Want to know what media I especially enjoyed or learned a lot from in 2022? I’ve made a list! I’ve been making similar lists for the past several years, of course, but this year I’ve added a poetry section.
Please note that while I read and watched these pieces in 2022, not all these works were published last year. I’m slow and get around to things in my own time.
Unknown Number by Blue Neustifter (aka Azure)
Content notes: privacy invasion, transitioning
This heartrendingly hopeful story about transitioning gender actually came out in 2021, but I only discovered it as part of my reading up on Hugo nominees earlier this year. It’s a fast read, structured as a Twitter thread. When I first read this short story, it felt ephemeral — like something blowing past me that I just happened to catch. But rereading it feels especially ephemeral, given Twitter’s apparent lurching towards an end. (In the event the Twitter link stops working, the story is mirrored at GenderDysphoria.FYI.)
Content notes: stylized violence (including some blood), immigration, tax audits, coming out
Probably my favorite film of the last year (if not longer), Everything Everywhere All At Once has gotten major accolades from a huge variety of sources. It’s brilliant on so many levels: casting, costuming, setting, storyline, everything I can list. It’s tough to explain the plot of the movie, because the name accurately describes the scope of the story. More importantly, though, I have long said that Michelle Yeoh should get to play everyone in every movie ever. This isn’t the way I expected to get that wish, but I got to see her in a Wong Kar-wai-esque role, in an absurdist comedy, and in a queer-child-of-immigrants-coming-to-terms-with-their-family film, all in one go, and it makes me so happy.
If you’ve some how managed to not watch Everything Everywhere All At Once yet, I strongly encourage you to make the time.
Content notes: the Irish troubles, sectarian violence, alcohol use, bullying
I found this television show to be one of the most accessible texts on the Irish Troubles and the peace process in the 1990s I’ve seen. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I’ve studied the Irish Troubles quite a bit from personal interest, so please consider my recommendation in that context. It’s extremely emotional, but also riotously funny to balance out the tough topics. Derry Girls follows five teenagers growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland. They’re hilarious, but my favorite character is Sister George Michael, the principal of the school the main characters attend. Trust me, you’ll love Sister George Michael too.
Content notes: exhaustion
I read this story by Iori Kusano after reading their story, Have Mercy, My Love, While We Wait for the Thaw, which is also good — it just didn’t hit me the way Next Station, Shibuya did. Next Station, Shibuya came out in 2017, although I missed it originally. The story explores the meaning of place and individuals’ connections to cities and other places, flavoring these ideas with poetry. The result is a beautiful ride on a Japanese train.
Content notes: obsessive behavior, isolation, mentions of the COVID-19 pandemic
I’ve read this story several times. After each reading, I felt haunted, but maybe in a good way. The protagonist will feel familiar to just about anyone who has spent a lot of time on social media, and will leave you thinking about how relationships can be performed, as well as where the boundaries of parasocial relationships may be.
Content notes: death, violence, body horror, disordered eating, memory loss
I am obsessed with the Locked Tomb series and the latest addition to the series, Nona the Ninth, has only increased my feelings for these books. I feel like I’m always rereading them, and I find new details each time. Each of the books is dramatically different, yet in ways that build upon each other. Nona is nothing like what I expected or hoped for. It’s better, but I don’t know where Muir could have pulled it out of. There’s even a dog! I’m waiting impatiently for the fourth book in the series to come out this fall.
Poetry and music
Content notes: government oppression, colonialism
Brivele’s music crosses from punk to klezmer and back again, mostly in Yiddish and often with a political bent. You don’t need to speak Yiddish to enjoy their music, though — they’ll get you moving either way. This latest EP includes their version of “Bella Ciao,” which may be my favorite version of the song to date.
Content notes: violence against Palestinians, death of a child, imprisonment
Tbakhi turns the process of writing this poem into a visceral experience of the violence faced by Palestinians. For all the pain the poet surfaces, though, there’s a vital delicacy and tenderness to this poem. It’s a difficult read, but one I encourage you to sit with.
Content notes: colonialism, terrorism, slavery, climate change, immigration, abortion
Originally published in 2019, Choi’s poem evokes the many apocalypses we face each day, taking both the reader and those apocalypses back to their roots. As I read this poem, I felt like Choi captured the inside of my mind — anxiety chasing after so many different problems, an intensity that put me in the eye of a storm of apocalypses. Choi released a new book of poetry in late 2022 by the same name as this poem — it’s on my reading list but I haven’t gotten to it yet.
Therapy was never secular by Hannah Baer
Content notes: mental healthcare
This article looks at the relationship between therapy and religion, focused on Judaism, but also with some forays into Zen Buddhism. Baer addresses what it takes to mainstream a therapeutic practice — from making that practice ‘evidence-based’ to removing community aspects. Of course, this requires discussing Sigmund Freud. Freud’s work was initially seen as divorced from his Judaism, but recent scholarship has found new connections, which Baer explores. The piece gave me tons of thoughts about the future of mental healthcare.
Content notes: ableism, discussions of slavery
Our approach to AI mirrors discourse on race, ability, and even slavery — and speculative fiction so far supports it at every step. Jay Edidin wrote this piece on neurodivergence and artificial intelligence in 2021, laying out an alternative. It’s just for speculative fiction for now, but it could inform all those machine learning ethical questions that Silicon Valley keeps punting, provided the article makes its way in front of more programmers. I want to highlight one quote, which I keep turning over in my head.
The Turing Test isn’t a test of consciousness. It’s a test of passing skill, of the ability of a conscious entity to quash itself for long enough to show examiners what they want to see. This is the bar humans set for minds we create: we will acknowledge them only for what we recognize of ourselves in them. Our respect depends not on what they are or claim to be, but on their ability and volition to pass as what they are not.
So You Want to Feel Better: Navigating Grad School, Disability, and the Language of Pain by Micaela Bombard
Content notes: ableism, mentions of the COVID-19 pandemic, descriptions of medical care
In this essay, Micaela Bombard uses the problems with academic accommodations as a framework for a poetic examination of chronic disability. Prior to the pandemic, Bombard didn’t consider herself disabled. But the medication that controls some of the symptoms of Bombard’s condition also turned out to be useful at reducing certain COVID symptoms. That caused a shortage, which then left Bombard unable to handle work she’d managed previously and in need of accommodations. Getting accommodations, of course, sucks. But Bombard is a poet and each line of her piece drips into your mind like the slow drip of an IV. Due to that poetry and pacing, this isn’t just another essay about the personal impact of disability.
I Grew Up Believing “The Satanic Verses” Was Dangerous. Here’s Why That Matters by Elamin Abdelmahmoud
Content notes: targeted violence
After the stabbing of Salman Rushdie last fall, Elamin Abdelmahmoud wrote this piece where he examined his own past and beliefs about Rushdie. Ruhollah Khomeini issued the initial fatwa against Rushdie around the time of Abdelmahmoud’s birth. Today, Abdelmahmoud still flinches when seeing Rushdie’s books in stores, even though he knows better. He also digs into the contradictions that have developed throughout Rushdie’s career, including how the fatwa pushed Rushdie to embrace politics counter to those shown in his early writing.
Ursula K. Le Guin wrote this piece in 1986, which makes it the oldest item on this list. How did I miss it when it came out originally? Well, I hadn’t learned to read in 1986. Le Guin starts with ‘the carrier bag theory of human evolution,’ which says that containers (bottles, bags, etc.) are crucial to humanity’s evolution. At the most basic level, you can’t collect or store food without a container. You can only eat that food immediately. That’s not the story humanity tells of our origins, but it’s a valuable perspective. Le Guin draws the line from this theory to fiction-writing, proposing that:
“I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us.”
It’s a very different approach to writing than you usually hear about. It’s a framework for the type of speculative fiction Le Guin wrote, which can feel more relatable than those focused more on discussions of heroic technologies.
A last note
Just a head’s up: I’ve included links to Bookshop that will pay me a (very) small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase. However, I’d recommend any of these reads even without affiliate commissions — if you borrow books from the library or acquire them through other non-purchasing methods, I think that’s awesome.