My year in books, 2022

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Just before I was born in 1960, my parents purchased a complete set of hardbound Compton’s Encyclopedia and subscribed to the annual yearbook supplements. I believe the year 1959 was the first.

My earliest childhood memories pertaining to books date to my looking at the photos and drawings in these encyclopedias and yearbooks, and trying to dope out the words.

Strangely, another distant recollection about books and reading centers on a Catholic publication about the lives of the saints, with quite a few of the illustrations depicting the various means of torture deployed to make the case for future sainthood. As no doubt intended, they gave me nightmares. Somehow I’ve escaped a fetish for masochism.

Following is my reading list for 2022. As is commonly the case with me, the subject matter skews heavily toward European history and travel, whether fiction or nonfiction. It’s who I am and what I do, and there’ll be no apologies. In my view the stork was drunk, and in his muddled ineptitude he mistook New Albany on the Ohio for Neuburg an der Donau. My lifetime as a Hoosier is an accident of cosmik debris.

A major exception in recent years has been Kurt Vonnegut, one of the only figures of genuine importance to ever emerge from the benighted state called Indiana. For some reason I never got around to Vonnegut’s ouevre. I’m in the process of setting this right.

Looking back, I can find something memorable about each book I read this year. If pressed to group them as “best of,” it probably would look like this:

Fiction:

  • Austerlitz: “The story essentially consists of two sets of encounters, 20 years apart, between the tormented Austerlitz and the narrator, who is only seemingly detached.”
  • The Inquisitors’ Manual: “António Lobo Antunes’s eleventh novel chronicles the decadence not just of a family but of an entire society – a society morally and spiritually vitiated by four decades of totalitarian rule.”
  • The Tower: Tales from a Lost Country, by Uwe Tellkamp: “A key novel of the late East German state.”

Nonfiction (or, the European travel trilogy by Patrick Leigh Fermor):

  • A Time of Gifts
  • Between the Woods and the Water
  • The Broken Road

In fact, Austerlitz is a rare reread, twenty years or so after the first. I find it utterly essential as an exposition of post-war European history, albeit utilizing the deceivingly minor story of one man’s life during this time. Sebald’s novel must be considered among the most influential in my inner world, and I’ll be updating my books and reading Hall of Fame list soon.

As for Leigh Fermor’s account of his journey on foot from Holland to Constantinople, which he undertook as a teenager in the 1930s but did not write until later in life, it’s inexplicable that I didn’t read these accounts until the age of 62. However I think all the travel and  tourbook writers from the 1980s certainly did, as it’s now plain to me how much they borrowed from Leigh Fermor.

Here’s the list.

Reverse Chronology, December (25) – January (1) 2022

25 Celestial Harmonies, a novel by Peter Esterházy

24 A Very Old Man: Stories, by Italo Svevo

23 Vertigo, a novel by W.G. Sebald

22 Helping Verbs of the Heart, a novel by Peter Esterházy

21 The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

20 Timequake, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut

19 Between the Woods and the Water, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

18 A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

17 Ill Fares the Land, by Tony Judt

16 Athens: City of Wisdom, by Bruce Clark

15 Infinite Jest, a novel by David Foster Wallace

14 Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich (1945-1955), by Harald Jähner

13 The Strudlhof Steps, a novel by Heimito von Doderer

12 A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, by Anthony Bourdain

11 Postcapitalist Desire, the final lectures by Mark Fisher

10 Black Village, fiction by Lutz Bassmann (Antoine Volodine)

09 A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, by Victor Grossman

08 The Inquisitors’ Manual, a novel by Antonio Lobo Antunes

07: The Cunning Man, a novel by Robertson Davies

06: The Tower: Tales from a Lost Country, a novel by Uwe Tellkamp

05. Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship, by Andrew Wilson

04. Motley Stones, six novellas by Adalbert Stifter

03. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, by E.J. Hobsbawm

02. St. Bernardus: A Brewery Hidden in the Hop Fields, by Pieter Verdonck

01. Austerlitz, a novel by W.G. Sebald

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