I read widely. Always have.
My bias is toward fantasy and science fiction novels, but I love short stories, self-help, thrillers, literary classics, philosophy, mythology, ancient civilizations and much more.
Each year I read about 50 books.
This isn’t a lot compared to some readers I see on Goodreads setting goals to read 100+ books in 2023.
But 50 books is still orders of magnitude more than the average American.
According to the Pew Research Center (2016 study), the average American reads 12 books per year. “The typical (median) American has read 4 books in the last 12 months.”
My reading has slowed somewhat as I’ve gotten into my 30s, but reading is such an ingrained habit that I can’t imagine not having a few books going at once.
Considering how much time I also spend writing books, as well as reading and writing emails, articles, Slack, Discord, DMs on various apps, and texts… 50 books is a lot.
50 books is roughly 4 million words per year (80k word average). I estimate I read about 6-7 millions words in a given year. Maybe more.
As for my reading preferences, I read across ebook, paperback/hardback and audio. I got back into audiobooks in 2022, renewing my Audible subscription, checking audiobooks out of the library, and buying a handful of audiobooks directly (that ebook+audiobook bundle discount is great).
I’ve come to learn that format really does have an impact on my reading experience. Especially audiobooks since they throw the narrator’s voice and acting abilities into the mix. Viewing a narrative in the theater of my mind while reading in silence, and hearing the story in the voice of Ray Porter or Tim Gerard Reynolds are two completely different experiences. I enjoy both for different reasons.
Sometimes, I even read the ebook or paperback first then, later, go to the audiobook for a second pass (or vice versa).
My point is that I’m an eclectic reader with a big appetite. So narrowing it down to a top 5 list has always been hard. That’s probably why I haven’t done a post like this for previous years.
However, this year I did enjoy the challenge. I hope this list does two things:
- Reminds me what I really enjoyed reading each year (I have no record for past years!)
- Helps readers like you find new books — or try one you may have ignored before
So, at long last, here’s my top 5 favorite books of 2022, and why I recommend them.
These incredible audiobooks narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds were my favorite epic fantasy read of the year.
I’m calling out the latest, The Wizard’s Crown, here, because it was truly excellent. I actually read all 5 of these in about 2 months.
They’re 20 hours a piece.
(A person has a lot of hands-free time when caring for a toddler, okay?)
The Art of the Adept series is awesome. What starts as a classic master and apprentice, wizard-in-training story quickly goes sideways. The plot is surprising, shocking. The characters rich and nuanced.
The whole series is full of humor and heart. Manning created one of the most hilarious characters in the history of epic fantasy—Arrogan. Brilliant, brash, rude and sometimes lewd, he had me laughing out loud in front of perfect strangers in the grocery store.
The magic system is clever yet classical, and grows more complex as the books go on. The action is realistic and brutal. The love story is authentic and passionate without being corny. Will’s marriage is one of the more interesting royal marriage depictions I’ve seen in a long time.
I’ve rarely been so surprised by a story. Bravo.
Project Hail Mary—freaking loved it.
This novel is an amazing first contact story wrapped inside a deadline driven save-the-Earth science thriller.
It’s hard sci-fi, but without being cumbersome or buried under the weight of facts.
It’s funny as all hell.
The way the story comes together so seamlessly—the alien species and mission interwoven with a scientific discovery—is a masterclass in plotting and pacing.
An inventive use of music in language gives the audiobook a unique twist that can’t be experienced any other way; I hope that effect makes it into the film.
GREAT narrator. Ray Porter shines.
Andy Weir was wise to return to his particular blend of funny, man-lost-in-space, “save the Earth” science thrillers with Project Hail Mary.
No one does it quite like Weir.
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson was my favorite novel of the Stormlight Archive so far.
I started reading Way of Kings in November of 2021. Rhythm of War has been out since 2020, so it took me a while to get to them, but now I’ve read them all. I breezed through the side-story novellas Dawnshard and Edgedancer before starting in on this one, so it was the capstone of a 6 month effort. (This series alone is millions of words in length—few other places can you get so much story for your effort.)
The books are long, and Sanderson isn’t afraid to take them all the way to their edge—and then past it. As epic as the series is, the benefit is that there’s plenty of room to treat each character with the time and attention they deserve.
I loved the siege aspect of Rhythm o War, and enjoyed getting a chance to see Kaladin shine as the people’s defender while developing his abilities as a Knight Radiant and discovering secrets about the Tower.
When I think back about the book, however, it is Shallan’s experience battling her alter egos which stands out as the most significant. She journeys with Adolin through Shadesmar, but ultimately it is a story to discover the true memories hidden inside her trauma.
Sanderson is one of the best storytellers alive working in epic fantasy, and each Stormlight novel is better than the last.
These books took up such a huge portion of my 2022 reading that although they were released years earlier, I can’t avoid listing one here.
I love every second I spend in Roshar. Many do.
(I read these as ebooks and have never listened to the audio. Saving those for the reread!)
So far, there’s a lot of magic in my fiction.
How about my nonfiction?
In Real Magic, Dean Radin, researcher and Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Science (IONS), brings esoteric tradition, the modern study of human consciousness, and statistics together under one cover.
He begins by laying out a definition of magic—a common understanding is critical to putting what follows into context. He describes what magic is to him, shares some of his personal experience, and goes through a brief history of traditional magical practices.
What he’s really interested in, however, is putting those practices to the test—proving the theories in a clinical or laboratory setting, and analyzng the data.
My opinion is that there are many magical practices for which the evidence could be stronger. I really enjoyed reading about the studies that have been done, and their results—it’s so interesting to have an objective basis from which to analyze these outcomes.
I also believe Radin lays out a compelling case that there’s more here than meets the eye. More experiments need to be conducted. If this is truly the beginning of the history of rigorous noetic science, I can’t wait to see what we discover over the next twenty years.
I always find human consciousness an interesting topic to explore—it’s a break from my usual fare. I don’t often enjoy data visualizations in my books, but worth noting that the graphs and study results are perhaps the most engaging piece of the more dense scientific summary material.
Finally, my last pick for this year’s favorite books is this tribute to the classic Super Nintendo Entertainment System—SNES—world of games.
I grew up in the 1990s, and the SNES was my first gaming system, so to say that this was a nostalgia trip for me is an understatement.
Translated from the original German and published by Bitmap Books, this title covers all the best SNES action, adventure and RPG classics I grew up on.
Ghouls and Ghosts, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy, Super Mario World. So many more.
Silky full-color pages depict visually stunning in-game screenshots and original graphics. I spent hours on Christmas day just flipping through it, marveling at the sensory memories which came rushing back, enjoying colorful personal anecdotes from the authors.
Pixel characters and landscapes are their own art form, and nowhere is that so apparent as a book like this. These pages reveal details Ii never noticed on the 18″ CRT television where we used to play.
Highly recommended for any fan of SNES games. It’s a trip back through memory lane!
Made me want to blow the dust off my old cartridges and start Zelda: A Link to the Past from the beginning (for the hundredth time).
Sidenote: I once wrote about the evolution of Link in the Legend of Zelda games. I also received a Zelda t-shirt for christmas #nerd.
Five more books worth reading from 2022
This was such a difficult list to narrow down—I could have easily made it top 10 instead of top 5, but I wanted to keep it short and force myself to prioritize.
That said, I read far more than five books in a year. So here are my next five favorite books that didn’t make the list, but are notable and worth mentioning. I enjoyed every one of them.
- Circe by Madeline Miller – A lyrical retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Circe, the witch made famous in the tale of Odysseus for turning men into pigs. This story gives us Circe’s untold perspective on that event, on the halls of the Greek gods, and much more.
- Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock – A seminal work of researcher and journalist of ancient civilization Graham Hancock. He cuts a controversial figure in archaeology for his compelling theories that run against the grain of accepted academic dogma. This book is an early tome, and he’s since expanded on it with more volumes on the topic. I grabbed a copy of this book from a bookshop in Seattle, and it set me up nicely to enjoy the Ancient Apocalypse documentary series released by Netflix later in 2022.
- Forgotten Ruin by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole – The dynamic sci-fi duo of Anspach and Cole are the creators of Galaxy’s Edge, a Star Wars-inspired franchise of sci-fi novels. In this new novel, they tackle a new fantasy world where a company of Rangers is transported through time and must fight to survive against terrible creatures and magics from Tolkien’s worst nightmare.
- The Law by Jim Butcher – The first lengthy Dresden tale released since Battle Ground, this novella shows him mourning his losses and working a smaller case where he finds his substantial firepower impotent in the face of the law. I bought a signed hardback copy!
- Unsouled by Will Wight – Narrated by Travis Baldree, Unsouled and the entire Cradle series of progression fantasy novels bring martial arts and elemental magic systems together in a story that travels at speed of the Gods. Shorter than your epic books, their speed makes consuing them particularly addictive.
My reading habits in 2023
Finally, these reflections have led me to a few takeaways about my reading habits.
For one, science fiction and fantasy novels continue to be the majority of my consumption. That’s my happy place, reading sci-fi/fantasy books. I freaking love them. Is it any wonder I’m an SF writer? On the whole, I read more fantasy than science fiction—always have—but I’m never hard pressed to find stand-out sci-fi stories in any given year.
No short fiction made my 2022 list. And not because I didn’t read any! I perused several anthologies, including the new volume of Writers of the Future. I intend to keep better track of what short fiction I read this year so I can share it with you.
Most of my nonfiction reading seems to be blogs and articles online. I’d like to do more long-form nonfiction reading on interesting new topics in the new year. That said, while some nonfiction books have been useful in my life, I see them as tools not as entertainment. If I’m leisure reading, nothing beats a good fiction story, and many nonfiction books are so focused on being practical that they lack a compelling (to me) story. So perhaps I should find more narrative nonfiction to read.
To millions more words consumed in the new year!