Well, 2020’s finally over, and that means that it’s time, after focusing on awards and statistics, to take stock of all my blogging affairs in the annual State of the Blog Address. After twelve full years of reviewing, I can’t promise that there’ll be anything new, or insightful, about today’s post, but it’s always nice to reflect on the year that was and consider where the next twelve months might take us. Let’s take a quick look, then, at the high- and lowlights of 2020, while casting one eye in the direction of the future to see if 2021 might bring something a little different 🙂
I can’t begin without looking back at the closing comments made in last year’s address:
“In any case, whatever happens this year, I’d like to give my thanks to all those who do read what I knock out a couple of times a week: here’s hoping that 2020 will be good for both literature and the wider world…
…because, let’s face it, 2019 wasn’t all that great 😉”
Well, that turned out well, didn’t it?! The reality of 2020 means that whinging about blogging issues seems a little petty and futile; there’s really no point in stressing about page hits and a lack of comments when the world’s on fire (literally, at some points). Things have calmed down a little here in Melbourne after a tumultuous year of bushfires and COVID-19, but I know that matters are far worse elsewhere, so I’ll do my best to focus on the positives, I promise.
As always, the year was full of great books to enjoy, with the standout being my project of reading Les Misérables in French. It took me around six months on and off, but it was certainly worth the effort, and even if there were moments when it dragged a little, it was deserving of being crowned my book of the year. Other highlights included trying Gerald Murnane’s delightful Border Districts (reflecting on the book for my end-of-year posts led me to put a hold on another of his novels at the library) and finishing Die Kunde von den Bäumen (The Tidings of the Trees), the last of the novellas in the Wolfgang Hilbig collection I bought a while back, which may well have been my favourite of the three. Of course, as is always the case, there was plenty of Japanese literature covered this year, and Fumiko Enchi’s The Waiting Years and Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police were also among my favourite books of 2020.
Speaking of Ogawa’s book, while I decided not to do any shadowing this year, I did read the whole International Booker Prize longlist, which contained several excellent books (along with one notable turkey…), and that wasn’t the only mini-project undertaken. I started 2020, as I do every year, with my traditional January in Japan reading (feel free to join me this month!), and August’s Women in Translation Month was as lively and interesting as ever. The last of these events was November’s German Literature Month, which was also an all-female affair this time around.
A project of a slightly different kind involved my ongoing quest to build up a bank of translations of classic German literature. While keeping an eye on the kids during lockdown meant my time was rather more limited than I would have liked, I did manage to knock up a few more pieces this year. You may have seen a recent post in which I presented a poem by Theodor Storm (a first, and I’m not sure quite how well it turned out!), but I also managed to work on a couple of prose pieces. Back in March, there was more from Eduard von Keyserling, in the form of the short story ‘Nachbarn’ (‘Neighbours’). It’s a nice piece that has similarities with Seine Liebeserfahrung (Experiences of Love), and it’s well worth a look, if I do say so myself.
However, my main translation in 2020 was, of course, of Ricarda Huch’s novella Fra Celeste. Back in 2019, I worked on her story ‘Weltuntergang’ (‘The End of the World’) for #WITMonth, and this one has a very similar tone and religious themes, albeit in a longer and more intriguing form. The translation was serialised over fifteen days in November for German Literature Month, with the usual introduction and afterword. I’m quite happy with the result, so please check it out if my introduction piques your interest 🙂
While I don’t want to obsess about statistics, it’s worth mentioning a (very) slight increase in page views on last year, with most figures rather similar to the 2019 numbers. In truth, I’m starting to become resigned to the site’s position as a repository for old reviews, with new posts not really getting the hits you’d expect. It was clear once again from my last post on popular pages that certain older posts dominate the top of the list. Still, it’s nice that my back-catalogue is still going strong, and I do still have a few faithful readers.
The pandemic didn’t really affect my output or audience much, then, but one noticeable effect was an increased reluctance on the part of overseas publishers to send review copies abroad. Don’t get me wrong: I still get more than my fair share of books, but the use of my standard reply to offers of digital galleys (“I can’t promise when, or if, I’ll get to this as I always prioritise physical copies”) increased markedly over the year. It’s good in a way, as it’s forcing me to prioritise and focus on presses that do still want to send me books. Of course, it also has the effect of making me cover more books I buy myself – and turn to older books for comforting rereads!
So, what does that mean for the year ahead? No idea… As we saw in 2020, there’s no way you can predict what the future will bring, so constructing elaborate plans seems rather futile. I’m not one to put in the effort to make major changes, so it’s unlikely that this will be the year when I’m picked up for mainstream reviewing, or when a publisher will suddenly stumble across one of my translations and want to publish it. In truth, I’ll be happy just to bumble along, putting out a review or two each week and working on another translation when I have the time. Hopefully, some of you will continue to support me with that, and if you can spare a few kinds words now and then, I can assure you that they go a long way 🙂