The 2015 Tony’s Reading List Awards

IMG_5372A Happy New Year to you all from sunny Melbourne, and welcome to The Tony’s Reading List Awards for 2015!  Last year was the busiest so far for me and my little blog, with an incredible number of posts and several external reviews adding to the workload.  It’s only when you get to the end of the year, pausing to reflect on the past twelve months, that you get an accurate overview of how things have gone – and they’ve gone quickly, busily and pretty well🙂

Anyway, we’ve got an extended cast of writers, translators, publishers and books lined up – let’s get this show on the road🙂

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First up, as always, is the Most-Read Author Award, showing who has been making frequent appearances on the blog – and the winner is:

1) Jenny Erpenbeck (5)
2=) Alejandro Zambra (4)
2=) Patrick Modiano (4)
2=) Natsume Sōseki (4)

2015 saw Erpenbeck hit the big time in the UK with her much-praised Aller Tage Abend (The End of Days, translated by Susan Bernofsky) winning the final Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  Having read her recent German-language release, Gehen, ging, gegangen (Go, Went, Gone), I can assure you that there’s plenty more to come in the future🙂

Of the runners-up, Natsume Sōseki is an old friend, of course, but Zambra and Modiano were new additions to the blog in 2015.  Of course, with every man and his dog publishing something by Modiano this year, there’s a fair chance he’ll be making more appearances in 2016…

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After that close tussle, let’s move onto another one, the struggle for the Most-Read Country award – and the prize goes to:

1) Japan (28)
2) South Korea (26)
3) Germany (17)
4) Spain (11)
5) France (10)

The pendulum swings back across the sea (the name of which I shall not mention for obvious reasons…), with Japan regaining the crown Korea snatched away last year.  As you can see , it was a close-run thing, though.  As always, Germany and France are amongst the top five, but Spain is a new entry this year, in with a rocket at number 4.

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 was better/worse than ever last year.  Of the 160 books I read in 2015, only 5 were originally published in English, meaning that an astounding/appalling 155 (of which I read 24 in the original language) were originally written in a language other than English.  That’s… a lot.  In fact, if you get your calculators out, that proportion of English-language books comes to around 3% – enough said😉

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That was the quantity, now on to the quality.  Of course, firstly we must look at a lack of it…  As always, I’ve been keeping an eye on the duds of the year in preparation for the Golden Turkey Award, and for 2015 we have three contenders, with one translator mentioned twice:

Nacht ist der Tag (All Days are Night) by Peter Stamm
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The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura
(translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter)
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Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara
(translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)

And the winner is…

The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura

Unlike in previous years, where the blame has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the translator, this is most definitely not a case of poor translation.  Poor JWC is actually a great translator – these are just two books I really didn’t enjoy.  In particular, Mizumura’s treatise on language is such an annoyingly obvious piece appealing to those hugging the idea of Japanese linguistic exceptionalism to their chests that I couldn’t help but take it into the kitchen to start stuffing it for Christmas dinner.

That is *quite* a fall from 2014 best in class for Mizumura😉

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It’s with great pleasure, then, that I lead you gently away from the year’s turkey to the splendour of my Book of the Year Award.  As is my wont, the list of the best books has been compiled by choosing the outstanding title reviewed on the blog each month (all links are to my reviews).  As I mentioned in a recent post, it’s an imperfect system, one which can exclude great books while allowing the odd weaker title to squeeze through in a quiet month.  However, life’s rarely fair, so tough ;)  This year’s top twelve are:

A great list, I hope you’ll agree, with most of the books worthy of their place (and it’s gender-balanced too!).  The latest dozen sees two titles from Japan and one from China, with the rest coming from Europe (one each from Iceland, Sweden, France, Spain, Norway, Italy, Hungary and Germany).  Unlike in 2014, there is also one Anglophone book on the list, with George Eliot sparing the blushes of my native language (and country).

A shortlist?  Why not? Let’s narrow the twelve down to six: 

The Tale of the Heike
The Heart of Man
Sphinx
The Tale of Genji
A Time for Everything
Kassandra

Finding the winner is always a tough job, especially when you have such a great selection to choose from.  However, someone’s got to do it (and I can’t see anyone else volunteering), so I’ve finally made my decision.  The Tony’s Reading List Book of the Year for 2015 is (highlight the blank area below with your cursor to see the winner):

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
(translated by Royall Tyler, published by Penguin Classics)


An all-time classic, the best book I read this year, and a work I will undoubtedly return to several times in the future.  Yes, it’s long, yes, it can be disturbing to modern sensibilities at times.  You should still read it🙂

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And that’s all for 2015 – it’s time to look ahead now to the eighth (!) year of the blog.  Sadly, I won’t be running January in Japan in quite the same way as in previous years, but I hope you will join me in trying some J-Lit anyway to start off your year.  Here’s hoping 2016 will be another year full of great literature – please stop by from time to time if you feel like hearing what I’ve been up to🙂

24 thoughts on “The 2015 Tony’s Reading List Awards

  1. Looks like 2015 was a great year of reading for you – 97% translated fiction is extremely impressive! I will definitely be reading more Erpenbeck this year as I still haven’t got round to her other novels since reading The End of Days.

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  2. What a bumper year of reading for you, Tony (and for us, the readers of your blog). I completely concur with your choice of book of the year – one of the books of my life, despite some contradictory feelings while rereading it this year… Here’s to a great 2016 for you!

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  3. Hi Tony, I’m not that surprised that you voted for “Tale of Genji” although it has a lower place on my own list of the best. It’s indeed a wonderful book. In my opinion it’s a pity that it get repetitious after 300 pages or so, otherwise it could have been my favorite too. Greetings from the Netherlands and have a good new year!, Erik

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    1. Erik – There is a bit of repetition, but compared to ‘The Pillow Book’, for example, it actually reads quite well… Anyway, here’s to a great 2016 for you too🙂

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  4. Daniel Deronda was ROBBED! I call a recount! But seriously, what a fascinating list, and your winner sounds very deserving. Happy 2016!

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    1. Rohan – I wouldn’t have expected any other response from you😉 However, as I mentioned in my review of DD last week, it wasn’t quite as perfect as I would have liked… I hope you’ll agree that my winner was deserving, anyway!

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  5. Of the four I’d read in your top 12, none made to to the final round (but them they weren’t in my best books either). The Last Lover was the book I least ‘got’ all year!!
    Of the winner, all I can say is I really want to read it!

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  6. Happy new year Tony. As always terribly envious of the number of translations you read – 9 of the titles I read in 2015 were translations, which is at least an improvement on the year prior.

    Looking forward to following your J-Lit explorations in January – I have Soji Shamada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders in my reading pile.

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    1. Jo – Well, it is my specialist area😉 As for January in Japan, while I’m not making the usual fun, I will be reading a few books – and my first review will be out this Thursday🙂

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  7. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog in the last few months, and you’ve encouraged me to branch out and look at some new authors I hadn’t heard of. I’ve read two books by Zambra in the last month – ‘Ways of Going Home’ and ‘My Documents’ (I much preferred the latter over the former) – and I’ve got another two of his waiting to be read.
    I’ve been all but stalking Pushkin Press on NetGalley (which has paid off since I’ve been auto-approved by them) and have discovered some great new translated fiction through them – they are fast becoming my favourite publisher!

    Happy New Year, Tony, and I look forward to discovering some new authors through you in 2016!

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    1. Heather – Glad to hear I’ve pointed you in the direction of some interesting books (and I agree that ‘My Documents’ is probably the pick of the Zambra bunch). Here’s hoping there are plenty more this year🙂

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    1. Carola – I’m still reading books for JiJ, even if I’m not making a big deal of the event. In fact, I’m reading something now – a book of commentaries on… Genji😉

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  8. Genji is on my TBR list now. Always nice to read this kind of “Best of” (or the contrary) blog posts that highlight the most remarkable reading experiences of a year, particularly when the reader has such a wide field of interests as you have.

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    1. Thomas – It’s interesting choosing the best books because what tends to happen is that the older books, classics or not, tend to win out, proving why they’re classics. Of the final twelve, only three were published in English this year, with another couple last year, which is actually a fairly good year for new books…

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