At the beginning of the year, I set out to read 100 books. I was so confident in my ability to devour novels that I even debated setting myself a 200-book goal, but I thought, ‘Nah, let’s start out with child’s play, and we can impress everyone at the end of 2022.’ Well. I was not impressive, and it was not child’s play…
Sadly, I only got through 87 books, seriously underestimating the sheer enormity of how many books 100 books is. Okay, it was partly my fault due to the fact that I didn’t pace myself right. I took a month-long break in the middle of the year (smart), and by beginning of December I was only up to 80 books, so I took my foot off the gas and just enjoyed reading. I still got through 7 books in December without pushing myself, so I reckon next year I can make it to 100. (Famous last words – it’s probably going to be 92 or something. This’ll end up being a lifelong struggle.)
I did read some fantastic novels this year, and ones that I think deserve to be read. Sci-fi novels like To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars by Eragon’s writer Christopher Paolini; or Hail Project Mary, a extremely scientific but also extremely funny novel about saving the planet, and… aliens!
There are fantastic novels that I recommend more than anything; that were so good I couldn’t even bring myself to review them because I wanted to soak up every word of adventure and love and grief and heartbreak without having to put it into words. Books like A Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller, or Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.
Some great non-fiction works are included if dystopias or historical epics aren’t your thing, like Remember by Lisa Genova, a great work on why we remember some things and not others, and how we can improve our memory with a few sneaky tricks. Why Women Are Poorer Than Men is a great novel that emphasizes the importance of unpaid labour, and above all, learning about money. This Pākehā Life may be a little niche to non-New Zealanders, but I think it’s an important read nonetheless, discussing how we can live with respect as descendants of colonials in an indigenous community.
I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did. In the meantime, I’ll be embarking on my next tall mountain of 100 books, hoping to reach the peak this time. Wish me luck!
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
From the Booker Prize-winning author of Regeneration and one of our greatest contemporary writers on war comes a reimagining of the most famous conflict in literature - the legendary Trojan War.
When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis's old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she's not alone: on the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.
Wrestling the epic drama of the Trojan War away from its usual male-centric gaze, The Silence of the Girls seeks out the other story, the women’s story, charting the journey of a sometime-queen across the chaos of history, seeking freedom and the right to be author of her own story.
The Last Stargazers by Emily Levesque
To be an astronomer is to journey to some of the most inaccessible parts of the globe, braving mountain passes, sub-zero temperatures, and hostile flora and fauna.
Not to mention the stress of handling equipment worth millions. It is a life of unique delights and absurdities ... and one that may be drawing to a close. Since Galileo first pointed his telescope at the heavens, astronomy has stood as a fount of human creativity and discovery, but soon it will be the robots gazing at the sky while we are left to sift through the data.
In The Last Stargazers, Emily Levesque reveals the hidden world of the professional astronomer. She celebrates an era of ingenuity and curiosity, and asks us to think twice before we cast aside our sense of wonder at the universe.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides which thunder up staircases, the clouds which move in slow procession through the upper halls.
On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend, the Other. At other times he brings tributes of food and waterlilies to the Dead. But mostly, he is alone. Messages begin to appear, scratched out in chalk on the pavements. There is someone new in the House. But who are they and what do they want? Are they a friend or do they bring destruction and madness as the Other claims?
Lost texts must be found; secrets must be uncovered. The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous. The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.
The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles.
Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny.
Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
† 814 pages
The 700-or-so pages of A Little Life that took Japanese-American author Hanya Yanagihara 18 months to write, open in a somewhat jaunty and recognisable manner: introducing four bright young things as they graduate college, their sights trained on big New York City careers.
Christian Lorentzen, in the London Review of Books, wrote that the characters "seem like stereotypical middle-class strivers plucked out of 1950s cinema", and indeed they slip into these careers somewhat easily, becoming a successful actor, painter, architect and lawyer. But soon the novel darkens, it jars and then it appals, becoming less about the four young men and more particularly about one of them: the one who won’t tell of why he limps, why he doesn’t have relationships, why he cuts. The one who won’t tell of his ugly childhood and why he fears he will never escape its horrors.
Yanagihara should be commended for creating a book that, despite being a shattering and difficult read, became a bestseller, was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2015 and won the Kirkus Prize in Fiction.
To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars by Christopher Paolini
Kira Navarez dreamed of life on new worlds
Now she's awakened a nightmare
During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she's delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.
As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn't at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.
While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity's greatest and final hope . . .
Remember by Lisa Genova
Have you ever felt a crushing wave of panic when you can't for the life of you remember the name of that actor in the movie you saw last week, or you walk into a room only to forget why you went there in the first place? If you're over forty, you're probably not laughing. You might even be worried that these lapses in memory could be an early sign of Alzheimer's or dementia. In reality, for the vast majority of us, these examples of forgetting are completely normal. Why? Because while memory is amazing, it is far from perfect. Our brains aren't designed to remember every name we hear, plan we make or day we experience. Just because your memory sometimes fails doesn't mean it's broken or succumbing to disease. Forgetting is actually part of being human.
In Remember, neuroscientist and acclaimed novelist Lisa Genova delves into how memories are made and how we retrieve them. In explaining whether forgotten memories are temporarily inaccessible or erased forever and why some memories are built to exist for only a few seconds while others can last a lifetime, we're shown the clear distinction between normal forgetting (where you parked your car) and forgetting due to Alzheimer's (that you own a car). Remember shows us how to create a better relationship with our memory - so we no longer have to fear it any more, which can be life-changing.
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper
Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii's brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den...
Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father's death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii's infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For now her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.
But Amara's spirit is far from broken. By day, she walks the streets with the Wolf Den's other women, finding comfort in the laughter and dreams they share. For the streets of Pompeii are alive with opportunity. Out here, even the lowest slave can secure a reversal in fortune. Amara has learnt that everything in this city has its price. But how much is her freedom going to cost her?
Who Cares Wins by Lily Cole
Optimism demands action. Optimism is an active choice. Optimism is not naive and it is not impossible.
Many people perceive this to be a moment of despair. Global warming has reached terrifying heights of severity, human expansion has caused the extinction of countless species and neoliberalism has led to a destructive divide in wealth and a polarization of mainstream politics. But, there are constructive ways to meet these challenges, and there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
Lily Cole has met with some of the millions of people around the world who are working on solutions to our biggest challenges and are committed to creating a more sustainable and peaceful future for humanity. Exploring issues from fast fashion to fast food and renewable energy to gender equality, and embracing debate, the book features interviews with diverse voices from entrepreneurs Stella McCartney and Elon Musk, to activists Extinction Rebellion co-founder Dr Gail Bradbrook and Farhana Yamin, to offer a beacon of possibility in challenging times.
Who Cares Wins is a rousing call to action that will leave you feeling hopeful that we can make a difference. We are the ancestors of our future: a generation that will either be celebrated for its activism or blamed for its apathy. It is for us to choose optimism, to make changes and to create the future we want.
This Pakeha Life by Alison Jones
This book is about my making sense here, of my becoming and being Pakeha. Every Pakeha becomes a Pakeha in their own way, finding her or his own meaning for that Maori word. This is the story of what it means to me. I have written this book for Pakeha - and other New Zealanders - curious about their sense of identity and about the ambivalences we Pakeha often experience in our relationships with Maori.
A timely and perceptive memoir from award-winning author and academic Alison Jones. As questions of identity come to the fore once more in New Zealand, this frank and humane account of a life spent traversing Pakeha and Maori worlds offers important insights into our shared life on these islands.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
The dystopian masterwork that inspired George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, We depicts a futuristic totalitarian society, 'OneState', where humans have become numbers. Suppressed in Russia for decades, it is a chilling vision of a world enslaved by technology.
Animal by Lisa Taddeo
I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me. He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig. That's a cruel thing to think, I know. He did it in a restaurant where I was having dinner with another man, another married man. Do you see how this is going? But I wasn't always that way. I am depraved. I hope you like me.
Why Women Are Poorer Than Men by Annabelle Williams
FINANCE IS A FEMINIST ISSUE.
It's 2021. The modern world is still rigged unfairly in men's favour.
Exploring injustices from pensions to boardroom bullying, Annabelle Williams, former financial journalist for The Times, shows how society conspires to limit women's wealth.
Awareness is the first step to making change, which is why we all need to understand why women are poorer than men and what exactly we can do about it.
The time to act is now.
Discover exactly what you need to know about financial inequality in this essential, eye-opening and game-changing expose of the gender wealth gap.
Economies thrive when women do well, and only by understanding why women are poorer than men can we finally end this unfair disparity between the sexes.
The Women Of Troy by Pat Barker
Following her bestselling, critically acclaimed The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker continues her extraordinary retelling of one of our greatest myths.
Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home victors, loaded with their spoils: their stolen gold, stolen weapons, stolen women. All they need is a good wind to lift their sails.
But the wind does not come. The gods have been offended - the body of Priam lies desecrated, unburied - and so the victors remain in limbo, camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, pacing at the edge of an unobliging sea. And, in these empty, restless days, the hierarchies that held them together begin to fray, old feuds resurface and new suspicions fester.
Largely unnoticed by her squabbling captors, Briseis remains in the Greek encampment. She forges alliances where she can - with young, dangerously naive Amina, with defiant, aged Hecuba, with Calchus, the disgraced priest - and begins to see the path to a kind of revenge. Briseis has survived the Trojan War, but peacetime may turn out to be even more dangerous...
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker's son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress...
Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.
Circe by Madeleine Miller
“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Yet, in the golden halls of gods and nymphs, Circe stands apart, as something separate, something new. With neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and scorned and rejected by her kin Circe is increasingly isolated. Turning to mortals for companionship, she risks defying her father for love, a path that leads her not to the marriage bed but to a discovery of a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
Banished by Zeus to the remote island of Aiaia, Circe refines her craft, fate entwining her with legends: the messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home. As her power increases and her knowledge grows, so Circe must make the ultimate choice: to decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
A source of fascination for ancient writers from Homer to Ovid, Circe is a character whose story is steeped in magic and mystery. Caught up in the story of heroes, she is a figure apart, a player in the lives of heroes and gods but one who has never commanded her own story, until now.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission - and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it's up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he's got to do it all alone.
Or does he?
An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could imagine it, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian -- while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.