The 2018 Tony’s Reading List Awards

With most of you having already welcomed in 2019, it’s time for the first major event of the New Year, namely the Tony’s Reading List Awards for 2018.  As is the case every year, my first post in January summarises both the quantity and the quality of my reading year, with a number of awards to be handed out to books both naughty and nice.  Even if there’s a temptation to immediately look forward to what’s coming up, it’s always good to reflect on the previous twelve months and remember the books that left an impression (one way or another…).

Anyway, let’s not waste too much time with the introductions.  It’s time to see just what kind of a reading year 2018 was for me – drum roll, please 😉

As is customary, I’ll start with the Most-Read Author Award, and I’m afraid this one has been a foregone conclusion right from the first day of the year:

1) Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (8)
2) Peter Stamm (4)
3=) Hwang Sok-yong (3)
3=) Thomas Bernhard (3)
3=) Yūko Tsushima (3)

My decision to devote a month or so to Tanizaki’s work, even if several books were read back in 2017, means that the Japanese writer romped home.  Of those making up the minor placings, Stamm, Bernhard and Hwang benefited from several rereads.  However, I read all three of the Tsushima books for the first time last year; hopefully, I’ll find time for more in 2019.

Moving on from the individual to the collective takes us to the Most-Read Country Award, and the outcome of this one was only slightly less predictable:

1) Japan (28)
2) South Korea (25)
3) Germany (12)
4) France (8)
5=) England (6)
5=) Austria (6)

For the fifth year in a row, Japan and South Korea have battled it out at the top of the list, with Japan prevailing for the third time in that period (in fact, over the last ten years, Japan has topped the list five times and come second on four other occasions).  Same again next year?  I wouldn’t bet against it…

The rest of the top five also has a similar look.  Germany and England remain unchanged, while France took Spain’s fourth spot from 2017 (surprisingly, with only three books read, Spain came well down the rankings this time around).  Of the six Austrian books read (including one to round off the year), all but one were rereads – obviously a go-to country with my comfort reading…

The stats comparing English-language books with those from the rest of the world show few changes to previous years.  Of the 127 books I read in 2018, only 10 were originally published in English, meaning that 117 (of which I read 25 in the original language – 22 in German and 3 in French) were originally written in a language other than English.  Not quite 3%, but literature in translation still dominates round these parts 🙂

Having looked at some quantitative data, it’s time to move onto the more subjective variety – and discuss the actual books.  We start here at the bottom end of the pile with the Golden Turkey Award, which ‘rewards’ the works that disappointed me most last year.  The nominees are:

Gabriela Ybarra’s The Dinner Guest
Anthony Trollope’s Rachel Ray
Birgit Vanderbeke’s Die sonderbare Karriere der Frau Choi
(Mrs. Choi’s Remarkable Career)
Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore

This one was a very easy decision.  I ranted about The Dinner Guest earlier this year during my Man Booker International Prize posts, and it hasn’t exactly grown on me with the passage of time.  Yes, it’s another MBIP stinker, and by far the biggest turkey of the year.

Next up is our Children’s Book of the Year Award and, as was the case last year, I’m afraid there isn’t a lot of choice.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for a couple of last-minute reviews from my assistants, I’m not sure it would have been worth the bother!  Still, we do have four contenders:

The Wild Book by Juan Villoro
Detective Nosegoode and the Music Box Mystery by Marian Orłoń
Oksa Pollock:The Last Hope by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf
Little Mouse by Riikka Jäntti

Emily’s choice for the award this year is Juan Villoro’s The Wild Book, an entertaining novel she reviewed back in January and reread several times this year – well worth a try for any bookish pre-teens out there 🙂

Of course, what everyone is waiting for is the traditional Book of the Year Award.  Every month, I select one of the books I’ve reviewed as my recommendation, and it’s these twelve that get to vie for the annual prize.  What got the nod this year?  Glad you asked…  The nominees are:

JanuaryLike a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz Molina
(tr. Camilo A. Ramirez: Tuskar Rock Press)

FebruaryThe Secret History of the Lord of Musashi & Arrowroot
by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
(tr. Anthony H. Chambers: Vintage Books)

MarchFlights by Olga Tokarczuk
(tr. Jennifer Croft: Text Publications/ Fitzcarraldo Editions)

AprilDer fliegende Berg (The Flying Mountain) by Christoph Ransmayr
(English version tr. Simon Pare: Seagull Books)

MayDie sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt
(The Gentle Indifference of the World)
by Peter Stamm
(Fischer Verlag)

JuneDust and Other Stories by Yi T’aejun
(tr. Janet Poole: Columbia University Press)

JulySongs for the Cold of Heart by Eric Dupont
(tr. Peter McCambridge: QC Fiction)

AugustA Tale of False Fortunes by Fumiko Enchi
(tr. Roger K. Thomas: University of Hawai’i Press)

SeptemberLe Temps retrouvé by Marcel Proust

OctoberThings We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
(tr. Megan McDowell: Portobello Books)

NovemberJahrestage (Anniversaries) by Uwe Johnson
(English version tr. Damion Searls: NYRB Classics)

DecemberDisoriental by Négar Djavadi
(tr. Tina Kover: Europa Editions)

Unsurprisingly, I’ve come up with an entire list of fiction in translation.  Ten different countries feature here (two books apiece from Japan and France, one each from Spain, Poland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Korea, Canada, and Argentina), with a seven-five split in favour of Europe over the rest of the world (or six-six if the Djavadi novel counts for Iran).  This year’s list is weighted towards male writers (eight-four), and in a good year for the MBIP longlist, three of those books made my final twelve (although that same list also provided 2018’s turkey…).

As is traditional, I’ve whittled those twelve down to a shortlist, this year selecting the five best titles:

A Tale of False Fortunes
Le Temps retrouvé
Things we Lost in the Fire


And the winner is:

Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu
(In Search of Lost Time)

I realise that it’s cheating a little to select the series rather than the book, but having devoted so much time over a number of years to Proust’s stroll down memory lane, there was only ever going to be one winner in 2019.  In another year, I suspect that Uwe Johnson’s own epic might have taken out the prize, but there can only be one winner, and this is Proust’s year 🙂

And that’s it…

Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my posts in 2018.  The new reviewing year will start very shortly, with a special theme for the first month of 2019, and you might also want to look out for another post at the end of this week.  You see, I’ve just passed a rather significant milestone, and that will be the cause for a little reflection.

Not today, though – I think I’ve earned a little rest after a hectic festive season.  It just remains for me to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and lots of great books for 2019 🙂


12 thoughts on “The 2018 Tony’s Reading List Awards

  1. Hi Tony, a happy new year. It’s not surprising that the last volume of Marcel Proust is your favorite book of the year. My favorite is “Anna Karenina” by Lev Tolstoj. Not only a great novel but also a very beautiful translation in Dutch. Greetings, Erik


  2. Congrats on another great year of reviewing translated fiction! Love the format. (I was pulling for Jahrenstage, but it’s hard to argue with Proust-) Will 2019’s list include Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds and/or Taeko Kono’s Toddler Hunting stories? I would also love to see you give Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem a shot; it has a certain literary and poetic heft. Cheers all the way from Dallas, Texas.


    1. jeredunn- Well, Johnson’s novel came close!

      As for 2019, I’d say that Schweblin is a possibility, Kono already pencilled in 🙂 Still not convinced that Liu’s book is something I’d enjoy, but you never know 😉


  3. I don’t suppose much could compete with Proust!
    The Dinner Guest was also my worst book of the year – I’m mystified as to how it made it onto the Man Booker long list.
    I’ve just finished Tsushima’s Child of Fortune – Territory of Light was one of my highlights of last year.


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