubarak Bombay, who was enslaved and shipped from his home village in East Africa to India. Without Bombay, neither Englishman would have made it anywhere near the Nile headwaters, or lived to tell the tale for as long as they did.
Millard’s book, using diaries and letters from these men, sketches a fascinating view of this era, and the man that history forgot who (as is often the case) is the one who likely made it possible for a discovery at all.
Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong, by Louisa Lim. Part nonfiction investigation, part memoir, Lim’s book about the current status of Hong Kong was a fascinating window into a city stuck between powers. An award-winning reporter, she talks not only about the suppression by present-day China, but also the struggles of its population under British colonialism, and the knife edge that people must walk on to find freedom or cultural identity in modern Hong Kong. Dispelling existing historical myths, the book explains what happened to the city through time, a story told mostly via its remarkable residents.
Wired for Music: A Search for Health and Joy Through the Science of Sound, by Adriana Barton. A beautifully-crafted book about how music helps us feel more connected, including how it helps us process social challenges like anxiety and isolation. Per Barton, music is far more than a simple pleasure but also something that can help pain, sleep, memory, and athletic performance. In this book about the science behind music’s benefits, I learned about how song can help stimulate different parts of the brain and how it consequently affects the body. Really fascinating new book that was released in autumn 2022.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong. Yong’s writing during the pandemic has been among the best out there, winning him a Pulitzer Prize and a well-deserved following for transforming dense science into compelling storytelling. His newest book embraces the idea that every species on the planet sees reality in a specific way, and ours is different to that of the animal kingdom. Yong focuses on the how different animal species engage with reality in their own ways, as a means to teach us new interactions with our reality, too. We get to learn how animals interact with the world via sound, smell, and vibration, thanks to Yong’s skills as a writer. Through curiosity and imagination, we get to step into the worlds inhibited by animals and read what it’s like to feel things the way they do. A great gift for the unquenchably curious.
How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion, by David McRaney. In a social climate where outrage seems the norm, this book piqued my interest after I saw a thread by the author on Twitter. How do you get people to change their minds? How can we reach conspiracy theorists who refuse to see logic?
This book dives into the ‘why’ to the shifts of opinion that do happen, and the things that don’t help to get people to see your side of things. “If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s mind about something but found they were completely unwilling to budge in their thinking, it can help to understand how the brain works,” says McRaney. With research to back up his narrative, McRaney writes about what it means to be reasonable in a world that seems to have lost its (collective) mind.
People change their minds because they persuade themselves, which means we need to create rapport, and show empathy, to cultivate an environment conducive to that self-persuasion. Finding empathy for those who have fallen into the rabbit hole of conspiracy is not easy when we may be faced with anger or cruelty from those people. Still, this book is interesting and thoughtful, and helpful to process the state of the world today.
BEST MEMOIR AND SELF HELP BOOKS FOR 2022
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, by Susan Cain. I was a big fan of Cain’s prior book, Quiet, and given my life the last few years I was curious to see how her newest would resonate. Quiet spoke to people like me, introverts who felt like we didn’t belong in a fast-paced, bombastic world of extroverted people. In Bittersweet, she writes about how acceptance and even an embrace of the bittersweetness of life can help us all evolve, heal, and connect with others. The book reminded me of my own feelings, and how I wrote about the need to accept grief or pain before moving into a mindset shift toward something lighter. I still have a ‘how to get through terrible times’ post that I have not yet finished, which will touch on this as well.
As Cain says, if we don’t acknowledge and process our heartbreak, we risk taking it out on others — and ourselves. The book takes us on the rollercoaster of loss and longing, showing us that connecting to others through our grief is part of what makes us human.
Raising Critical Thinkers: A Parent’s Guide to Growing Wise Kids in the Digital Age, by Julie Bogart. I am not a parent, so you may find it strange to see on the list. Despite being child free, I think it’s important to learn about how parents are addressing childrearing in today’s digital era. Which is where Bogart comes in.
Recommended by Sharon McMahon, the book guides parents to teach their children the skill of thoughtful consumption, of both information and environment, which allows them to grow into compassionate adults. Preferring to guide kids toward adaptability over rigidity, the book encourages parents to teach their kids about the wider context for everything they consume. This means understanding that interpretations and beliefs are different, and the former can be temporary. She also cautions parents against being too black-and-white in their thinking and having that reflect on their kids, since children often take on the beliefs and identities of their parents.
The book includes activities for each section that parents can try with their kids. While it may not apply to everyone here, I wanted to include it because I think it encourages raising thoughtful and compassionate kids. This is something we need most these days, since the parents are often failing in that regard.
The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture, by Gabor Maté. Having read earlier books by Maté about the long term effects of childhood trauma, I was especially interested in this global take on how trauma affects our health in insidious ways, in what he refers to as “trauma-related illnesses”. Though some may characterize this perspective as victim-blaming, Maté’s view is quite different. Acknowledging the genetic component to disease, he sees trauma (environmental, attachment, or otherwise) as the epigenetic trigger that can cause the disease to evolve in the body. The book, co-written with his son Daniel, is what one review called “a meditation upon trauma, and a call to transcend it through growth.” It’s both a compilation of his earlier research, and a strong urging for us to rethink the way we see modern society (“our hurting world”, they call it) both how it has evolved, and how we interact with it.
The Matés differentiate between “big T” and “little t” trauma, the capital letter version being the obvious abuses in childhood, violence, life-wrenching changes and destructive environmental disasters. Gabor Maté is himself a survivor of big T trauma, a Holocaust survivor. But small t traumas are manifold in day to day life, and often without us realizing they are also some of our roots of attachment dysfunction.
In writing about trauma’s links to certain diseases and conditions, the Matés keep the reader buoyed by the gentle belief that we, as a society and as individuals, can do better—if only we re-examine our relationships to our past, ourselves, and the ways we think we can heal. Think of it as the detailed, dense sequel to Bittersweet, by Susan Cain. It’s a long book, but a worthwhile one to read.
Everything, Beautiful: A Guide to Finding Hidden Beauty in the World, by Ella Francis Sanders. Does it matter why we find things beautiful? Or is beholding beauty enough? This latest book by the artist who inks my food maps (and who did the logos for this site, and my mascot Arthur!) challenges society’s ideas of what ‘can’ be considered beautiful. In it, Sanders implores us to remember that beauty is everywhere, and what each person finds beautiful can vary—but it never needs to be grandiose. With delightful illustrations and thoughtful prose, the book is a lovely mediation on what it means to intentionally find beauty in today’s world. As Sanders notes, “If you’re not watchful, the wonderful is made mundane. But on a good day the mundane can be made miraculous”.
Lighter: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future, by Yung Pueblo. For almost a decade, Ecuadorian poet and philosopher Yung Pueblo (whose real name is Diego Perez) has posted his thoughts on Instagram in the form of typewritten quotes, where they now almost always go viral. A disciple of Vipassana meditation, he has divulged that his writing is simply direct experience and observations about life and his meditation practice, told through the lens of a shared spectrum of emotions.
This is Pueblo’s third book. His first two, Inward and Clarity & Connection, combine both poetry and narrative. In contrast, Lighter is memoir-based prose, with sections that delve into personal evolution and emotional maturity. He explains how making some significant changes in his own life helped him get in tune with what he really wanted or felt, and how turning inward helped him evolve into who he is today. With a focus on learning self-compassion and letting go to becoming emotionally mature, he shares his own life story to illustrate how he was able to transform.
This may seem self-evident, but it truly isn’t. The self-help industry is lucrative in part because so many people just aren’t happy and feel too stuck to do anything about it. The book resonated with me in part because my own Vipassana experience had life changing effects on the way I interact with the world, but also because Pueblo’s hard-won ruminations are a balm for the heart.
What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us: Who We Become After Tragedy and Trauma, by Mike Mariani. I bought this book after reading an excerpt from it in WIRED Magazine. I found the writing so compelling that I wanted to read more.
This is journalist Mariani’s first book, and one that doesn’t just report on other people’s traumas but also includes in his own life experiences that brought him to his knees. The title comes from how those experiences made him question the common saying, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” which then led to this book.
The book takes us through different people who each endured what he calls a catastrophic experience, one that completely changed their lives. He writes about how each person dealt with the consequences of that change, concluding that it’s not the “almost killing us” part that matters—it’s how we make meaning after tragedy, and how it shapes us into who we become. When we experience a life-changing event, we cannot simply get back on the horse. Mariani instead tells us to choose amor fati, “love of one’s fate”, instead of trying to push through tragedy.
The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness, by Meghan O’Rourke. You can see the theme in the books I’ve chosen in this category this year. They are mostly titles that help shine a light on lived experiences. O’Rourke’s journey is no different; an EDS patient whose book takes us through the gauntlet of the marginalization, dismissal, and exhaustion of chronic disease. Drawing on her own medical appointments, as well as interviews with doctors and patients alike, O’Rourke delves into the massive vat of poorly understood diagnoses, and how Western medicine is ill-equipped to handle them. She’s an excellent writer, and this book has been critically acclaimed since it came out. It was a timely publication too, given the rise of long covid and how opaque those post-viral states are. It’s important reading for caregivers, patients and medical professionals.
Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation, by Maud Newton. I’ve followed Newton on Twitter for years, and found her entertaining and thoughtful all at once. So I was excited to read this book, about her search for truth in her family’s wide-ranging history. Part memoir, part wry social commentary, Newton’s trajectory highlights how diving into our ancestry can bright us back to ourselves in unexpected ways. In an era of at-home ancestry tests, it’s a compelling argument.
Stories about her family fascinated and horrified Newton since she was young. Her grandfather was said to have married 13 times; her great-grandfather killed a man with a hay hook and died while institutionalized. In tracing her family’s roots, Newton she seeks a release from the tortured history she is afraid to duplicate. A compelling read about intergenerational trauma, genetics and epigenetics, and the ways that the transgressions of our ancestors can carry through to present day.
Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life, by Alice Wong. A powerful book about disability, artistry, and power by a disability rights activist. Year of the Tiger is a collection of creative ephemera (illustrations, transcripts, interviews, recipes, prose), that paints Wong’s life story thus far as an Asian-American woman with progressive muscular dystrophy. She tells that story against a backdrop of access to care, using satire and sincerity to highlight the lack of support she’s faced, and the institutional changes that are long overdue.
It’s important to note that she is not trying to paint a hopeless picture. The essays show lightness, humour, and connection to others. As one review noted, this isn’t the stereotype of the “inspiring and depressing disability memoir”. Instead, Wong’s book shimmers with joy and purpose. She isn’t looking for pity. But she is frustrated—as she ought to be, as I am, as many of us are—with the ableism and lack of accessibility that disabled people face in an abled world.
I found the book to be thought-provoking, and unusual. She’s right, too: we often see disability as one amorphous “thing”, and as for the lessons it can teach us in its complex details. Accessibility is rooted in openness and empathy.
I hope you find something you enjoy in this list! Happy holidays, and all the best for the coming year.