The 2017 Tony’s Reading List Awards

It’s New Year’s Day, and while you recover from the night before (or, in some parts of the world, get ready for it), why not check out the Tony’s Reading List Awards for 2017?  This is the ninth time I’ve summed up my year’s reading and reviewing, looking at what and how much I’ve read, as well as focusing on some of the best and worst books the twelve months had to offer.  As usual, I’ll be honouring frequent flyers, examining which countries I’ve spent most of my reading time in, and agonising over which of the monthly best-book selections merit the accolade of becoming my latest book of the year.

I’m feeling tired already…

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First up tonight is the coveted Most-Read Author Award, recognising the writers I couldn’t stay away from in 2017.  And the winner is…

1) Natsume Sōseki (4)
2=) Andrés Neuman (3)
2=) Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (3)
2=) Bae Suah (3)

Natsume Sōseki is no stranger to the podium for this particular award, and in a year when very few writers popped up more than twice in my reading list, he gets his hands on the prize again – congratulations 🙂

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Next up, we have the award for the Most-Read Country, and the top two countries rarely come as a surprise here – the only question is which one will emerge on top.  This year, it’s…

1) Japan (36)
2) South Korea (27)
3) Germany (13)
4) Spain (6)
5) England (5)

Japan has been among the first two spots for six years in a row now, with South Korea having been first and second on two occasions each over the past four years.  I suspect that this is a rivalry that will continue into 2018, and beyond 🙂

Outside of the big two, 2017 was notable for a spread in my reading, with very few countries making it past three or four books (last year, by comparison, six countries made it into double figures).  I suppose that it’s hard for many countries to make a mark when getting on for half of my reading is devoted to just two of them…

If we look at the annual statistics for English-language books versus the rest of the world, they’re fairly similar to those of the past few years.  Of the 138 books I read in 2017, only 9 were originally published in English, meaning that 129 (of which I read 29 in the original language – 21 in German, 5 in Spanish and 3 in French) were originally written in a language other than English.  Another good year, then, for fiction in translation, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

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That’s all well and good, but what about the actual books?  Patience, dear reader – it’s time to look at those now.  The first of my three categories is the Golden Turkey Award, and this year, owing to a good crop of books and a bit of laziness, there are only three nominees for the worst book of the year (and, to be honest, they’re probably not all that terrible):

Tomoka Shibasaki’s Spring Garden
Yan Lianke’s The Explosion Chronicles
Yoshio Aramaki’s The Sacred Era

And the turkey goes to Yan Lianke – take a bow!  This was a Man Booker International Prize longlister that should never have got close to the final Booker dozen, and it’s certainly not a book I’ll be revisiting…

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Last year saw the inaugural bestowal of a new prize, Emily’s Book of the Year, which this year has morphed into the Children’s Book of the Year – mainly because Emily wasn’t so keen on reviewing anything this time around.  In fact, all that we got to this year were the final three books in a series, plus a couple of picture books that my younger daughter, Hayley, kindly agreed to review:

Wildwitch: Oblivion by Lene Kaaberbøl
Wildwitch: Life Stealer by Lene Kaaberbøl
Wildwitch: Bloodling by Lene Kaaberbøl
Little Mouse Helps Out by Riikka Jäntti
Little Mouse’s Christmas by Riikka Jäntti

As a result, we’ve decided that Riikka Jäntti’s Little Mouse Helps Out, a short book looking at the tribulations of a troublesome rodent toddler, is the pick of the bunch.  Congratulations to all involved – let’s hope there’s more competition next year…

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With the preliminaries done and dusted, it’s time to move on to this evening’s main event, the Book of the Year Award.  Each month, in the wrap-up posts I publish (which nobody reads…), I choose my favourite of all the titles reviewed that month, and below you’ll find my twelve selections (all links are to my reviews).  It’s a brutal system, and there are several books (as you may have seen in a recent post) that could feel aggrieved to miss out, but that’s life.  Without further ado, the nominees are:

JanuaryRecitation by Bae Suah
(tr. Deborah Smith: Open Letter Books)

FebruaryRecord of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami
(tr. Lucy North: Pushkin Press)

MarchFever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
(tr. Megan McDowell: Oneworld Publications)

AprilThe Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
(tr. Don Bartlett & Don Shaw: MacLehose Press)

MayGold Rush by Yu Miri
(tr. Stephen Snyder: Welcome Rain Publishers)

JuneThe Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu
(tr. Jeffrey Angles: University of Minnesota Press)

JulyLa Prisonnière by Marcel Proust
(Gallimard)

AugustThe Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenström
(tr. J.M. Coetzee: Archipelago Books)

SeptemberSuch Small Hands by Andrés Barba
(tr. Lisa Dillman: Portobello Books)

OctoberNorth Station by Bae Suah
(tr. Deborah Smith: Open Letter Books)

NovemberDas Provisorium by Wolfgang Hilbig
(Fischer Verlag)

DecemberThe White Book by Han Kang
(tr. Deborah Smith: Portobello Books)

Once again, it’s an entire list of fiction in translation: Japan and Korea share half the list between them, with Argentina, Norway, France, South Africa, Spain and Germany providing the other six books.  In terms of gender balance, this year sees a seven-five split in favour of female writers, and on the publisher front, it’s a good year for the indies (Portobello Books lead the way with two nominations).  Congratulations are due to Bae Suah for being the only writer with two books on the list, but the real stand-out here must surely be Deborah Smith, as she appears no less than three times!

As always, I’ve whittled the dozen down to a shortlist – here are five of the best:

Fever Dream
The Unseen
Gold Rush

The Book of the Dead
Such Small Hands

And the winner is:

Orikuchi Shinobu’s The Book of the Dead
translated by Jeffrey Angles

This wasn’t an easy decision, and I was particularly tempted to go for one of the two MBIP titles on my shortlist, but with my passion for all things J-Lit, The Book of the Dead was always a good chance to take out the prize.  I’m not sure it’s a book for everyone, but if you are interested in something a little different, please give it a go 🙂

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Nine years down – let’s look ahead to the tenth!  I’ll be back in a few days with the usual reviews and perhaps a few more reflections about last year, too.  To everyone out there, a very happy new year – here’s wishing you all the best for 2018 🙂

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10 thoughts on “The 2017 Tony’s Reading List Awards

    1. Marina Sofia – There was a year where English-language books even made up a highly symbolic 3% of the total! Hope your new reading year will be a good one:)

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  1. The Explosion Chronicles was almost as bad as Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, winner of the Man Booker 2016. Or, The History of Wolves which was a contender for the Man Booker this year. I much prefer reading for the MBIP, and like you, I so love Japanese Literature. I have Nakamura’s Cult X which won’t be published until April waiting for me after I finish Santantango. Which is so brilliantly written.

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  2. Pleased to see two of your top 5 also made it onto my list -and I now have a copy of Such Small Hands so I’m looking forward to that. I won’t attempt to defend The Explosion Chronicles – though it wasn’t the worst book I read last year.
    Really enjoying all the Tanizaki reviews – it makes me want to re-read some of his work (well, until I can afford the new translations!)
    Looking forward to whatever you write about in 2018!

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  3. Grant – The Barba is excellent, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy it (more than you did the Yan Lianke, anyway…). And watch out for more Tanizkai soon – *very* soon 😉

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