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Best of 2019 in my reading corner

December 30, 2019 43 comments

It’s time to look back on 2019 and my reading year. I’ve been running after time all year long and I tried to catch up with billets before year end but I failed. I still have four books to write about: Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty and Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. And I didn’t write about the wonderful evening I spent at the bookstore L’Astragale in Lyon. Craig Johnson was invited to talk about his Longmire series and his new French release. His French translator Sophie Aslanides was present to translate his answers to the libraire’s questions and chat with the readers.

I’m not going to do statistics and pies (Btw, where you, Anglo-Saxons, see pies, we, French, see camemberts) I leave the math, the stats and the KPIs to my professional life. I will only tell you that I read 66 books and half of them came from the TBR. Since I bought more than 33 books in 2019, the TBR is not decreasing…I still need to work on that in 2020.

As you might know, I tend to invent new award categories every year, according to the mood I’m in. So, which book are the best summary of my reading year?

Best Least Commented Billet

More and more of my billets end up with one or two commenters, which rarely occurred in the previous years. I truly understand why nobody had anything to say about Figurec by Fabrice Caro, it’s a French book, rather confidential and not translated into English. I was more disappointed that almost nobody cared about A World For Julius by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique or The Good Lord Bird by James McBride because they are truly excellent books.

 

Best Gallmeister Book

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a fondness for the publisher Gallmeister. They are specialized in American literature with two favorite branches, crime fiction and Nature writing. They will show you America in small towns and with characters that are outsiders to mainstream America. My favorite Gallmeister book was My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.

It’s a controversial book, one that stirs opposite feelings and start endless discussions but I loved it. The main character, Turtle, is hard to love but I truly rooted for her. I wanted her to be out of her father’s abusive spell.

Best Fly-fishing Book

Binging on Gallmeister books has a side effect: you end up reading a lot of books talking about fishing. I’ve read three books by William G Tapply featuring a fishing guide/sleuth character, Sex, Death and Fly-fishing by John Gierach, Lightning Strikes by Ned Crabb and The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty. I know a lot more than I should about fly-fishing.

The best one was the series by William G Tapply: Bitch Creek, Gray Ghost and Dark Tiger. I have fond memories of the main character, Stoney Calhoun, his dog Ralph, his lover Kate and his mysterious past. The series will remain unfinished because Tapply died before he could finish it.

Best Non-Book post

This year I decided to mention my Non-Book billet that you enjoyed the most. I’m always surprised by the response you give to Literary Escapades post or Theatre billets. Your favorite Literary Escapade was Hôtel Littéraire Le Swann – dedicated to Marcel Proust and your favorite Theatre Post was The Book of My Mother by Albert Cohen, a theatre version of Cohen’s novella. You might want to read the book, it’s a funny and poignant homage from a son to his late mother.

 

Best Weirdest Book Ever

Our Book Club read Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I don’t know what to make of that book. I couldn’t read it in English because the setting was so weird that I didn’t know if my misunderstanding came from the book or from gaping holes in my knowledge of the English language. I read it in translation and it grossed me out. All the characters were freaks and none of them was loveable. The whole story was crazy and I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

 

Best Blind Date Book.

I bought The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John because I had enjoyed Women in Black. When I started it, I didn’t expect to love it so much. Nicola comes home and her companion tells her point blank that she needs to move out. I read it in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to see how Nicola would survive her breakup.

It turns out it was much more than Nicola’s struggles.

 

Best State of the Nation

I’ve read several books with a political or social context. It would be easy to say that American Pastoral by Philip Roth was the best one but everyone knows it. So, I’ll choose If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. Brilliant, easier to read that Roth and an implacable statement about the American society. Baldwin’s prose is impecable and he took me to Harlem with him. The film version is excellent too, even if they changed the ending. How do they dare change the ending of a book when they make it into a film?

Best Francophone Book

I’ve read books written in French but from different countries: Québec, Belgium, Switzerland and Togo. A lot of them were very good but more than half of them have not been translated into English.  I decided to stick to one that will make it into English soon.

Be ready to read the 2018 Goncourt Prize Leurs enfants après eux by Nicolas Mathieu. Its literary prize guarantees a quick translation and I imagine it will be published in English withing a year or so.

Best Translation Tragedy

A Translation Tragedy Book is a wonderful book written in French but not available in English. This year it was The Weight of Secrets by Aki Shimazaki. It’s composed of five slim volumes that give you a picture of a family’s story seen from different angles. Each book brings a brick to the story and unveils new details.

Aki Shimazaki a Japanese writer who emigrated to Québec and writes in French.

 

Best #TBR20 book

As I said before, I managed to read 33 books from my TBR, one out of two and that was my goal. I had purchased Burning Bright by Ron Rash at Quais du Polar and finally got to it this year.

It’s a collection of short stories, all set in the Appalachians at different periods of time. They are all different and beautifully written.

 

 

Best Book Club Read

My Best Book Club Read of the year is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I loved everything about it: the setting in post-war London, the characters and their eccentricities and its veiled feminism. What fun I had with Mildred the spinster!

 

 

Best Try-Again Book.

This year I tried to read again two books I had previously abandoned.

I still can’t read Berlin Alexanderplatz but I loved The Last Report On The Miracles At Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich this time. I was absorbed in this story set in the Ojibwe reservation of Little No Horse. Father Damian was a striking character.

Sometimes, you need to try again.

If I’m not mistaken, that makes twelve books. 2019 was a good reading year, probably because I get better at picking books I’ll like. I had fun sharing my thoughts about the books I read. Thanks for following my literary journey and all the comments and likes are truly appreciated as they are a sign that you’re willing to spend some of your precious free time reading my billets.

The show will go on in 2020! Or as we say in French: La fête continue.

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