My 2022 Reading & Other Highlights

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My reading speed in 2022 slowed down quite a bit compared to the two previous years (only 25 books in 2022 compared to 30 in 2020 & 2021), partially because I got absorbed in work but also because I started to run out of books that I really wanted to read. Nevertheless, to compensate for those 5 missing books (academic ones don’t count as always), I got entrusted by some friends to read their manuscripts, which was quite a pleasant surprise. Guess I have truly made my reputation as one who can read! 🙂

Apart from reading, 2022 was an extremely remarkable year of awakening for me. I got to visit and meditate under the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha attained full enlightenment. I got a few brief moments of experiencing oneness and nonself and started to succeed in applying impermanence and letting-go into daily life. I experienced what a holy unconditional love felt like and began to practice true love and compassion. And above all, I got to meet an inspiring old lady who taught me how to be positive and useful until the very end, how to live with cancer, by herself, for a whole year, untreated, with immense pain, and still be useful for others. I didn’t know much about the lady but to me, she was a Bodhisattva who opened up my eyes to a new level of realisation, while to others, she was probably just a lonely poor lottery seller. I’m not even sure how many people realised she was no longer sitting there, at her usual spot on the street where she had sat in the past 20 years. After her passing-away, I made up my mind to start learning to care for others. And thus, I adopted a stray cat from a shelter, and now it is this cat that continues to teach me how to love, to care, to be responsible and to always look beyond my own selfishness. 

And now, looking ahead, my ‘book consumption’ strategy in 2023 is to cut down on new readings (except for a few classics that I have already put on the must-read list), and focus on digging more deeply into the ones that I adored so much, such as The Brothers Karamazov, Notes from Underground, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Gandhi’s Autobiography, Tao Te Ching or Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings (that I only read a month ago). I would also like to spend time blogging about several recommended reads in some of my favourite genres such as dystopia, children’s books and manga (yes, manga, you heard me correctly), and perhaps putting more serious effort into my first short story writing.

Below are some great reads I have accomplished in 2022: 

1. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings (1997) by Thich Nhat Hanh (4.31 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): The book covers quite some basic teachings of the Buddha, such as the Four Noble Truths (tứ diệu đế), the Noble Eightfold Path (bát chánh đạo), or The Twelve Links of Interdependent Co-Arising (thập nhị nhân duyên); however, it is Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s storytelling style that lights up the pages. Thanks to the warm loving heart and enormous compassion of a true practitioner of the Dhama, theories become easy to grasp, words become easy to understand, and rules become easy to apply. 

I am not a Buddhist. I don’t believe in all the ceremonies and courtesy that accompany followers of a particular religion. However, since practicing Vipassana meditation (following Master Goenka’s tradition) I have considered the Buddha to be my ultimate teacher. I started to read more about Buddhism and was awed by how much it resonated with my way of living since childhood, even though ‘normal’ people often told me that I wouldn’t survive this competitive world doing such things I did. 

The book was given to me by a good friend roughly 13 years ago and had been lying collecting dust on the shelf till 2022. Nowadays, it is one of my favourite Buddhism reads. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, because if it is not your time yet, you wouldn’t be able to even spark an interest, let alone grasping the essence of one of the most important teachings in the history of mankind. I hope someday you’ll be there with us though 🙂 

2. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1992) by Sogyal Rinpoche (4.21 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): The book gives magnificent insights into Tibetan Buddhism doctrine and practice, while helping the universal readers to look deeply into the true nature of living and dying and prepare for their own and their beloved’s passing.

I have read a lot about Tibetan Lamaism and have always been fascinated by the Tibetan spiritual and mystic stories told by Tibetan Lamas and other foreign practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. There is an irresistible charm in the Tibetan way of life that enthrals every Buddhism practitioner. This book, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol) and told from Lama Sogyal Rinpoche’s sound knowledge and compassion, is a particularly curious and emotional read. I would like to recommend it to everybody, especially those who recently have to cope with a friend or family member’s dying moments.

3. Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) by George Orwell (4.09 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): The book is a marvellous astounding read, a blunt depiction of poverty through the creative memoir told by a penniless / down and out British who traversed two of the wealthiest capital cities of the world. In Paris he laboured long hours as a restaurant dishwasher and exposed the horrific filth behind Paris high-end restaurants and hotels. In London he lived a homeless tramp life with constant hunger and continual move from one charitable lodging house to another, where again he revealed the lodges’ horrid condition and faulty perception of society on tramps. Even though some events in the book were not totally truthful, the author actually did live his life among the low-caste and the homeless.

The book is an exciting and eye-opening read, just what we can expect from the author of 1984 and Animal Farm. Lived experience is always necessary for any great works of reportage and journalism. Hats off to Orwell for all the life experiences he had got. I love this book, have given it 4 stars and would like to recommend it for everyone.

4. The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) by Leo Tolstoy (3.88 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): Until now I guess you have figured out no annual reading list of mine is complete without a Russian classic fiction work, especially ones by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Nevertheless, this novella (appx. 110 pages) is rather unusual compared to Tolstoy’s normal style that I have read and loved (War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, A Landowner’s Morning, How Much Land Does a Man Need). The novella’s plot seemingly resembles Dostoevsky’s kind of analysis: what happens in the mind of a jealous psychopath & murderous husband – but of course if this one had been written by Dostoevsky, the psychological part might have been elevated to even higher levels of analytical manipulation and the tone might have been even darker and more satirical.

However, to be fair, if we put the disturbing perverting character and his horrid wife murdering case aside, the novella is still indeed very Tolstoy with lots of his philosophical & religious views scattered throughout the pages. On this book, Tolstoy discussed man-women inequity in domestic relations, the ‘carnal love’ disguised as ‘true love’, the poisonous husband and wife relationship, the suicidal thoughts everyone fantasises at least once in their lifetime, the need for human abstinence of sexual lust, and the anti-contraceptive attitude.

Tolstoy also discussed the influential power of music towards human mind and soul via the very specific title. The Kreutzer Sonata is Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin, Op. 47. In the book the main character stated that music didn’t have the natural uplifting power as people always said but it simply transferred the listeners to the state of feeling that the composers experienced themselves when writing the pieces. And he accused his wife of starting ‘to want’ to have an affair with her violinist partner while playing this particular piece. Of course we can’t tell what was in Beethoven’s mind when writing this piece but apparently the dramatic movement does stir an unease. However, Beethoven’s music is always dramatic, and probably Tolstoy’s interpretation of this particular movement was just over-dramatising. Writers are artists and imaginative creatures, nonetheless. 

Can’t say I really like this book nor the themes from the book. But do I recommend it? Yes, I still do, even though there are other better works by Tolstoy to start with. And for those who don’t understand the ‘human’ part of every Saint they may be disappointed of Tolstoy reading this novella and its background. Tolstoy was a spiritual leader of the 20th century who influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but he was also a mortal sinful man, like everybody else. But not everyone can take that easily.

5. Fathers and Sons (1862) by Ivan Turgenev (3.98 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): The book had long been on my definite must-read list – not only because it is considered the best work by Turgenev, whose Sportsman’s Sketches seemed pretty dull to me, hence my yearning to read something more justified from this author; but also because I’d like to know what Russian nihilism actually meaned in a realistic setting. The term ‘nihilist’ is no alien to me since it used to stand on my Facebook profile description for years. I only took my joking description title of ‘an aspiring nihilist’ off after finishing this novel because I didn’t want Western philosophy enthusiasts to label me ‘a Barazov’ (name of the novel’s protagonist).

In my general opinion, the novel is okay, cannot be compared with Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s but overall did stir up a few points. I personally like this dilemma: Barazov, a nihilist, a man who declared to believe in nothing, not in sentiment, not in family bond, marriage, religion, good or bad, and not even death, finally fell in all the traps of his conviction; while Madame Anna Sergievna Odintsov, a lady depressed of her tedious uninteresting life to the point of suicidal thinking, was eventually not capable of love nor even friendship. Quite an irony if you ask me! Worth a read for those into Russian classic like myself!

6. Twelve Years a Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup (4.20 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): Obviously this book has been made into an award-winning film, but reading the book suits more the style of a bookworm. This ‘true story’ narrative depicts the severe hardship of slaves’ life and the cruelty of men to one another through a very detailed memoir of a black man who was born free in New York state but was kidnapped and sold into slavery and lived a slave’s life for 12 years in the South. Even though the book is very emotional and leaving readers at awe and deep sorrow, the narration is quite dry sometimes with long description and detailed documentation of daily labourers’ work.

This book was written almost 200 years ago, and we may think it belongs to the past, but no, trafficked victims in this modern world are still sold into slavery and face similar inhumane treatment all over the world. Once humanity is still cruel to one another, there can never be peace and salvation for this world.

7. The Plague (1947) by Albert Camus (4.02 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): The novel, written by Algerian-born French author Albert Camus, Nobel laureate in literature, can be very relatable to our recent Covid pandemic. Even though Covid came no way near the damage of the plague, the pattern in people’s attitude and behaviour was absurdly similar: first ignoring and denying, and then going all paranoid and hysterical. The scenes were also identical: the separation between lovers, family and beloved ones, people’s agonizing deaths, and people’s powerlessness on what was happening. Told from a doctor’s narrative, the novel focuses more on the hardship of sanitary workers (doctors and volunteers) rather than the life of the normal people during months and months of total lockdown.

The book is categorised a work of existentialism and the tone is often compared with Kafka’s which can be rather philosophical and aloof at times. Would I recommend it? Of course, wholeheartedly! It is a good reminder for those who already forgot what a pandemic was like.

8. Demons (1872) by Fyodor Dostoevsky (4.29 Goodreads as of Jan 2023): The novel is said to be Dostoevsky’s ‘most confused and violent novel’ and ‘greatest onslaught on Nihilism’. While admiring Dostoevsky’s storytelling and character building as always, this is probably my least favourite work by him. It contains lots of political conspiracy, political assassination and messed-up political theories, and the portrayal of nihilism is exceptionally sickening with all the liberal/nihilist characters in this book being mentally crippled one way or another. The ending of the novel was extremely violent with lots of death and madness, and the extra chapter (censored chapter more like) ‘At Tikhon’s’ on the protagonist Stavrogin’s confession is particularly disgusting to read. I can’t really tell why this novel is on par with The Brothers Karamazov in terms of Goodreads popularity, but I guess it is still a must-read if you are into criminal psychology and political theories.

Some of my greatest reads and other memorable achievements in 2022

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