I don’t like to start my ‘best of the year’ reading summaries too early, especially when I have some seriously promising books planned for December. However, this year I thought I would copy A Life in Books Susan’s approach to summarising the year, i.e. remembering the monthly highlights, with a post for each season. By the time I reach the October to December slot, I should have completed most of my December reading – that’s the plan, at least!
2022 started pretty much in the same way as it is about to end: in hibernation. I had just suffered a long period of falling ill constantly from September to Christmas 2021, so I stayed indoors quite a bit. However, it was productive hibernation. I wrote and submitted a lot, I translated and pitched (unsuccessfully, but it’s the intention that counts). I taught translation in classrooms with the Stephen Spender Trust (it was lovely to work with primary school children once more, although tiring!). Above all, I spent time in Japan – or at least immersed in Japanese literature and films for #JanuaryInJapan. My favourite Japanese book that month was Tanizaki’s charming A Cat, a Man and Two Women, which became all the more poignant after my beloved Zoe fell ill a few months later.
Two other books I greatly enjoyed in January were Deborah Levy’s Things I don’t Want to Know and Real Estate, the first and third respectively in her memoir trilogy. While they weren’t quite as immediately relevant to me as the second one, The Cost of Living, which I read a few years ago, they were thoughtful explorations of what it means to be a woman, a writer, middle-aged, a mother, and a rational yet also idealistic thinker. They are less self-effacing than Rachel Cusk’s trilogy, but all the warmer and more personal for it.
In February I tried to escape from my not-terrible but time-consuming day job, as I wanted to spend more time on my writing, publishing and translation ventures, even if it meant a loss of income (this was before it became clear that the cost of living crisis was getting worse and worse throughout the UK). I was interviewed for a children’s literature publisher and a bookselling job, but neither of them led to anything. So I escaped instead via reading to warmer climates, namely Australia, a country I have not explored much at all, to my shame. Two books stood out for me: the surprisingly fresh and candid My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin and the fascinating fictional perspective on the League of Nations in Geneva in Frank Moorhouse’s Grand Days.
In March I devoured Italian literature, partly inspired by my ongoing Italian lessons via Zoom. We have a very small group (all with Italian partners, save for me) and a lovely teacher, so I have decided to continue this coming year as well. I don’t think I am able to read books in the original yet, but I managed to cope with the bilingual edition of Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words. It was an interesting exploration of translation and finding the language of your heart, but not quite as memorable as Polly Barton’s Fifty Sounds, which I read a couple of years back. Of the Italian authors, I was intrigued but not enamoured by Italo Svevo’s A Perfect Hoax and really loved Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues.
Aside from the Italians, I was also impressed by the exuberance of Doina Rusti’s The Book of Perilous Dishes and the darkness at the heart of the unforgettable story by Dorothy B Hughes In a Lonely Place.
Quite an orangey-brownish-rusty collection of book covers, as I noticed when I put them together below. Mirroring my own state of mind, a stagnant pool, during the first three months of the year.