A Year in Books

When people ask me what I like to do for fun, usually my first response is reading. There are few things that I enjoy more than getting cozy and spending a few hours reading an enjoyable book. 

As we end 2022, I went through the approximately 35 books that I read over the past year and identified my nine favourites. They span fiction and non-fiction and cross genres such as biography, spirituality, economics, science fiction, and memoir. 

I hope this list is helpful and that you find a book with which you end up falling in love. In the below sections, I include the high-level Goodreads description of each work, followed by my comments on why I recommend the book. Happy reading!

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Goodreads Description: With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.

The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.

As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.

Why do I recommend this book? This was the first book I read this year and it still resonates with me. Mistry does an excellent job illustrating the inhumanity of caste systems, while at the same time celebrating the resilience of individuals who fight against relentless systemic discrimination.

Awareness by Anthony De Mello

Goodreads Description: The heart of Anthony de Mello’s bestselling spiritual message is awareness. Mixing Christian spirituality, Buddhist parables, Hindu breathing exercises, and psychological insight, de Mello’s words of hope come together in Awareness in a grand synthesis.

In short chapters for reading in quiet moments at home or at the office, he cajoles and challenges: We must leave this go-go-go world of illusion and become aware. And this only happens, he insists, by becoming alive to the needs and potential of others, whether at home or in the workplace.

Here, then, is a masterful book of the spirit, challenging us to wake up in every aspect of our lives.

Why do I recommend this book? I think of Anthony’s De Mello’s writing almost every day. Reading Awareness motivated me to work much harder on my mindfulness practice and to question the rationality of some of my deeply held assumptions about the world. 

Grant by Ron Chernow

Goodreads Description: Ulysses S. Grant’s life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and inept businessman, fond of drinking to excess; or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War; or as a credulous and hapless president whose tenure came to symbolize the worst excesses of the Gilded Age. These stereotypes don’t come close to capturing adequately his spirit and the sheer magnitude of his monumental accomplishments. A biographer at the height of his powers, Chernow has produced a portrait of Grant that is a masterpiece, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.

Why do I recommend this book? This masterful biography by the inestimable Ron Chernow provides a wonderful overview of one of the most overlooked U.S. presidents. Throughout much of his life, Grant struggled with alcoholism, and he was even kicked out of the military in his early career because of his drinking problems. Despite substantial and seemingly never-ending personal challenges, Grant persists to become a leading general in the U.S. Civil War and two-term President of The United States. More than a biography, Chernow’s work is a compelling overview of the war and the period of reconstruction that followed. One of my reflections from learning about this history is how many present-day American conflicts are a re-litigation of fundamental disputes from the 19th century. The only way to understand the present is to study the past.

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schultz

Goodreads Description: Eighteen months before Kathryn Schulz’s father died, she met the woman she would marry. In Lost & Found, she weaves the story of those relationships into a brilliant exploration of the role that loss and discovery play in all of our lives. The resulting book is part memoir, part guidebook to living in a world that is simultaneously full of wonder and joy and wretchedness and suffering–a world that always demands both our gratitude and our grief. A staff writer at The New Yorker and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Schulz writes with curiosity, tenderness, erudition, and wit about our finite yet infinitely complicated lives. Lost & Found is an enduring account of love in all its many forms from one of the great writers of our time.

Why do I recommend this book? Life can be filled with tremendous joy and tremendous hardship. We are all constantly losing and finding. As one door closes, another door opens. Schulz masterfully shares meditations for how we can move forward living with both grief and joy at the same time. 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Goodreads Description: In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant — and that her lover is married — she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters — strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis — survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history

Why do I recommend this book? Through telling the story of a Korean family who move to Japan during the period when Korea was under Japanese rule, Lee provides many insights into the hardships immigrants face. Pachinko is a captivating story, and it’s no surprise that Apple+ made a popular and critically acclaimed TV series based on the book.

Station Eleven by Emily St. Mandel

Goodreads Description: Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Why do I recommend this book? I devoured this book in only a few days. After living through a pandemic these past few years, I didn’t think that I would enjoy a piece of fiction about another pandemic. Station Eleven is a wonderfully atypical piece of apocalyptic fiction, which makes you reflect on how you would respond if the world collapsed. 

The Next Age of Uncertainty by Stephen Poloz

Goodreads Description: From the former Governor of the Bank of Canada, a far-seeing guide to the powerful economic forces that will shape the decades ahead.

The economic ground is shifting beneath our feet. The world is becoming more volatile, and people are understandably worried about their financial futures. In this urgent and accessible guide to the crises and opportunities that lie ahead, economist and former Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz maps out the powerful tectonic forces that are shaping our future, and the ideas that will allow us to master them.

These forces include an aging workforce, mounting debt, and rising income inequality. Technological advances, too, are adding to the pressure, putting people out of work, and climate change is forcing a transition to a lower-carbon economy. It is no surprise that people are feeling uncertain.

The implications of these tectonic tensions will cascade throughout every dimension of our lives–the job market, the housing market, the investment climate, as well as government and central bank policy, and the role of the corporation within society. The pandemic has added momentum to many of them.

Poloz skillfully argues that past crises, from the Victorian Depression in the late 1800s to the more recent downturn in 2008, give a hint of what is in store for us in the decades ahead. Unlike the purely destructive power of earthquakes, the upheaval that is sure to come in the decades ahead will offer unexpected opportunities for renewal and growth.

Filled with takeaways for employers, investors, and policymakers, as well as families discussing jobs and mortgage renewals around the kitchen table, The Next Age of Uncertainty is an indispensable guide for those navigating the fault lines of the risky world ahead.

Why do I recommend this book? At Venture for Canada, we believe that the world is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, which means it is increasingly important for everyone to be entrepreneurial. Stephen Poloz, whose interview on VFC’s podcast A New Wave of Entrepreneurship will be published early next year, makes the case that we are entering an era that will be even more uncertain. Given this dynamic, he makes the case that all companies need to have both chief risk officers as well as chief opportunity officers. While uncertainty can be scary, it also presents many new chances to identify and act upon opportunities to create value for others.  

The Ministry for The Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Goodreads Description: Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organization was simple: To advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future. It soon became known as the Ministry for the Future, and this is its story.

From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a vision of climate change unlike any ever imagined.

Told entirely through fictional eye-witness accounts, The Ministry For The Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, the story of how climate change will affect us all over the decades to come.

Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us – and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.

It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate, and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.

Why do I recommend this book? The Ministry for The Future presents a vivid and realistic portrayal of how climate change could impact the world in the immediate future. While the book presents the many challenges facing humanity, Stanley Robinson also illustrates humanity’s adaptability and how we can come together as a species to confront the existential risk of climate change. 

Goodreads Description: In this extraordinary book, an acclaimed young war reporter chronicles a dangerous journey on the smuggler’s road to Europe, accompanying his friend, an Afghan refugee, in search of a better future.

In 2016, a young Afghan driver and translator named Omar makes the heart-wrenching choice to flee his war-torn country, saying goodbye to Laila, the love of his life, without knowing when they might be reunited again. He is one of millions of refugees who leave their homes that year.

Matthieu Aikins, a journalist living in Kabul, decides to follow his friend. In order to do so, he must leave his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail with Omar. Their odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brings them face to face with the people at heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists, and the men, women and children fleeing war in search of a better life. As setbacks and dangers mount for the two friends, Matthieu is also drawn into the escape plans of Omar’s entire family, including Maryam, the matriarch who has fought ferociously for her children’s survival.

Harrowing yet hopeful, this exceptional work brings into sharp focus one of the most contentious issues of our times. The Naked Don’t Fear the Water is a tale of love and friendship across borders, and an inquiry into our shared journey in a divided world.

Why do I recommend this book? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are approximately 90 million people worldwide who are forcibly displaced. Over the past decade, this number almost doubled. Aikins’ firsthand accounts provide a vivid portrayal of the trials and tribulations of refugees around the world. It’s hard to not be motivated to take action regarding the the global refugee crisis after reading this compelling work. 

Scott Stirrett is the Founder and CEO of Venture for Canada. Entrepreneur, writer, perpetually curious.