The Reading/Writing Year in Review

The year is not quite over, so it is slightly annoying to see all of the ‘Best books of 2018’, as if there is no possibility of reading something amazing over Christmas. I, for one, am firmly convinced I will find a few corkers to keep me busy, entertained and enthralled over the holidays. However, I can share some stats about how I’ve fared this year in reading and writing, as not much is likely to change in that respect in the remaining 2 weeks. I will do a separate post on the exceptional books that I’ve enjoyed most, but closer to the very end of the year.

From Goodreads, I gather that I’ve read 128 books so far (and am likely to reach approximately 135 by the end of the year). That’s about 36,000 pages, with the shortest book being A Month in the Country (absolutely beautiful) and the longest Killing Commendatore (could have been much shorter). The most popular book I read (i.e. the one that most other people read) was I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (gripping and moving true crime account), while only one other person ever bothered to read Die Stille der Gletscher by Austrian writer Ulrike Schmitz.

There have been a few innovations for me in reading this year:

  • I joined the Asymptote Book Club and so was exposed to more diverse reading in translation. One example of a book that I might not have come across independently is Aranyak by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. I also followed the David Bowie Book Club for a while, which also introduced me to new books, but it seemed to peter out in May or so, or else I was unable to keep up.
  • I’ve tried to cut back on reviewing and read more outside my preferred genre. In addition to my usual crime fiction, poetry and literary fiction, I’ve also read historical fiction (Ahmet Altan’s Like a Sword Wound), biography (Shirley Jackson‘s was particularly memorable), romance or women’s midlife crisis fiction (Marian Keyes), plays (Tales from the Vienna Woods), political essay (James Baldwin and Susan Jacoby), true crime (Michelle McNamara) and reportage (George Orwell).
  • I’ve discovered new publishers like Charco Press and Two Lines Press, as well as countless ambitious poetry publishers doing wonderful work with chapbooks, such as V. Press, SAD Press, Ignition Press and Midsummer Night’s Dream Press.
  • I discovered many new writers; quite a few of them have become names I will now look out for: Argentinian Cesar Aira, South African  Karin Brynard, Japanese Yuko Tsushima, Polish Olga Tokarczuk, German Wolfgang Hilbig, English Fiona Mozley.

However, when you read a lot, you also get a lot of dross. I’ve read more than my share of average books this year, if I’m being honest. Some proved disappointing, simply because I have high expectations of the author or the premise and reviews were too complimentary (Killing Commendatore, Conversations with Friends, Vernon Subutex). Others were quickly consumed and perfectly entertaining while reading them, but failed to make a lasting impression or stand out in a crowded field (most, though by no means all, were titles for review). I reckon about 35-40 of 130 books fall into this category, which is quite a high percentage. A couple of these quick reads every now and then is fine, but with such limited time, am I not better off reading books that will enhance my own writing or teach me something new or give me a frisson of pleasure?

Writing was nowhere near as fast, furious or voluminous as the reading. I did attempt flash fiction in an effort to get the creative juices flowing again. I’ve made a half-hearted attempt to put together a chapbook collection of my poems but haven’t sent it out yet. And I haven’t touched the novel with a barge pole. I’ve submitted less than a handful of poems (or anything, really), so it’s not surprising that I only have one publication in 2018.

Meanwhile, I’ve created over 200 posts and written over 103,000 words on this blog alone. If I were to add all the reviews I’ve done in other place, plus letters and marketing copy that I’ve created for Asymptote… I’ve been productive, yes, but not really on the things that matter most to me personally.

Even better than a triptych…

So there is one major lesson to be learnt from this year (even if it comes in a triptych format): time to focus on my own writing, time to read only things that nourish me and give me joy, time to cut down on my other commitments.

Six in Six Book Meme

I found this delightful book meme with Margaret over at Books Please. It was something started by Jo at The Book Jotter. You summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories. Jo suggests plenty of categories, but you can also create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

Here is my version for 2015, with links to my reviews where those exist.  I had a hard time not using the same book more than once for each of the category – that was the one rule I set for myself, so that I could present as many books and authors as possible. It is fair to assume that books I loved and authors I want to read more of are interchangeable.

6 Books I Loved

Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji – the best three months of reading, total immersion in a very strange world, yet still fully relatable

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44 – particularly effective when read just before watching the film, and comparing the two

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale

Eva Dolan: The Long Way Home (although I could just as well have put her second novel Tell No Tales)

Jonas Karlsson: The Room

6 New Authors to Me

Sara Novic: Girl at War

Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

Kanae Minato: Confessions

Metin Arditi: Loin des bras

Yasmina Khadra: L’attentat

Some of them were more exciting than others, but I think I want to read more from each of these authors I’ve just discovered.

6 Books that Didn’t Live up to Expectations

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – entertaining enough, but quite average for my taste, despite its resounding success

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation – poetic and thought-provoking, but ultimately too fragmented and cold for me. Perhaps suffering also in comparison to Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’, which I had read just before.

Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves – moving, well-written in parts, but just too long and trying to squeeze too much in

John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – I loved the first book in the series so my hopes were perhaps too high for this one

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, so I thought I’d love to see it transposed into present-day London with all of its foreign money. But alas, it didn’t add anything new…

Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilk – not the Christiane F. of the new generation of Berliners…

6 Authors I Want to Read More of

Elena Ferrante

Emily St. John Mandel

Laura Kasischke

Virginie Despentes

Kishwar Desai

Tana French

Would you look at that? They are all women!

6 Books I’d Like to See Translated into English

Hubert Mingarelli: La Route de Beit Zera

Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

Jeremie Gue: Paris la nuit

Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon du Dassoukine – or several other books by this author, he hasn’t been translated at all into English

Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

Sorry, they are nearly all in French. That’s because I can only talk about those books written in languages I can read other than English – and I’ve read far fewer German books this year and next to no Romanian books. This may be about to change…

6 That Don’t Fit into Any Category But I Have to Mention

Megan Beech: When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – spoken poetry by a very young, talented and opinionated woman poet

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love

Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman – how schools or adults can kill the love of reading; and how to reignite it

Ever Yours: Van Gogh’s  Essential Letters

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants – learnt so much about comic books and vineyards, all in a humorous way

Sarah Ruhl: 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – something any mother/creator/professional can relate to

 

Authors I Discovered This Year – And Want to Read for Years to Come

There are too many new-to-me authors that I’ve discovered this year. They’ve all brought me surprise and joy: it would be unfair to rank them. However, the books on the list below did make me want to seek out everything else their authors have ever written.

Lauren Beukes: Broken Monsters (review to follow shortly)

brokenmonsters

Sebastian Fitzek: Therapy

Therapy

William McIlvanney: Laidlaw

Laidlaw

Jung-Myung Lee: The Investigation

Investigation

Koren Zailckas: Mother, Mother

MotherMother

Claire Messud: The Woman Upstairs

WomanUpstairs

Andrew Solomon: Far From the Tree

FarfromTree

Minae Mizumura: A True Novel

TrueNovel

Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows

AllMyPuny

Ann Patchett: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

happymarriage