2022 was the year of adverse reactions to strong sentiment. Covid and its consequences may have been the catalyst but the effects reached all facets of the world.
In literary circles, 2022 saw a hark to the mid 20th century with the banning and condemning of books that dared to raise controversial subject matter or challenge censorship. Even classics like To Kill A Mockingbird and The Handmaid’s Tale became questioned or unobtainable in certain places this year – books that were available and widely considered masterpieces prior.
Authors and literary greats around the world began campaigning against the control of speech and thought, advocating that the way to counter undesirable speech is with more speech and more freedoms, not less.
Margaret Atwood and her publishers were so concerned about the trend to ban books they produced a fireproof copy of The Handmaid’s Tale. The special edition was printed on heat-resistant aluminium material, bound with nickel wire and stainless steel, and printed with ink that can’t be destroyed or degraded even at extreme temperatures.
There was even a You Tube clip of Margaret Atwood proving its indestructibility by turning a flame thrower on to it! The book ended up selling at auction for $130,000 with all proceeds going to a fund to fight literary censorship.
Free speech came to the fore again when literary great and freedom of speech advocate Salman Rushdie was attacked, stabbed on stage at a literary event. Rushdie has been under threat of attack for decades and lived in hiding for long portions of time because of his bravery to speak and write honestly.
What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
The defence of free speech comes when people say something you can’t stand. If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech.Salman Rushdie
As these events took place throughout the year, we freerangers realised more the value and importance of everything we were reading, not wanting to take for granted our ability to read about controversial subject matter. Will what we now consider a standard or expected read one day be considered reprehensible?
As we met via Zoom for our end of year bookclub (Covid striking again) we relished characters both appealing and offensive, with villains in our favourites list and wholesome characters appearing in our least favourite list. We appreciated plots both inspiring and challenging and settings both magical and oppressive. A time to treasure them all for who knows when any of these components may be unavailable as writing devices in the future.
There some commonalities in our favourites: Celie and Shug were a great couple, Charlotte Grimshaw and Elena Ferrante had fascinating bios, A Color Purple had a satisfying ending and The Dictionary of Lost Words‘ ending was a bit too predictable, but we many differing thoughts too:
Jo: Celie from A Color Purple
Suzy: Alfa from At Night All Blood is Black
Jodie: Aunt Vittoria from The Lying Life of Adults
Rach: Aunt Vittoria from The Lying Life of Adults
Jo: Celie’s stepfather in A Color Purple
Suzy: Nathan & Stingo from Sophie’s Choice
Jodie: Russ from Crossroads
Rach: Russ from Crossroads
Most vivid setting:
Jo: The trenches in At Night All Blood is Black
Suzy: The underground world in Halfmen Of O
Jodie: The scriptorium in The Dictionary of Lost Words
Rach: Saint Malo in All The Light We Cannot See
Have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.Jo’s most memorable quote of the year: A Color Purple
Most shocking moment (spoiler alert!)
Jo: Sophie’s choice about which child to keep in the camp – Sophie’s Choice
Suzy: The overnight attack – The Matriarch
Jodie: Alfa taunting the Germans with severed hands – At Night All Blood is Black
Rach: Mademba stuffing his bowels back into his severed guts – At Night All Blood is Black
Runner up best book:
Jo: All The Light We Cannot See
Suzy: The Dictionary of Lost Words
Jodie: A Color Purple
Rach: At Night All Blood is Black
Book of the year:
Jo: A Color Purple
Jodie: All The Light We Cannot See
Rach: Sophie’s Choice