The 2014 Tony’s Reading List Awards

A very good day to you all – welcome to The Tony’s Reading List Awards for 2014!  The blog has been running for exactly six years now, and as always I’m celebrating the anniversary with my round-up of the good, the bad and the downright awful by handing out a few of my cherished prizes.  So, without further ado, let’s see who soared and who bombed in 2014 🙂

Once again, we begin with the Most-Read Author Award, and heading the list this year are a couple of rather familiar names:

I have to say that this award hasn’t been completely finalised yet as the Koreans have put in a steward’s enquiry.  While the Japanese pair take it 4-3 according to the stats on my list, O’s three include various novellas and stories which could easily have been counted differently…

Nope, the verdict’s in.  Haruki takes the prize, regaining the award he won back in 2009, and the Grand Master of J-Lit joins him thanks to a couple of December reads – well done, sirs 🙂

After that close tussle, let’s move onto a more clear-cut race, the struggle for the Most-Read Country award:

1) South Korea (30)
2) Japan (20)
3) Germany (11)
4) France (7)
5) Italy (5)

Boom!  After one book in six years (and one that was worst in class at that), the Koreans romped home in 2014, with only a late Japanese surge making the race look even a little bit competitive.  My new-found interest in K-Lit has been the story of the blog this year, and I suspect that things will look fairly similar in 2015 as well.  The ten books I read and reviewed from the Dalkey Archive Press Library of Korean Literature beat out every other country, aside from Japan and Germany, on their own 😉
If we look at the annual statistics for English-language books versus the rest of the world, you’ll see that my focus on literature in translation continues to sharpen.  Of the 130 books I read, only 8 were originally published in English, meaning that an astounding 122 (of which I read 15 in the original language) were originally written in a language other than English.  Even last year’s 90% hit-rate has been surpassed – those are big numbers, no matter which way you look at it…

While it’s all well and good to reward the enjoyable books of the year, New Year’s Eve is also a time to reflect on the complete stinkers, which is why I always look forward to the Golden Turkey Award.  This year, once again, there were four contenders for the drumsticks:

And the winner is…

One Spoon on This EarthAnother award for the Koreans, then, although it’s not one they would have wanted.  However, it’s only right that I give an honourable mention to the person who made it all possible, translator Jennifer M. Lee.  Believe me when I say that this award really belongs to her… 

Having dished out the minor awards, it’s time to get down the real focus of the night, the Book of the Year Award. As has been the case for a few years now, each of my monthly wrap-ups has seen one book singled out as the pick of the month, and only these titles have been found worthy of contending for the ultimate honour (links are to my reviews). Many wonderful books have missed out because of this system, to which I can say only one thing – tough luck.

Twelve of the best, I’m sure you’ll agree 🙂  There are three nods each to France and Hungary, and two books from Austria, with works from Japan, Netherlands, Spain and South Korea rounding out the dozen.  Unsurprisingly, there’s no room for an Anglophone book on the list this year…

Of course, where there’s a longlist, there’s also a shortlist, and here’s mine: 

A True Novel
Where Tigers Are At Home
Seiobo There Below
The Old Masters

At which point, after a few stiff drinks, I had a good, long think before making my final decision – and here it is. The Tony’s Reading List Book of the Year for 2014 is (highlight the blank area below with your cursor to see the winner):

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura
(translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, published by Other Press)

Much more than an updated Japanese version of Wuthering Heights, A True Novel explores how much you can trust other people’s versions of a story – and the wonderful product Other Press have developed makes the book even better.  Well done to everyone involved 🙂

That’s all for this year – it’s time to look ahead now to the seventh year of the blog, a year that’s going to get off to a quick start as January in Japan is about to begin!  Here’s hoping it’s a good one for all of you, and I do hope you’ll join me again occasionally in 2015 :)


16 thoughts on “The 2014 Tony’s Reading List Awards

  1. I really loved that book too, Tony! A very good year indeed, here's to a fantastic 2015! I assume no Genji readalong in January, since you haven't mentioned it since? But I do have 2-3 Japanese novels lined up for that anyway. Plus the latest translation of Genji – I now have the full collection.


  2. Marina Sofia – I meant to do the Genji readalong last July (the middle of the year is my quiet time), but real-life events meant that wasn't possible. I'm aiming for the middle of next year now, especially as I'm reading two more classic works for January in Japan 🙂


  3. That's a great shortlist and a worthy winner – I've read 9 of the 12 including the Mizumura and they are all excellent, which makes me want to seek out the other three.

    One question – which of the various K-Lit books would you most recommend from the 30 you read. I've read the Petal Silently Falls some years ago but would love to read some more Korean literature.


  4. Paul – Of the Dalkey books, I'd definitely recommend 'No One Writes Back', 'Pavane for a Dead Princess' and 'The Republic of Uzupis'. Some good older books are Yi Mun-yol's 'Our Twisted Hero', Hwang Sok-yong's 'The Guest' and O Chong-hui's 'River of Fire' collection (anything by O is good).

    As Korean wriitng has as much of a story focus as a novel focus, trying one of the collections is a good way in. 'Modern Korean Fiction' (from Columbia University Press) is a good one, as is the 'Wayfarer' collection of female writers.

    There are also a lot of free stories available online – check out for lots of free stuff. LTI Korea made two collections of stories available for free, and I did video reviews of the first collection. It's interesting, but the translations are rather patchy.

    All of the above have been reviewed on the blog, so check out the reviews for more information 🙂


  5. Thanks i have read the Hwang Sok-Yong and Yi Mun-Yol books but will try the Dalkey ones. Must admit I am not a fan of short stories except in the hands of an absolute master like Borges, and as you say it is the dominanf form in Korean literature alongside poetry. couple of recommendations of my own would be Reverse Side of Life by Lee Seung-u, a book about literature, and Everlasting Empire by Lee In-Hwa, which i can best describe as Umberto Eco like ie a literary thriller.


  6. Paul – Yeah, a lot of what I've read has been short stories. Although I much prefer novels myself, it is a great way to experience a variety of writers in a short time. A few of the writers I went on to try more of (e.g. O Chong-hui and Ch'oe Yun) were dsicovered through their stories. And thanks for your suggestions too 🙂


  7. Emma – No, sadly that title is already taken, but I am doing my best. Also, I'm very pleased to hear that you've found something good for January as I know that J-Lit hasn't always been good for you 😉


  8. As always, you are the most interestingly read blogger I know, Tony. 🙂 So glad you liked Le Grand Meulnes (the only one of your favs I've read myself, though I have a copy of A True Novel and think it might be ripe for reading soon).

    Happy new year to you! I'm looking forward to seeing what you'll be reading in 2015.


  9. Colleen – Thanks for the praise – I'm trying hard to keep pushing my boundaries, even if it's sometimes tempting to just settle down with my ARC pile instead 😉 I would definitely recommend 'A True Novel' as it can be read for many different reasons at the same time – as someone with an interest in J-Lit and the English classics, you're sure to find a lot to like about it. I hope you find some good books for the coming year as I saw that you haven't had all that great a time recently with your reading…

    P.S. I've had a proof I won of 'The Bone Clocks' on my shelf for about four months now (surely a sign…).


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