Audiobooks have become my saviour – I’ll admit it. Recently I’ve found myself with a lot less time to just sit down and read a book, and so audiobooks have helped me keep up the pace. I like to listen on my walk to and from work, or if I’m ever just walking around town. It’s easier than walking with a book in front of your face (which I’ve done a lot of times and got some odd looks). On audiobook I’ve listened to a wide variety – Virginia Woolf, Haruki Murakami, Johnathan Safron Foer, and even the latest literary hit from France, Lullaby by Leila Slimani. The audiobook which really stood out for me, however, was John Wyndham’s Chocky. I’d actually look forward to walking to work just so I could listen to the next chapter. It’s a subtle, scary sci-fi – what Wyndham does best – and I’ve recommended it to absolutely everybody I can.
Physically, I’ve been trying to read more of the hefty books that I’ve been putting off. Rabbit & Robot is the most recent hardback I completed, which is Andrew Smith’s latest work. Writer of ‘weird fiction’, Smith is an acquired taste but amazing at creating the most innovative, strange and astounding pieces of fiction that I’ve come across. Rabbit & Robot, I have to admit, I think is one of his weaker novels, but I still refuse to shut up about his novels because I believe he is a horrendously underrated writer.
I’ve also finished reading Milkman by Anna Burns in an effort to actually keep up with the winners of the Man Booker. I thoroughly loved reading it. As an Irish writer, Burns channels an inner Joycean monologue and we are left inside the mind of a teenage girl who is trying to get to grips with the small, Irish neighbourhood culture of gossip that surrounds her. I just found the character so enchanting and it was unlike any other coming-of-age novel I’d read before. Following this, I quickly picked up Lady Chatterley’s Lover which is a novel I’ve been meaning to read for years. It is about both class and sex, and caused a storm on its publication for the depiction of the main female character coming to terms with her sexual freedom.
As for what I’m in the middle of, I’m currently in the midst of a huge New York kick – although, when am I not? I’m reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and also Cannibal in Manhattan by Tama Janowitz. Both are probably by two favourite female writers and so I’m immensely enjoying both of their works. Soon I’m hoping to move on to The Godfather, and inevitably back onto JD Salinger, because I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t read his entire bibliography at least once a year.
My reading goal for 2018 was to read more books in translation. I had set myself a goal of 50% translations. If you know me, you would know that this has been my goal for the past few years as I wanted to explore the world through literature. However, this year something click inside of me and I have gone right down the rabbit hole when it comes to world literature. I am currently sitting at 80% translations and it would be higher if it was not for my bookclub. I have really embraced this as my niche and remain passionate about talking about these books. So much so that I have even started a podcast, Lost in Translations, talking about books in translations. This passion has been boosted because of the Man Booker International Prize and the newly created National Book Award for literature in translation. My desire to be able to speak about all the books on the longlist helped drive my passion. My ultimate goal is to become an expert in world literature, to because to comment on the longlist for these prizes the same way others do in the Man Booker or the National Book Award.
There have been so many highlights throughout the year, including the book that I believe should have won the National Book Award for translated literature, Disoriental by Négar Djavadi (translated by Tina Kover). Sticking with queer literature in translation, I loved Sphinx by Anne Garréta (translated by Emma Ramadan) from France, Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen (translated by Anna Halager) from Greenland, and the first woman to have novel translated from Equatorial Guinea La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (translated by Lawrence Schimel). Other highlights from my reading include Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marías (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) and The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (translated by Anne McLean). There are too many great books out there to read, and I am glad to have a passion in a small section of the bookish world, but there is still too many books to read.
2018 has been an interesting year for reading for me. For my job, I have been reading several children's’ books and I have become something of an expert in children’s literature. However, I did read one of the most disturbing books probably ever, The Sluts by Dennis Cooper. I felt I could only read it at night, with the blinds shut and the curtains drawn. I felt dirty reading the book, which is something I haven’t felt reading any other book. Nevertheless, it was my favourite read of the year. I would absolutely recommend this to those who loves American Psycho. Otherwise, I have read several other books but nothing of note. I would say it was an average reading year.
In December, however, I have begun Hingston & Olsen’s Short Story Advent Calendar, enjoying a story a day. I must admit, this has kept me on track and engaged with reading. I often find it difficult to keep focus with reading year after year. I find myself, instead, staring at my shelves longingly wanting to read everything but having the energy to read nothing. Reading a 5 to 20 page short story has been simple enough. Although inconsistent and varying in levels of interest, I am not sure I would purchase the boxset again, albeit it is a wonderful idea for the holidays.
Otherwise, the New Year is off to a good start. I have read two Edward Lee books, Brain Cheese Buffet and The Bighead, which are seminal Splatterpunk/Bizarro books. They were outrageous, over-the-top, and filled with gore you can barely begin to imagine. I also read In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami, the fourth Murakami I’ve completed so far and probably my favourite, right behind Almost Transparent Blue. I’m planning on keeping my reading goals light, as in the past all of my broadcasted goals have never been completed.
I have read a lot of mediocre books over the past years, and very few great ones, a trend I wanted to change in 2018. So I tried steering my reading towards books I actually thought I would like rather than experimenting and exploring new territory, choosing books by authors and topics I know hit my sweet spot more often than not.
2018 was the most successful reading year I’ve had in a long time. I read some books I really loved, chief among them an essay collection by the Danish writer Inger Christensen called Condition of Secrecy (read in Norwegian as Hemmelighetstilstanden). It’s a philosophical and lyrical exploration about creativity, writing and language that sparked so many ideas and thoughts that I literally needed to take breaks to allow my brain to catch up every second page or so.
Another essay collection I absolutely adored was Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. A collection of personal essays all dealing with books and literature in various ways, from merging libraries with your spouse, writing in your books or proof reading menus in every restaurant, to going second hand book shopping and counting your purchases by weight rather than numbers.
As for novels 2018 was the year I finally got around to reading Virginia Wolf, and I now count Mrs Dalloway as one of my favourite novels of all time. It took me some time to get into it, but once I did, the meandering descriptions of the characters and their dealings with each other on the day of Mrs Dalloway’s party charmed me with their sheer elegance.
I also really appreciated a Norwegian novel, yet to be translated, called Kinderwhore by the young writer Maria Kjos Fonn. An in-your-face and hard hitting story about a young girl experiencing sexual abuse and growing up with the trauma into a life of self harm and anger issues. It had one of the most heart wrenching openings I have ever read, yet also manages to be both edgy and funny throughout.
As a special treat to myself, I finished the year off with re-reading one of my favourite fantasy-series, The First Law-trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Because who would miss out on entering the new year in the company of crippled torturers, murderers and empty-headed golden boys? Not me, that’s for sure.