A happy new year to one and all, and let’s hope that after the disaster that was 2020, 2021 will prove to bring far happier times! The turn of the year is always a busy time here at Tony’s Reading List, what with wrapping up the past twelve months and looking forward to the year ahead, but it’s also a time of celebration as it marks my bloggerversary. Yes, I’ve just completed twelve years of reading and reviewing, and as the blog moves inexorably (and menacingly) towards its teens, I’ll no doubt be pondering its purpose once more…
…but that’s for another time. Today’s post is all about celebrating the year that was, and in lieu of a (socially distanced) party, we’re suiting up for the latest edition of the Tony’s Reading List Awards! Feel free to slip into a slinky dress or dinner jacket, whichever takes your fancy, and charge your glasses with your poison of choice to celebrate (or commiserate) with this year’s nominees and winners.
As tradition dictates, we’ll kick proceedings off with the Most-Read Author Award, celebrating the writers I went back to time after time throughout the year. And the winner is:
1) Haruki Murakami (6)
2=) Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (4)
2=) Yasunari Kawabata (4)
Yes, I went through another phase of Murakami rereads earlier this year with a particular focus on his short stories, and with another collection appearing in a few months’ time, I suspect I’ll be reading more of his work in 2021. I did read books from outside Japan, and plenty by women, but you wouldn’t know it from this list, with all three of the top spots occupied by male Japanese writers 😉
Next up is the Most-Read Country Award, a category that explores my favourite vicarious travel destinations, especially important in a year where actual travel was pretty much impossible. So where did I spend most of 2020 in my head? The winner is:
1) Japan (47)
2) South Korea (18)
3) Germany (15)
4) France (11)
5) Norway (9)
There are few surprises here, with the top four consistently making this list (and Japan almost always topping it). It’s interesting to see Norway taking out fifth place, though, with a combination of rereads and new books from five writers making up the nine books read last year.
In terms of the overall figures, the trends were fairly similar to those of most years. Of the 153 books I read in 2020, only 9 were originally published in English, meaning that 144 (of which I read 25 in the original language – 22 in German and one each in French, Spanish and Italian) were originally written in a language other than English. That works out to around 94% of my reading originally being written in a language other than English, a decent figure if I do say so myself.
Other statistics you might be interested in concern rereads and the gender split. 2020 saw me read 91 books for the first time while revisiting 62, which makes for a rather low 60-40 split in favour of new books. Perhaps more importantly, though, the gender split was 77-74 in favour of female writers, along with two anthologies. From memory, I think that’s the first time the women have got much over 40%, and it’s mainly due to Women in Translation Month and an all-female German Literature Month in November.
Now, if you’d like to hold your nose for a moment, we need to scrape the barrel for the worst of this year’s reads, vying for the ‘prestigious’ Golden Turkey Award. While these nominations are handed out on a monthly basis, I only do so when strictly necessary, and that only actually happened twice this year:
In a good reading year, the biggest turkey was Michel Houellebecq’s Serotonin, a book that once again proves that Booker Prize judges can mess up with the best of us. While One Love Chigusa stood out for some clunky writing and outdated gender tropes, Houellebecq’s story of a man having a pathetic mid-life crisis ticked all the boxes for putting off its readers. No, Michel, it’s not big, it’s not clever, and you won’t be winning any prizes with it – well, apart from this turkey…
The next category we’re looking at is our Children’s Book of the Year Award, and once again there weren’t all that many contenders here. However, Hayley has been sent a few books in recent months, and a special mention must go here to the illustrated Quidditch through the Ages book she received, and the magnificent Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature, a book I’ll be flicking through myself.
However, this is all about what Hayley likes, so this year’s choice is:
The Wolf Girl series by Anh Do
After reading the first couple of parts, my daughter was lucky enough to be sent review copies of Book 3 and Book 4, which made her feel very special. If only she’d stop bugging me about when the next part will appear…
Having bestowed the minor prizes, it’s time to move on to the main event, the Book of the Year Award. As is always the case, the nominees are the twelve selections from my monthly wrap-up posts, and I briefly summarised these (and added a few honourable mentions) in my most recent posts (January to June & July to December). Let’s take a look at the contenders:
January – Monsters, Animals, and Other Worlds: A Collection of Short Medieval Japanese Tales
(edited by Keller Kimbrough and Haruo Shirane: Columbia University Press)
April – The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse
(tr. Damion Searls: Fitzcarraldo Editions)
May – The Wisdom of Tea by Noriko Morishita
(tr. Eleanor Goldsmith: Allen & Unwin)
June – Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante
(tr. Ann Goldstein: Europa Editions)
July – Die Kunde von den Bäumen (The Tidings of the Trees) by Wolfgang Hilbig
(English version tr. Isabel Fargo Cole: Two Lines Press)
August – The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
(tr. John Bester: Vintage Classics)
September – The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
(tr. Ann Goldstein: Europa Editions)
October – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
(English version tr. Christine Donougher: Penguin Classics)
November – Simultan (Three Paths to the Lake) by Ingeborg Bachmann
(English version tr. Mary Fran Gilbert: Holmes & Meier)
December – One Left by Kim Soom
(tr. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton: University of Washington Press)
In terms of nationality, there’s a fair variety here. Japan dominates once more, filling four of the twelve slots, while Italy is the only other country with more than one nominee. The other six contenders hail from Australia, Norway, Germany, France, Austria and South Korea, with the split being seven European and five Asian choices.
Interestingly, the gender split shows a 7-5 result in favour of female writers. This probably reflects a year where I reached gender parity in my reading for the first time in my blogging career 🙂
After the longlist, it only seems fair to have a shortlist, too, so here are the books that really stood out:
The Memory Police
Die Kunde von den Bäumen
The Waiting Years
And the winner is:
It always seems unfair on the other books when I read a bona fide world classic, but that’s no reason to wimp out and choose something else instead. Yes, it’s long, yes, it’s tedious at times, no, I really didn’t need to find out so much about Parisian sewers, but Les Misérables is a magnificent achievement, and certainly deserving of its title as my book of the year.
And that’s it for tonight’s shindig – please tidy up after yourselves, and try not to vomit on the way out. There’ll be a couple more posts coming up in the next week that tie up the loose ends of 2020, including a closer look at some stats as well as the customary state-of-the-blog address, but for now, thank you to everyone who dropped by at some point last year – I hope you’ll come back this year, too 😉