Though I’m usually a voracious fiction reader, the book that stuck with me most this year was non-fiction. Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Change is by Britt Wray, a writer and broadcaster in Toronto who has researched the emotional and psychological impacts of climate change. It’s an incredibly thoughtful look at how we respond to the looming threat of a warming planet, and how young adults can find themselves reacting to it in different ways.
Wray’s book dissects how we can navigate the fear, anger, despair and hope that this issue can elicit, and offers techniques to harness those emotions into something positive. I’ve spent the past few years exploring how children imagine a world affected by climate change while writing my own novel, and so found it particularly interesting to see how she worked through similar ideas.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud’s memoir, Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces, was also a standout for me this year. I’m used to hearing Abdelmahmoud as a cultural and political commentator on radio and television, and his book was one of those memoirs where I felt like I could hear the author talking directly to me the entire time I was reading it.
Abdelmahmoud tells the story of his early years in Sudan, his move to Southern Ontario, and the challenges he felt growing up trying to navigate both. I especially appreciated his nuanced observations about how our identities can be defined by the world around us, and how it can sometimes take a while for us to figure out how we want to define ourselves.
My favourite fictional book that I read in 2022 was Haven by Emma Donoghue. I love reading Donoghue’s books (The Wonder is one of my all-time favourites), and Haven was no different. Set in Ireland in the seventh century, the story follows three monks who have left everything else behind to live a more holy life on a lone rocky island. The three only have each other to rely on, and they are eventually tested by the experience as they struggle to survive.
In her notes at the back of the book, Donoghue writes that the place where the story is set is based on a real island, Skellig Michael, and that her scheduled trip to visit it was cancelled because of the pandemic. As a result, she was left to reconstruct the place in her imagination.
I’ve been waiting for the books written during the pandemic to emerge, and this one stood out in my mind because the story itself seemed to reflect the loneliness of living through these times: The monks in Haven are isolated, depending only on each other for companionship. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I imagine it must have been comforting for Donoghue to write about characters who were also separated from everyone else.
Menaka Raman-Wilms is the author of The Rooftop Garden (Nightwood Editions, 2022)
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