The Best Books I Read in 2022

January is almost over, so I’d better post this before it’s too late! I’ve long wanted to do a “Best Books I’ve Read” post, but in past years, I’ve hesitated because, since my reading taste is so varied, it makes it difficult to compare books to one another. Still, as an avid reader, I want to recommend my favorites, especially since many of the books I enjoyed last year are less well-known than those you might find on other, similar lists.

Overall, I read 65 books last year, which was more than I read in 2021, though I read slightly fewer pages. Many of those books were 19th central novels, as I was doing researching for a major writing project. Related to the same project, I also reread all of the original Sherlock Holmes series, and, because of the Netflix adaptation, I reread the entire Sandman comics series as well. Many of the Holmes and Gaiman books would have made the list if this was the first time I was reading them, but I decided not to include them below. Also, while I thoroughly enjoyed each of these chunks of my reading list, it meant that I didn’t get to read as many contemporary books or books about writing craft/the creative life as I usually do. I intend to read more of these in the coming year, as well as to read more diverse authors, more poetry, and more non-fiction in the coming year.

I’ve divided the best books I’ve read into categories below to help you find what you’re most interested in reading.

Best Book I Read Last Year Overall: Fables, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Fables, by Robert Louis Stevenson

This lesser-known Stevenson book is a collection of short fables, which while they play off of traditional fables and fairy tales, are subversive in their intent. These stories, which vary in length, criticize people who blindly follow societal and religious conventions, flipping the traditional purpose of the instructive fairytale on its head. They are also read really modern for a book written so long ago, with some stories, like “The Person’s of the Tale” where characters from Treasure Island debate morality during a “break” between two chapters, bordering on the post-modern. The stories, as you might imagine from a master like Stevenson, are beautifully written, and I found the anti-groupthink message particularly relevant given the current social and political climate. There is also, an excellent podcast, Evening Under Lamplight, where Robert Louis Abrahamson reads and discusses each of the fables. He covers Stevenson in season 3, and if you are a fan of audiobooks, this may be the best way to consume Stevenson’s Fables.

Best Poetry Book I Read Last Year: Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game, edited by Cor Van Den Heuvel and Nathan Tamura.

Baseball Haiku book

I picked this one up on whim from a free giveaway table, in the snow, outside of a baseball card shop in Cooperstown. The store was about to close for the season, and was giving stuff away. This book includes a selection of both Japanese and American Haiku about baseball, including Jack Kerouac’s first haiku (super cool) and haiku by many historical Japanese masters. The poetry is excellent, but what really sets the book apart is Van Den Heuvel’s introduction which is, by far, the best introduction to haiku I’ve read. I learned so much both about the technical craft aspects of writing haiku and about the history of haiku in each country from his essay, and the information and analysis he provided enhanced my enjoyment of the poetry that followed.

Best Novel I Read This Year For The First Time: Daniel Deronda, by George Elliot

Daniel Deronda, by George Elliot

I read this book as part of my above-mentioned research. I was searching for a compelling female character from the second half of the 19th Century who survived until the end of her book (harder than it sounds, btw), and this book features two of them (no spoilers). Though I went into it for research purposes, I ended up really enjoying this book. It’s a big book, which we might expect from Elliot, and unlike her other books, it is set close to the time period in which she wrote. It reminded me of a Jane Austen book, but one which featured a double plot with a twist, similar to a Charles Dickens novel. If that’s your type of thing, you should check it out. It is also one of only two “classic” British books with a fair and sympathetic depiction of Jewish people, which I appreciated as a person of Jewish descent (the other being Ivanhoe). More so than other book in the canon, it gets the Jewish parts rights. The research into Jewish history and culture is impressive and accurate, which only added to my enjoyment.

Best Independent/Small Press Book: Dark Black, by Sam Weller

Dark Black, by Sam Weller

The first thing you will notice about this book is how beautifully it’s put together. Each of the gothic horror short stories is accompanied by a hauntingly exquisite black and white illustration. Beyond the presentation, the stories work. They are deceptively sparse, but linger long after they’ve been read. Weller is Ray Bradbury’s biographer, and clearly, he learned something from the great master’s early, gothic work.

Best Comic/Graphic Novel (Non-Reread Division): Barbalien–Red Planet, by Lemire, Brombil et al.

Barbalien—Red Planet

While this book is part of the Black Hammer universe, Barbalien is basically a self-contained story which you can read without having read the rest of the Black Hammer books. It is an original take on a superhero comic, and deals with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It deals with weighty issues like persecution against the gay community without being preachy, and somehow tells an entertaining story while dealing with a big, dark societal issues. The art is retro as well, right down to the number of panels on each page, which fits the story well. I always try to read at least one book from the New York Public Library’s Best Books of the previous year. (I started 2023 with the ambitiously original My Volcano, by John Elizabeth Stintzi), and Barbalien was a worthy selection on the 2021 list.

Best Non-Fiction Book: Dinosaurs in the Attic, by Douglas J. Preston

Dinosaurs In The Attic, by Douglas J Preston

I’ve been going to the American Museum of Natural History essentially since I was born. I know the museum like the back of my hand, and still enjoy going there. I picked up this book in the gift shop the first time I took my kids back to museum after the pandemic. It is essentially a narrative history of the museum’s founding and early history, and it not only taught me about the museum’s past, but made the experience of going to the museum after I read even more enjoyable. The sections about dinosaurs and gems are particularly good, but I also enjoyed the smaller anecdotes, such as the story of the chimpanzee whose stuffed body sits near the third floor bathroom outside of where one of the current temporary exhibition galleries lets out. That monkey used to run around the museum offices and ride its tricycle through the city!

Book That Helped My Writing Craft The Most: Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth, edited by Catherine Mcllwaine

The books which help my writing most aren’t always books about writing. A couple of years back, it was a book of interviews with the painter Joan Miro. This year it’s an exhibition catalog.

I often purchase the exhibition catalog when I particularly enjoy a show at a museum. Often, these books, while they are good reminders of the show, are, ultimately, disappointing, as something is lost in terms of scale and texture when the art is translated from the wall to the printed page. This is not an issue in this book, however, as the Bodleian traveling Tolkien exhibition this book is based on consists of largely of Tolkien’s manuscripts, letters, and ephemera. Tolkein’s watercolors and drawings also translate well to this format because they are generally on a smaller scale and do not rely on texture and brushstrokes as much as, say, a Van Gogh or a Jackson Pollack. Thus, this was one of the best exhibition guides I’ve read.

The reason it is on this list, however, is because of the scholarly and biographical articles which are included in this volume. Tolkien is my favorite writer, and the reason started writing myself, but I still learned a lot about his life and about his group The Inklings while reading this book. Moreover, there were articles which directly affected the way I approach my craft. These articles explored Tolkien’s use of language. I wrote about one of them here.


Well, that’s my list. What were some of your favorite books you read last year? Let me know in the comments.

The Purple Poet’s Review of Into That Darkness Peering

2019 Long Island Poet of the Year and curator of Poetry at the Long Island Fair JR Turek, The Purple Poet, recently reviewed Into That Darkness Peering in her email newsletter. Here is what she wrote:

Into That Darkness Peering

A. A. Rubin, author and Marika Brousianou, illustrator

Gift giving season is upon us and I have a high recommendation for you — gifts for friends and family, literati, connoisseurs of poetics and portraits,

of sketches and verse, of Edgar Allan Poe raven-ing through, and book lovers everywhere.

I have ekphrastic praise for this gorgeous slick-cover oversized book perfect for coffee table, night table, desk, tote bag, anywhere fine books are enjoyed.

Each page is gothic with verse and illustrations, glowing with mystical dark compilations all begging you to join the midnight macabre realms presented.

The illustrations are remarkable companions to the 32 poems and micro-fiction; I pondered on each as to which came first as they meld and mingle so well with each other. 

An enticing tingle of fear tap-danced up my spine. Peering through the veil between reality and the pages of this mesmerizing book, I found myself lingering on each page,

absorbing metaphors that shadowed each poem, revelations that suspended me through five delectable parts: On the Night’s Plutonian Shore, Invisible Things, Dreams Within Dreams, Exquisite Strangeness, and A City By The Sea.

Gift giving season, yes, you deserve one.  You’ll thank yourself again and again, an exquisite collection I will turn to often. 

I love this collection with a love more than love.

Don’t wait – get yours today.

~ J R Turek   poet, editor, mentor, workshop leader

Available in paperback – so gorgeous!, ebook, and Kindle Unlimitted.

Do it – you and your gift recipients will love it!


Marika and I thank Judy for the glowing review, and hope you will check out our book.

Snow Ghosts

Here is a poem for the changing season. It is different from much of what I write, and is one of the few free-verse poems I’ve published.

Snow Ghosts

by A. A. Rubin

and the snow falls like tiny ghosts,
translucent ‘neath the pale moonlight—

crumbs falling from the Reaper’s hand
as he squeezes the life out of harvested souls

as the wind whips them around,
they coalesce—frantically—
disparate           parts
seeking for partners
with whom to form bodies,

but they end up mismatched and incomplete,
portmanteau stitched together—

—mere shells. Empty and ephemeral—
rising in gothic gusts in the midnight chill.

you hear them howling in the storm.
you tell yourself it’s the wind, but—
deep down, you know it’s not.

you pull your blanket over your head and hug your children tight.

as the soul flakes flutter down,
frantically searching for living beings to haunt—
—not out of a need to complete unfinished business,
but out of a desperate desire to avoid the nothing that lies beyond—

This poem originally appeared in Bards Annual 2018 (Local Gems Press)

On Illustrated Poetry, Nick Offerman, and Following Your Dreams

The great Nick Offerman offers this gem of advice in his memoir: Paddle Your Own Canoe: Not everyone will like the cut of your jib, but many others will. One simply needs to seek those others and somehow trick them into buying tickets to your production of Gangsta Rap Coriolanus.”

This colorfully worded sentiment goes against much of the advice offered to aspiring creatives, which involves things like chasing trends, researching the right key words and hashtags, and writing to the market.

While I would never advise a creative not properly research the market, there is, too, a value, in making the weird thing you want to make, market and trends be damned. Make the weird thing. Find your people. Create your own market.

I found Offerman’s words particularly inspiring as I read them just as I was preparing to release my book Into That Darkness Peering, a collection of gothic horror poetry and flash fictions, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou.

This book, which just came out last week, is comprised of fully-illustrated, stand alone pieces. It is an illustrated book, but not for children. It is not really a straight poetry or fiction collection, but it’s not a graphic novel either. I was really hard to choose categories and key words for it on Amazon and Lulu.

What it is, is really cool. It came out beautifully, and, yes, it is the perfect time to release a book of gothic horror tales. right on time for Halloween.

I’ll drop a few sample images at the bottom of the post, and if you want to check it out, the book is available on Amazon in print and electronic formats. It is also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so you can read it for free if you subscribe to that service.

It may not be gangsta rap Shakespeare, and I may not be Nick Offerman, but I hope you, my own band of miscreants and weirdos, will give it a chance and buy it.

Publishing News: Into This Darkness Peering Now Available for Kindle Preorder

Into This Darkness Peering, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou is now available for preorder on Amazon Kindle. The book, which will be released in print and Kindle Unlimited soon, features 32 full-illustrated gothic horror poems and flash fiction pieces.

You can preorder your copy now leading up to the official release on August 26th.

Preorder your copy by clicking any hyperlink or image in this post, or by clicking here.

Here is the official book description, along with some sample interior pages.

Peer into the darkness of midnight and the macabre with these 32 illustrated gothic horror poems and micro-fictions. From the dark, enchanted forest, to the furthest reaches of cosmic space; from the collective memory of myth and story, to monsters conjured from our own subconscious minds, these are the tales of the abyss. We invite you to gaze beyond the boundaries of reality and into the nightmare realms. Join us if you dare…

Interior page, Into This Darkness Peering
Interior page, Into This Darkness Peering
Interior page, Into This Darkness Peering

Publishing News: The Next Metamorphosis and Love Letters to Poe, Volume Two.

I am thrilled to announce that my short story, The Next Metamorphosis, has won second prize in the Flying Ketchup Press C Note competition. The competition invited authors to revisit a famous, public domain short story. You can read The Next Metamorphosis here:

https://www.flyingketchuppress.com/post/summer-short-fiction-winner-second-place-a-a-rubin-s-the-next-metamorphasis?postId=10d4bda5-0a29-4877-9db3-351fbeeaf3cd&utm_campaign=7566b327-c3c9-42a2-85fd-ee761bbefcae&utm_source=so&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=9f77fb37-1e92-4765-97b9-168f10c31b54&cid=00fdbf39-5264-4890-be76-e27013f93b84

Also, volume 2 of Love Letters to Poe, which includes my poem, When The House of Usher Falls, is now in preorders and will be officially released August 16th.

Reserve your copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Love-Letters-Poe-Houses-Usher-ebook/dp/B0B8QMJVSC/ref=mp_s_a_1_3?crid=1LW6UYF0A3KGC&keywords=love+letters+to+poe&qid=1660058622&sprefix=love+letters+to+poe%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-3

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Anniversary Sonnet

Yesterday marked my 12th wedding anniversary. to mark the occasion, here is my poem, Anniversary Sonnet, which first appeared in Poetica 2 (Clarendon House).

Anniversary Sonnet

by A. A. Rubin

Some poets ‘gainst the sonnet form do rail,
As creativity they say it mars.
Their poetic license they claim assailed,
By tradition, meter, and measured bars.
To capture passion and proclaim true love,
No antiquated formal rules are meet:
Their verse—free—to soar the skies above,
Instead of tripping o’er iambic feet.
But I have never felt my love confined,
By giving up my liberty to you—
My affection, rather, has been refined;
Myself—my soul—do grow through love so true—
  And thus these fourteen rhyming lines do sing,
  Of love we consecrated with our rings.


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News and Notes: Rough Summer

I apologize for the lack of posts recently. I have had a difficult summer: After breaking both my hands (covered previously in this space), I had to have a series of emergency dental procedures (still not done!), and, as if that wasn’t enough, my whole family got Covid, including yours truly. Still, it hasn’t been all bad. I did manage to get some micro fiction and poetry published, and I represented Comic Book School at Eternal Con in Long Island, hosting multiple panels in early July.

First off, my work was included in the From One Line, Vol 3 anthology. From One Line is one of my favorite writing prompts on Twitter, and they periodically publish anthologies based on their prompts. I am proud number of micro-fictions and poems in the anthology, and feel that the From One Line prompts, which provide a first line which authors must use to start their pieces, bring out some of my best work. You can purchase the From One Line anthology here.

From One Line, vol 3

My work also appears in this year’s Serious Flash Fiction winners anthology, which collects the winners of its annual micro fiction contest. This is the fifth year in a row that I’ve had work in the anthology, and it’s a special publication for me, as when I was first published in it 5 years ago, it broke a long publishing drought for me. You can get the anthology here.

Serious Flash Fiction

As mentioned above, I represented Comic Book School at Eternal Con in Long Island at the beginning of July. I tabled at the con, and hosted a number of panels, both planned and as a full-in for Buddy Scalera who had to miss the show unexpectedly.

Among the panels which I hosted, were the ever-popular Origin Story Interactive Character Creation panel (co-hosted with the always amazing Cathy Kirch of My Writing Hero and Columbia University), and a brand new panel on dialogue based on two blog posts I wrote here.

If you weren’t at the show, you can read those posts here:

Cookie Monster blog

and here:

Yoda Blog

Hopefully, the skies will clear for me soon, and the second half of the summer will be better. Thank you for sticking with me during this difficult time.

News and Notes: Publishing News and Broken Hands

I apologize for missing last week’s post. I recently broke bone in both of my hands, and typing remains difficult.

I do have some publication news to report: My short story, “The Three Capitalist Pigs” has been published in Once Upon Another Time: Fresh Tales From The Far Side of Fantasy, which is available for FREE download now on Amazon. The book includes stories by 13 members of the vibrant Twitter writing community, and can be downloaded here.

Nassau County Voices in Verse was also released this past weekend. The annual collection of poets from Nassau County includes my gothic poem, “The Wolf in Me.” It can be ordered directly from the publisher here.

I also received word that my poem, “When the House of Usher Falls,” will be published in volume 2 of Love Letters To Poe. My poem, The Widow’s Walk was published last year in Vol 1. More information to follow.

Here are a few photos from the poetry reading in support of the Nassau Country poets book launch on Saturday. I look a bit different because I was unable to put in my contacts with my broken hands.