We did summarize our 2022 blogging, now it’s time for books, shows and movies… we’ll see how long it gets, but we’ll try to cover it all in one post. It’s been a busy year, but a lot was consumed nonetheless, just maybe a bit different stuff than usual 🙂
Piotrek: Lets start with books, the crown achievement of human culture and our blog’s main topic. According to GoodReads I read 107 titles in 2022 and that added up to 39,400 pages. One of my better years on record. Average book length was 368 pages and that is the record, I believe. I did some re-reads, I read some books that were waiting a long time on my shelf, and I read a lot on the most important topic of the year – Ukraine and its struggle against Russian colonialism and imperialism, and not only on the battlefields, but in the minds of people all around the world.
I’ll start with re-reads. There’s been more of that than usual, and I want to mention two. Shōgun disappointed Bookstooge during his recent re-read, but he made me wanna revisit the book myself. And it was just as good! I don’t mind profanity, or even blasphemy, and it’s such an epic adventure it makes me want to also replay the excellent Total War: Shogun 2 computer strategy. But I also had my disappointment and it sadly was The Legend of Drizzt. I like R.A. Salvatore, whenever I listen to an interview on some fantasy podcast he comes out as a nice human being. But reading his books just isn’t as fun as it used to be. This one wasn’t, and neither were short stories I loved in the 90-ties… there’s always a risk in revisiting childhood favourites, sometimes it pays out sometimes it doesn’t.
Now my favourite genre fiction. This year it constituted (fantasy and sf combined) about 1/3 of my reading, probably the lowest since… early elementary school? But these were mostly solid works. And I’ve chosen three that I liked the most (in no particular order).
Patricia McKillip The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Many people here love McKillip who sadly died in 2022. Her unique style makes me enjoy every novel I;ve read, including Winter Rose Ola did not like. But this is my favourite, great atmosphere, wise words about love and overall a great tale that I also enjoyed more than Ola 😉
Dave Hutchinson Europe in Autumn Ola read in 2015, I finally did it last year. A wonderful novel that starts in my beautiful city of Kraków, about a divided Europe very much in crisis, fast & smart and continued in four more volumes.
Bernard Cornwell The Warlord Chronicles (so three books actually, but I’ll treat them here as one entity). Maybe the least magical version of the Arthurian Legend I’ve read, but still one of the favourites. Cornwell usually writes historic fiction and I usually like his books a lot, he seems to always deliver – although he’s so prolific I’ve only read a fraction. This is a historic novel about invented history, presenting his version of familiar heroes and their adventures, and a lot of new ones. An epic trilogy that will catch and keep you attention from first to last page, if you’re anything like me as a reader.
Non-genre also has its Top 3. The first one I even reviewed, a rare thing last year 😉 The Orphanage by Serhiy Zhadan. A novel about Ukraine during the early stage of the war (which, I remind you, started in 2014). It’s about a society torn by conflict that is hard to ignore even if you try really hard. Family, nation, different layers of identity and hard choices.
2022 Nobel prize went to a French writer, Annie Ernaux, and while I often ignore it, a few enthusiastic reviews made me want to check her out. Les Années / The Years was a great choice. A portrait of a generation, from 1940-ties until 2006. France as it changed, from occupation through economic boom and post-war social changes, until the constant crisis of our century. So much packed into 256 pages, superbly written and also highly recommended. The Nobel committee does good job from time to time!
And the final book here is Felix Timmerman’s Boerenpsalm. A short gem from Flanders and a great example of Flemish literature from early XX century by an author who almost got his Nobel, being nominated three times but without success. Indeed a psalm, a wonderful depiction of traditional peasant life just before it disappears in the modern world. Culture, religion, a cycle of vegetation that dictates life for these hard working people… their struggles, joys, tragedies and humour. Short book that contains so much. Reminded me of Colas Breugnon, although this was more sober in tone.
Non-fiction. I had a small non-fiction renaissance! Read quite a lot and mostly great stuff. Most was connected to Ukraine in some way, or war, so I’ll start with one thing that wasn’t. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow is an attempt to re-write the history of humanity from a anarchistic, left wing perspective, appreciating the alternative paths not taken that could possible have lead to a more just societies and not what we have today… it certainly makes use of theories about early history of humanity developed after I learned the classical approach in school. Andreas wrote it’s a fascinating alternative approach to history, an attempt to create new myths that might inspire even readers not agreeing with authors. I agree! I hope we’ll write a two-shot review with Ola one day 🙂
Next book was written by Larry Wolff, American historian specializing in history of my part of the world. The Idea of Galicia : History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture takes on Eastern European Galicia (not as sunny as the one in Spain 😉 ), artificially created province ruled by the Habsburg empire between 1772 and WWI. Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and Germans, to only mention the most numerous ethnicities mixed together with fascinating results until Germans went back home, Jews were annihilated and now the area is divided between Poland and Ukraine. Perhaps we’d be happier in a multi-national, benevolent empire, and on both sides of the border people like to celebrate these days… but first we need to chase away the ugly, evil empire of Putin… the book is long, but fascinating, to everyone interested in Polish, Ukrainian or Jewish history.
The final book in this category – Gregor Ziemer’s Education for Death. Author run an American school in Berlin in 1930ties, and studied Nazi educational system up close. The resulting book is hard to read, I read a bit about it before but I did not know the ideology was pushed that hard in schools. Harder than you’d think even watching all the movies about SS fanatics. Ideology and martial preparation replaced regular subjects to a degree that would find German science destroyed in a decade or two if it continued. It reminds me of Putin’s Yunarmiya, young Russian fanatics you can see in some terrifying clips on YouTube.
I haven’t read that many comics, so I’m not going to dedicate much space to them. Monstress started well, but I’ve only read two volumes, some non-genre and mostly European comics made me think, and write a post WordPress killed before I could publish it…
Shame of the year is definitely not continuing Malazan. This is a great series, I love it, I need to start reading again, I hope I will some time in 2023.
Despite that new vocational experience, I managed to read 120 titles this year. Many of them were manga volumes, a saving grace if there ever was one, as much for their ability to give me psychological comfort as for their aesthetic value. I’ve read a whopping 80 manga volumes last year, and I hope to continue this trend in 2023. Many of these titles were an absolute pleasure to read, but even though the manga generally drove my ratings up, I ended up with 3.3 average rating for the year. What can I say? There were a few bad eggs in the mix 😉
Ola: 2022 was an interesting year, all right – much in the vibe of the Chinese saying, or should I rather say, the curse? 😉 Plenty had happened, and for 5 months I was mostly out of life and very much in the virtual reality of programming bootcamp. Super fun, super exhausting, extremely educational – all in all, highly recommended 😀
But this is a post about the highlights of the year, so let’s start.
My favourites in the SF genre were all written by the same guy and they all belong to one trilogy: Transformation by Neal Asher. I was so enraptured by the fate of Penny Royal that I only wrote the review for the first installment, Dark Intelligence. For the fantasy, the top award goes to Barry Hughart unfairly forgotten classic, Bridge of Birds. It’s such a truly wonderful and wondrous novel, I loved every word of it!
I’ve also had a good time with McKillip’s books, particularly In the Forests of Serre and Alphabet of Thorn (again, not reviewed ;)), as well as James’s second installment in the Dark Star trilogy, Moon Witch, Spider King. I started to warm up to McKillip after the unfortunate beginning with Winter Rose when Bart @ Weighing a pig recommended The Forgotten Beasts of Eld to me, and indeed, each subsequent title proved consistently good or better.
I’ve managed to read some good old classics, Roberts’s Pavane and Harrison’s Light, and Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and they were solid, fulfilling reads. But beyond these books I’ve read nothing truly remarkable genre-wise, and some mishaps that went straight to The Worst of 2022 list.
Other fiction though, especially military fiction, continued to make its mark on me. The re-read of Caputo’s masterpiece, A Rumor of War, as well as Marlantes’s Matterhorn, were particularly memorable. As for non-fiction, I have consumed only a few books this year, mostly in biological sciences and history. While enjoyable for the most part, they were not jaw-dropping, so I’ll mention only Bitch as the most entertaining (though, as you probably know from my review, IMO absolutely not free of authorial sins ;)) and Nixonland as the most mind-blowing.
As for manga, I’ve nearly finished Naruto, and enjoyed it more and more with the passage of time and pages. I’m almost done with Fullmetal Alchemist as well – the one thing that’s stopping me is my pickiness 😉 I’m waiting for the publication of the last two volumes in the lovely hardcover edition I’ve been reading all the volumes to date ;). I’ve tried Bleach, or rather Bleh, as I renamed this utter offense to intelligence, started reading Jujutsu Kaisen, My Hero Academia and Vagabond, and am voraciously consuming volumes of Demon Slayer. Lastly, I’m reading Berserk, which should come with trigger warnings for everything, really, even for the horrible art in the early volumes :P. But Miura’s improvement is incredible, and the art in the later volumes is in the absolute top of manga art ever, period. I am addicted.
Reviews for these will be coming after I reach the end of each series – I’m planning to do something similar to my Dragon Ball and DBZ reviews, where I wrote a short review for each volume along with a quick summary of the entire series. I also managed to finish all available volumes of Yotsuba&! and even wrote a post about this wonderful slice-of-life manga, here.
Movies were definitely less memorable this year, but I still had loads of fun with…
(1) Top Gun: Maverick, a skillfully made blockbuster with state of the art cinematography and a plot that cleverly manages to blend nostalgia with new emotional stakes, playing on themes of growing up and growing old. My favorite movie of the year, I think.
I really enjoyed (2) Everything Everywhere All At Once, it is a fun and unusual romp, deftly mixing Western and Eastern influences and keeping a beating heart (its own, although there’s probably somebody else’s there, too!) throughout. It’s funny, absurd, gross and thrilling, and surprisingly touching, too. Michelle Yeoh is a true star here, and deserves all the awards and accolades.
(3) Knives Out: Glass Onion is highly enjoyable, as well, and delivers a great evening entertainment with darker undertones. Not much more, I’m afraid, but entertainment is nothing to be sneezed at, especially in a year of cinematic draught 2022 turned out to be 😉 Poking fun at billionaire inventors and their gaggle of sycophants, the ex-celebrities and would-be politicians, it delivers a solid dose of well-deserved Schadenfreude. The saying Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is slightly updated here, with really deftly played themes of female vengeance and skill. Plus, it is always a pleasure to see Daniel Craig stretch his comedic muscles ;). As a side note, though, how could the guy behind Knives Out butcher Star Wars so?
Piotrek: Oh, yes, movies… I did not see that many in 2022. Hardly any new ones, and in the cinema I’ve been… twice, I think? Might be the first year of my life when I’ve been to a traditional theatre more often than to the movie theatre 🙂 But I would like to mention three 2022 movies that I’ve seen and liked best.
(1) Im Westen nichts Neues An amazing war movie. Adaptation of one of the most important WWI novels, horrors of trench warfare as seen by young German soldiers. Great war movie, great anti-war movie. For me, it was better than 1917. One of its strengths is the portrayal of politics and ideology of a nation state at war, the cynicism of politicians and misled patriotism of mass-enlisting youth. Reminds me of the scenes we now see from Russia…
(2) Top Gun: Maverick One of my few cinema escapades. And it’s been worth it! Great blend of respect for the older audience and new viewers, Tom Cruise in good form, aircraft portrayed with reasonable realism (according to some specialists that were willing to add a bit of a cool factor their expertise in physics and engineering 😉 )… not a transformative cinema experience, but a great fun movie. Made me think of the scenes I want to see from Ukraine when they finally get the F-16s 😉
(3) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness I have seen several superhero movies this year, not as many as I used to, and this was definitely my favourite. Not a great movie, but something I could simply enjoy, and it’s been a struggle with, say, this year’s Thor. Spider-Man: No Way Home was a way better movie that I also watched in 2022, but it premiered in 2021, it doesn’t count here.
I have seen Knives Out: Glass Onion, albeit in 2023, and I agree with Ola, but I wouldn’t put in any “best of” list… Everything Everywhere is on my list after I read Jeroen’s Top 10 Films of 2022, I’m going to see it this month 🙂
Ola: That’s the attitude I have for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. A nice enough movie with a couple of wonderfully trademark Raimi scenes and a cool performance from Cumberbatch, but my superhero allergy slowly turns into a full-blown gagging reflex (especially at the sight of spandex). Scarlet Witch’s transformation the entire movie hinged upon wasn’t quite believable and the logical holes only grew throughout the storyline.
As for TV shows, which I’ve only seen a handful in 2022, I don’t have much good to say – with the exception of Ted Lasso, which was hilarious and super fun, particularly S01, and Derry Girls, a wonderfully funny and quirky show, and a particular delight for those who have felt the touch of the Catholic Church in their lives! I love this series dearly, and Sister Michael (George Michael, might I add) was a definite highlight. Wednesday was a surprising hit in my household, quirky and gory and very much in the vintage Tim Burton style. I continued with Last Kingdom, which is as enjoyable as ever, though I must confess that any series longer than 2 season seems to be a struggle for me and so I pace myself ;). I seem to have inexhaustible stores of patience for long series of books, and even for puzzles. For TV series? Not so much. As for other TV series, we have started and not finished Andor, Moon Knight, Bad Sisters… Most of the rest was utterly forgettable, and some will definitely feature in The Worst of 2022 post we’ll be preparing next 😉
Piotrek: 2022 TV shows, on the other hand, were great. Hard to choose only a few. While I read great books each year, this might have been one of the best years when it comes to shows. Derry Girls, After Life and Expanse ended, and these are three wonderful shows. High Water is a rare Polish show I would recommend for wider audiences to see – a short series about the biggest flood in people’s memory and the fight to save one of Poland’s biggest cities, filmed perfectly well. Several shows started that are supposed to be continued, and my favourites among them are The Bear , Sandman and Andor, but I also quite enjoyed Willow and Amazon’s Rings of Power. I have no space to mention shows from 2021 I saw in ’22, or ones that started even earlier, and I haven’t reached their 2022 seasons last year. There was too much great stuff! The post is getting too long already, so just a few thoughts…
Derry Girls – one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched. A show about (mostly) female high school students from Northern Ireland around the Good Friday agreement with a great character of catholic nun running the school… nothing made me laugh out loud as often this decade. After Life is a black comedy/drama from Ricky Gervais who’s character is dealing with his wife’s death, and it’s sad, funny and strangely uplifting. Three short series, same as Derry Girls, great show. Expanse you all know and I believe it ended well, solid SF that for some time was hard to find.
The newcomers… I ended last paragraph with Expanse, so I’ll start this with Andor. My new favourite SF show? Too early to tell after just one season, but definitely my new favourite Star Wars show, and something that gives me new hope for the franchise. Grim, bloody, political, dirty, a show I couldn’t stop watching, I think I did it in two sittings. Willow and Rings of Power represent fantasy and they were not as good as some of the others, but, for me, extremely enjoyable. A classic quest of a pretty stereotypical cast 🙂 Willow was a surprise, as I somehow missed it was coming, and I love the movie! Sandman is my favourite new fantasy series, creators generally played it safe with this adaptation, and the result is much better than American Gods, and immensely satisfying for a long-time fan like me.
The favourite new non-genre show: definitely The Bear. A show about chef remaking his dead brother’s sandwich shop. Recipe for success? Not necessarily, but they did make it work, and how… funny, moving, not shying away from difficult topics. Contained shots of meat so fine it moved me from almost-fully to just mostly vegetarian 😉
2022 was an interesting year when it comes to culture consumed, not typical, but a good one. I plan to read more genre this year, but we’ll see what the future brings. I also hope to start visiting cinema again, but I’m worried I got too lazy 😉
Ola: I’ve learned not to make too many plans, so I’m going to take it a day at a time ;). The things I know for certain are that I’ll be continuing with my manga addiction, I have designs on re-reading Dune Messiah, and I’ll be starting Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series. There will be more non-genre and non-fiction, I think, in my readings. There might be a cinema trip or two in the works, depending on the quality of titles available, but mostly I’ll be probably continuing with watching some good oldies.
Next up, The Worst of 2022! Buckle up for the controversy and righteous fury! 😀