A Decade of Tony’s Reading List

Back on the 31st of December, 2008, I wrote the following words on my newly created blog:

As of tomorrow, I will start to comment on what I’ve been reading. Why?

1) Because it will help me to remember what I’ve read.
2) Because it will force me to think about the books.
3) Because it will stop me reading books by crap authors.

Of course, now that the Christmas/New Year holidays are almost over, I’ll probably never read another book again…

Anyway, the target for 2009 is 50 books, and we’ll see how I go!

It’s fair to say that this is one New Year’s resolution that was a success.  Ten years later, the blog is still going strong, and while the digital location may have changed (I migrated from Blogger to WordPress early in 2015), the concept is very much the same – I read books and then I review them.  Simples 🙂

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve devoted more time and energy than I care to consider to writing about books, but even if the format hasn’t changed much, a lot has happened in that time, most of which I could never have predicted when I began.  To start off, then, let’s look back at the past ten years and reflect on a few of these changes, the highlights of the decade, if you will…

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In terms of working on my reading, the blog has certainly helped me achieve my goals.  I got to 93 books in my first year, and while I managed to raise that figure to 180 at one point, over the last few years I’ve settled down to around 130 books a year – which is still a lot.  The biggest change, though, concerns the content of my reading.  In that first year, I was largely reading whatever happened to be on my shelves, and that was dominated by English-language classics (lots of dead white men there…).  Over the years, the gender gap has narrowed somewhat.  From a low of 16.5% in the first year, to almost 27% by 2012, the proportion of books by female writers has come in at just over 40% for the past couple of years.  Some might argue that there’s still work to do there, but that’s a level I’m comfortable with at the moment, and any further changes in that direction will be gradual and natural, rather than forced.

A more significant shift in my reading habits, though, was the move towards fiction in translation.  My obsession with Japanese literature began before the blog started, but it was my reviewing that really intensified the focus on this area, including classics.  In 2014, I added Korean literature as another major topic of interest, and as a result, these days I don’t really have the time to worry about what’s happening in the English-language writing world.  The culmination of this shift came in 2015.  When crunching the numbers for my annual awards post, I realised that the proportion of books read that were originally written in English had dropped to a highly significant level: 3%…

Another major move over the past decade has been a return to reading books in the original language.  After years of neglecting my languages, I took my first steps back in 2009, and I still remember a post I wrote on Heinrich Böll’s Ansichten eines Clowns (The Clown) where I spoke of the headaches (literal and figurative) of reading in German.  Since then, I’ve had a lot more practice (especially when German Literature Month rolls around each November!), managing to scale Thomas Mann’s magic mountain and spend a year in the company of Gesine Cresspahl.

After German, I went back to French, culminating in this year’s successful completion of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), before cheekily falling back on my schoolboy Spanish to try some of the Andrés Neuman books that hadn’t made it into English yet.  In terms of sheer madness, however, deciding to read about Jhumpa Lahiri’s busman’s holiday in the original Italian probably takes the prize.  It’s certainly not something I could have imagined doing ten years ago, and again it’s the blog that was the catalyst for all of these actions.

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Of course, I’ve gained far more from Tony’s Reading List over the years than just the books I’ve read.  One of the biggest advantages of setting off on this journey has been encountering like-minded folk along the way.  I’ve wasted a lot of time on social media chatting about books, and I’ve also been able to participate in events such as the above-mentioned German Literature Month and the highly successful Women in Translation Month.  Unfortunately, my own attempt to spread a little cheer, January in Japan, only happened three times (real life got in the way…), but I greatly enjoyed reaching out and helping people to discuss and learn about Japanese literature with others (for those interested in J-Lit, Bellezza over at Dolce Bellezza has moved her Japanese Literature Challenge this year – it now runs from January to March).

Something I used to do more of (very little in 2018) is outside reviewing.  I have been lucky enough to be approached on several occasions by online publications such as Words without Borders and Asymptote to contribute reviews or opinion posts, and even if the content was usually fairly similar to my standard reviews, these pieces did involve a slightly different style.  It was interesting to try to adapt my familiar chatty tone to something more suitable to a wider audience, and being throughly edited for the first time was certainly a character-building experience…  At any rate, it’s something I hope I get the chance to do again at some point in the future.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of starting the blog, though, has been my adventures in the world of translation.  This began in a small way with translations of quotations in my reviews, and it was because of this that I was asked out of the blue to contribute to a book of short stories.  Véronique Côté and Steve Gagnon’s I Never Talk About It was brought into English by thirty-seven different translators, and while my story was a fairly short, straight-forward affair, I did have the honour of providing the title for the collection 🙂

However, the reality is that my German is far better than my French, so when I wanted to continue with some translation, I decided to focus on German-language classics and publish my efforts during German Literature Month, producing versions of texts that (as far as I’m aware) hadn’t previously made it into English.  In 2017, I looked at Karoline von Günderrode’s ‘Geschichte eines Brahminen’ (‘Story of a Brahmin’), but this year’s effort was far more adventurous, and challenging.  I hope people enjoyed my serialisation of Eduard Graf von Keyserling’s early novella Schwüle Tage (Sultry Days), and my reflections on the whole experience.  Again, I’m hoping to do more of this at some point in 2019.

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And speaking of the future…

Ten years is a long time, and after a decade of blogging, you can’t help but consider what lies ahead.  Just more of the same?  I’m really not sure…  As you may have noticed, on a couple of occasions above I discussed a desire to do more in the areas of reviewing and translating, and while it’s the blog that introduced me to those areas, it’s also, ironically enough, the blog that’s getting in the way.  In short, the amount of time I spend reading and reviewing means I have very little free time to do anything else.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve considered giving the blog up on several occasions, and even if I’m happy enough to continue (for now, at least), I suspect that changes need to be made, as if I can’t make time for other endeavours, it’s likely to become more of a burden than a pleasure.  What that means in practice is that I’m going to try to be more selective with my reading, and in what I agree to cover.  I have a tendency to want to stay on the right side of publishers, reviewing books that are OK in the hope of getting copies of those I really want (which doesn’t always work…), and that needs to stop.  More importantly, though, I’ll probably need to review fewer books going forward, and give myself more time in which to do other things.  At the moment, I break out in a sweat at the thought of missing one of my two weekly posts, but if I want to continue, it’s something I need to get used to.

And I do want to continue.  Yes, the blog involves a lot of work, but it’s hard to imagine my life without it.  If I stopped blogging, I’d definitely have much more time for other projects, yet there’d also be a huge gap in my life, and while I’m sure I’d still keep in touch with all the people I’ve got to know through social media, it wouldn’t really be the same.  That’s why I’ll keep plugging along, for this year at least – here’s hoping for more bookish interaction as we move through 2019 🙂

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29 thoughts on “A Decade of Tony’s Reading List

  1. Congratulations on your tenth anniversary! I don’t remember how and when exactly I stumbled on your blog, but ever since it has been for me one of the few go-to places whenever I wantt to find out what is going on in world literature. I can 100% relate to what you are saying about the positive influence of blogging on your foreign language reading skills: indeed, the necessity to come up with a decent review is a great motivation for ploughing through any challenging text with plenty of unknown or misleading words that require constant dictionary consultation. Best of luck in the new year, and keep up your awesome work!

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    1. The Untranslated – It’s certainly one of the major benefits of my reading. I haven’t quite tried as many as you yet, but I am thinking of working on a Korean book at some point 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Much same problems I’ve had last few years I think as I enter ten years this year as well I am actually quite revived this year after a bad year here is to many more years blogging tony

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  3. Congrats Tony – that’s a real achievement! Interestingly, your reasons for starting your blog were pretty much the same as mine! 😀 I can understand what you say about the commitment – it does affect my reading a little I think, but I’m convinced that blogging has made me read more deeply and I also cherish the connection with other bookish types. Hope to see you continue blogging in some shape or form, if you can fit this in with your other needs and commitments! 😀

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  4. Congratulations, that sounds like the ideal blog trajectory, for you and also for us readers who have been able to discover so many writers and books thanks to your reviews. Just wish I could follow you more on the Japanese/Korean strand, but I focus on central Europe and one can’t do it all! Wishing you another successful 10 years of literature at least, whatever shape it takes,

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    1. Passage à L’Est – Yes, it’s hard to cover the whole world, and it’s more rewarding somehow when you focus on a couple of areas 🙂

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  5. There must be something about year 9 to 10, because I too considered jacking in at that point. Carried on because of reasons 1 and 2 and a firm resolution not to finish books I didn’t like, and would only review 4 and 5 star reads. I’m still working on that plan, but I no longer feel forced to write something just for the sake of a blogging schedule. True stats have taken a hit, and I receive fewer review copies now (but still more than enough). Plus I’ve reclaimed my feading pleasures, my blog and have found time to develop a new interest in photography. So my advice is, if you want to take time out for other interests, do it. (November excepted, of course!) Here’s to the next 10!

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      1. Lizzy – Ten years is not just a long time but also abig round number, and the anniversary was looming for quite a while beforehand. I shall endeavour to read (and eat!) more of what I like in future 😉

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  6. Congratulations: 10 years is a long time! I understand your point about blogging getting in the way of other things but also being something you’d miss. Hopefully you find a way to balance what you want and what you do. It’s always a pleasure reading what you have to say about your reading!

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  7. Congratulations in the ten years and in how your reading has changed, the discoveries you’ve made and brought to the attention of all of us, enriching our reading along the way. There’s something pleasurable about blogging that means that even when life gets in the way, we never seem to really give up, just make a few adjustments and cease a few opportunities. I hope it continues to evolve to reflect your interests and aspirations, not to mention keeping us all informed of potential good reads that aren’t talked about as much in the mainstream. Bonne Continuation Tony.

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    1. Claire – It is something that’s hard to give up completely as it adds to the reading experience (especially when you build up a large body of work you can look back on, too!). I’ll do my best to keep on keeping on 🙂

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  8. This is year 8 (or 9?) for me, and I blog for similar reasons – to help me remember what I’ve read, and to make me think about what I’ve read. reading less crappy books was a happy side effect.

    Congrats on 10 years!

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  9. As one whose blog will be 13 years old in May, much of what you say resonates deeply with me. To blog, or not to blog? “Wasting time on social media.” And yet the pull to read translated literature, and discuss it on our blogs or with fellow readers, will not release its grip on me. You have offered such exciting opportunities to me to read, with Japanese Literature of course, but also in the way that you have led the Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury for a few years. I appreciate your point of view and all your efforts. May we long continue.

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    1. Tom – Well, I doubt I’ll be winning any prizes (or even getting published at all…), but it’s something to look back on fondly in later years 🙂

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  10. Congratulations, Tony! It is always a pleasure to read your reviews, and I particularly enjoy your posts for the Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury. Viel Glück with your plans! 🙂

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  11. Congratulations Tony! I certainly appreciated your translation of Keyserling during GLM. I received a five-year anniversary message from WordPress the other day which surprised me.

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