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What was on gal-dem’s 2022 bookshelf? 

At the end of a chaotic year, the gal-dem team looks back on the reads that stayed with us the most.

23 Dec 2022

As always, December is a time of reflection. 2022 has been a turbulent year, with protests and uprisings around the world, and at home, where the cost of living crisis has been worsened by the sorry state of British politics (don’t say we don’t bring you any festive cheer!). Yet throughout the year, we’ve also seen groups and communities organising to fight for change; whether that’s through striking, protesting or unionising. And in culture and music, we saw artists and creatives reimagine the future, draw inspiration from the past and make space to come together

Amid all this, reading offered our team time to escape, feel inspired, or simply just be. Here, the gal-dem team share their favourite reads of the year. 

Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

Having been struck by the effortless way Haruki Murakami unravels the complexity behind his lonesome characters, I knew I could easily get lost in another of his novels. My first Murakami novel was Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. It’s about a young man’s attempt to understand why his high school friends suddenly abandoned him, which contributes to his tight grip on identifying as an unremarkable outsider.  

This time, I gave Killing Commendatore a go. In Murakami’s vivid, melancholic style, the story focuses on a 30-something nameless painter who leaves Tokyo to isolate himself in the Kanagawa mountains. He rents out the former house of a celebrated artist after his wife surprises him with a divorce. As the slow, quiet days go by, there’s enough to occupy him, after he discovers a strange painting hidden in the attic. The painting takes the novel on a surrealist turn, including an encounter with a peculiar Gatsby-esque neighbour and a formless idea coming to the physical realm. It’s a weird one and not for everyone. But if you’re open to a series of strange events cascading into the absurd, then this is for you.

Cheryl Telfer, Account Manager

Asylum Road, Olivia Sudjic

On the surface, Asylum Road is a novel about a relationship barely hanging on by a thread, but it’s also about so much more. The protagonist, Anya, is haunted by memories of growing up during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s which lasted three and a half years – the longest in modern history. Anya carries her psychological trauma in a way that isn’t obvious initially. Yet as the story unravels, it begins to make much more sense. 

Luke, her boyfriend, seems emotionally absent and struggles to understand Anya, her family or her past. As Anya shuts down – so does he. When they’re in London, where they live, she can control the narratives about her past. But when the couple both travel to Sarajevo to meet Anya’s family, she loses her tight grip on the stories she tells others and the ones she tells herself. Sudjic’s writing is gripping and clear, full of unexpected twists and turns.

Diyora Shadijanova, Climate Editor

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, Juno Dawson

Did you grow up singing along to the Spice Girls? Maybe you have a curiosity for magic? If your answers are yes, then this book is for you. Set in the modern world, it follows the lives of five witches and their involvement with a (top secret, of course) government department of witches, namely Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. The book opens in the aftermath of a magical war, but in true fantasy style, darkness is once again on the horizon.

I love to read books that explore identity in all its forms: be it cultural, gender, sexuality or ethnicity. These types of themes can sometimes feel weighty or cerebral, but Her Majesty’s Royal Coven dives into them with a light touch and plenty of noughties nostalgia. The characters are beautifully intricate and funny, and this magical and inclusive world is a delight to be immersed in.

Indigo Jordan Griffiths, Membership and Comms Assistant

Woman, Eating, Claire Kohda

Lydia is hungry. Very hungry. All she wants is to eat like a human – and she watches enough YouTube vlogs and mukbangs to know how to do it well – but, unfortunately, Lydia is going to be hungry for eternity because she’s a vampire. I loved Claire Kohda’s debut which is a particularly millennial take on the vampire story. Subverting genre tropes (a castle becomes a windowless artist’s studio; helpless victims are creepy art world men; gothic cosmetics become Neal’s Yard products), Woman, Eating employs the supernatural to explore themes of urban alienation, mixed-race identity and the immoral art world. It’s a delicious read. 

Katie Goh, First Person Editor

Boy Parts, Eliza Clark

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as fast as I read this one. It’s by no means an easy read, with extremely dark undertones and a conflicting narrator, but I loved the complexity of the main character and the way the book explores her behaviour. It follows Irina – a young photographer living in Newcastle, who takes sexually explicit photos of ‘average-looking men’ she meets on the streets – her most recent subject being ‘Eddie from Tesco’.

The book plays with a shift in traditional gender roles when it comes to the photographer/subject relationship, and as it goes on we learn more about Irina’s past and start to make sense of her behaviour. It made me laugh, it made me squirm, it made me cry, it made me contemplate my life, and as soon as I finished it I wanted to read it again.

Nadia Younes, Social Media Assistant

A Down Home Meal For These Difficult Times, Meron Hadero

This collection of short stories was heartwarming, thought-provoking but also pretty sad. Hadero’s debut follows the fictitious lives of multiple Ethiopian migrants, some that have migrated to the United States, and some that have returned home to Ethiopia and do not recognise the cities they once left. 

In search of ‘home’, Hadero tactfully shines a light on the hardships that many migrants face, those of citizenship, displacement, financial instability. But what stuck with me was the running thread of hope throughout, and learning how to stay connected to your roots even when you’re not on home soil through food, music, and forging new friendships.

Riann Phillip, Editorial Assistant

Stay True, Hua Hsu

In last year’s version of this list, I wrote about Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart; a powerful exploration of grief and East Asian identity. And while I could use a similar description for Hua Hsu’s Stay True, both memoirs are beautiful and heartbreaking in unique ways. Stay True takes us into Hsu’s world as an 18 year old at college at Berkeley, grappling with his Taiwanese American identity, relationships with himself and those around him, and exploring subcultures of the mid-nineties – soundtracked by Nirvana, the Fugees and Pearl Jam. 

It’s at college where Hsu begins a formative friendship with fellow student Ken, whose family is Japanese American, and who expands Hsu’s perceptions of what it can mean to be Asian American. Yet, Hsu’s world is ruptured when Ken is killed in a random carjacking, forcing him to explore these questions alone and navigate a world without his best friend at his side. As someone whose life has been touched by sudden grief too, I felt really seen by Hsu’s meditations on loss, time, friendship and (be)longing. 

Suyin Haynes, Head of Editorial