The 2019 Tony’s Reading List Awards

A Happy New Year to all my readers, and a big welcome to the Tony’s Reading List Awards for 2019, the eleventh time these prestigious prizes have been handed out.  It’s been another big year, full of books read and reviewed, and this the place where I look back and single out the works and writers worthy of praise (as well as taking out a big stick to point menacingly in the direction of those who really need to up their game).  We’ve got all the usual categories, including the most popular writers and countries, the biggest turkey, and, most importantly, those books that shone through the dross surrounding them to make it onto the longlist for my book of the year award.

So, what are we waiting for?  Let’s start the show 🙂

As is customary, we’ll begin with the Most-Read Author Award, and unlike last year’s non-event, this time around it was pretty tight:

1) Hiromi Kawakami (6)
2=) Theodor Storm (5)
2=) Yukio Mishima (5)
4) Haruki Murakami (4)

Kawakami had two books out last year (even if one was a rather small, niche affair), and that had me rereading her other books in English.  In fact, all of the writers listed above owe their place to a lot of rereading, proof that I’m not always obsessed with shiny new releases.

Let’s follow that up by looking at the Most-Read Country Award, which tells a very different tale:

1) Japan (42)
2) Germany (23)
3) South Korea (19)
4=) Canada (6)
4=) France (6)
4=) Switzerland (6)

Once again, it’s Japan sitting pretty at the top of the tree, and while the last few years have seen close struggles between South Korea and Japan, this time around it was a foregone conclusion, with Germany even overtaking South Korea for second spot.  With my traditional January in Japan underway, I suspect that this is a trend that will continue for at least another year, if not longer…

At this point, let’s have a quick glance at some of the stats for this year comparing English-language books with those from the rest of the world (although, in truth, there’s no comparison).  Of the 160 books I read in 2019, only 9 were originally published in English, meaning that 151 (of which I read 34 in the original language – 32 in German and 2 in French) were originally written in a language other than English.  Not quite the reverse 3% I managed a few years back, but still proof enough that my interests lie strongly in translated literature 🙂

Now I must apologise and ask you all to hold your noses as I’m about to introduce a few stinkers.  This year’s Golden Turkey Award has four candidates, and, surprisingly perhaps, none of them are here for their poor translation – all of these writers have made it onto the list through their own ‘merits’  The nominees are:

Olga Medvedkova’s Going Where
Marion Poschmann’s Die Kieferninseln (The Pine Islands)
Maude Veilleux’s Prague
Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold

It will surprise nobody to discover that my turkey for 2019 is Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands, a book that made the shortlist for last year’s Man Booker International Prize when it should never have made it onto the longlist in the first place.  It’s a sore topic, so let’s leave it here – it is a new year, after all…

Unfortunately, my next prize, the Children’s Book of the Year Award, is in danger of being scrapped in future editions of the ceremony.  Between them, my daughters only contributed two posts last year, and one of these was on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – which I am certainly *not* going to consider for this category.  With only one real contender, then, the winner is clear:

Plastic: Past, Present, and Future by Eun-Ju Kim
(illustrated by Ji-Won Lee, tr. Joungmin Lee Comfort: Scribble).

Hayley looked at this one for Women in Translation Month, and given the important topic, and the interesting content, I’m happy enough to hand out the prize – but next year… 😦

Right, that’s enough of the minor prizes – let’s get on to the main event, my Book of the Year Award.  In a slight change to proceedings this year, I posted in more detail on my twelve monthly winners in two posts last week (January to June & July to December), so please check those out (there are also eighteen honourable mentions given out in the two posts).  Just to remind you all, the nominees are:

January – To the Spring Equinox and Beyond by Natsume Sōseki
(tr. Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein: Tuttle Publishing)

February – Berta Isla by Javier Marías
(tr. Margaret Jull Costa: Hamish Hamilton)

March – Resistance by Julián Fuks
(tr. Daniel Hahn: Charco Press)

April – The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
(tr. Anne McLean: MacLehose Press)

May – Women by Mihail Sebastian
(tr. Philip Ó Ceallaigh: Other Press)

June – Fireflies by Luis Sagasti
(tr. Ffion Petch: Charco Press)

July – Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote by Ahmadou Kourouma
(tr. Frank Wynne: Vintage Books)

August – The Little House by Kyōko Nakajima
(tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori: Darf Publishers)

September – Das Kalkwerk (The Lime Works) by Thomas Bernhard
(English version tr. Sophie Wilkins: Vintage International)

October – Humiliation by Paulina Flores
(tr. Megan McDowell: Catapult)

November – Medea. Stimmen (Medea. Voices) by Christa Wolf
(English version tr. John Cullen: Nan A. Talese)

December – Primeval and Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk
(tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones: Twisted Spoon Press)

The 2019 longlist sees a fair spread of countries, with only Japan receiving two nominations.  The other ten choices are divided between three continents, with Spain, Romania, Austria, Germany and Poland representing Europe; Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Chile flying the flag(s) for South America; and the sole African entry from Côte d’Ivoire.

In terms of the gender split, this year sees the men outnumbering the women by eight to four.  However, with my honourable mentions split ten-eight in the opposite direction, that makes a 60-40 split of nominations – which is fairly close to what I read most years.

But which of these books were the most impressive last year?  The shortlist:

Berta Isla
The Shape of the Ruins
Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote
Das Kalkwerk (The Lime Works)

Medea. Stimmen (Medea. Voices)
Primeval and Other Times

And the winner is:

Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s
The Shape of the Ruins

While JGV’s epic examination of truth, lies and conspiracy theories didn’t quite take out the MBIP, it did receive our prestigious Shadow Panel award, and when I look back at the year’s reading, this is the book that stands out the most.  Congratulations, and here’s hoping for more great books in future.

That’s all for my awards, then, but I still have a couple of posts to put out before 2019 can be completely forgotten.  There’s the popular posts review coming up, in which I look at which posts you, my audience, have actually been most interested in, as well as the annual ‘state of the blog’ post, where I’ll be looking back at the year that was and looking forward to a bookish 2020 – which may be a little different to 2019.

Anyway, that’s all in the future.  Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year once more.  Let’s hope 2020 brings a lot of good books and good news – let’s face it, after the year that was, we could all do with some 😉

8 thoughts on “The 2019 Tony’s Reading List Awards

    1. Kaggsy – That’s because most of them were (ineligible) rereads. In fact, four of the five were ‘The Sea of Fertility’ tetralogy, which happened to be my very first book of the year back in 2009 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I read two of your turkey contenders (the Japanese themed ones) and fully agree with your evaluation of them. Although I do wonder if we are harsher than most other readers because of our knowledge of Japan?


    1. Marina Sofia – Well, it’s our job, then, to call out these books when the writers fall down on the job. Other readers are very quick to pick up on issues involving race or gender, so there’s nothing wrong with our pointing out cultural appropriation (or bad writing!) when it appears 😉


    1. Scott – Well, they are the best of the month, so I’d hope they’re all good 🙂 A nice mix of new releases and classics, even if I didn’t really read any of the all-time greats in 2019.


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