Home > Personal Posts > Best of 2019 in my reading corner

Best of 2019 in my reading corner

December 30, 2019 Leave a comment Go to 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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  1. December 30, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    Thanx for spending time sharing your summary of your literary year. I’ll probably aim for Barbara Pym’s; I very well know it’s not a book I’d pick on my own. Good point about refining book picks over the years. I also have the same impression. Somehow, I’m no longer worried about chasing similar literary styles or going after several books by the same author. I previously was more concerned with diversity and so -possibly as a result- feel I’ve experimented enough to refine my picks.


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:07 am

      Thanks for reading my billets.
      The Pym is wonderful, I really liked the main character and it was a lively book. Never a dull moment.

      I think we get better with time at picking the right books, probably because we know ourselves better and also because we’re better at letting go of the ideal reader we should be. There are classics that I’ll never read because I know I won’t like them and I’m fine with it.


  2. December 31, 2019 at 12:24 am

    Did you see that Max Barry has another one coming out next year. 3/20. Providence. Sounds total sci-fi


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:09 am

      Yes, I’ve seen it. I’ll see what it’s about. I missed the humour in Lexicon, I hope he didn’t totally give up on that.


  3. December 31, 2019 at 3:15 am

    Re getting fewer comments, I’ve noticed that too. There are my loyal regulars who comment on nearly everything, but overall the numbers are down.
    I think the reason may be that the Litblog world has settled: there is a network of litbloggers who post regularly, and who produce quality content. We read them regularly but there are too many to comment on everything we read from them. This is particularly true when there are multiple bloggers writing about the same book: speaking for myself I can’t think of something to say for every one of them and I don’t think it’s nice just to copy and paste the same comment on additional sites. (Plus, there’s the risk of WordPress thinking it’s spam if you do it).
    Also, we tend not to comment or even to ‘like’ when we read from our email inbox rather than directly from the blog’s site.
    PS Love the Best Fly Fishing Award!


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:14 am

      Hi Lisa,
      You’re probably right about comments. I get some on Twitter and I always want to say: please comment on the blog, where the discussion stays attached to the post and isn’t lost in a feed of messages. Well.

      When the book is excellent, I hope that my billet is read, not for me, but because I want to say to every reader: Look at this gem!


    • January 1, 2020 at 11:14 am

      Two things that may be affecting the level of comments. One is they people ar spending more time on Twitter then they are reading blogs. (Twitter feeds are quicker where a blog post is a bigger investment of time). Second one is that there are so many blogs. it’s really hard to keep up with them and to spend time on crafting a comment. I don’t want to just press like.


      • January 1, 2020 at 11:20 am

        I agree with you about Twitter. I had a great exchange with Richard about A World for Julius on Twitter. But now, the conversation is “gone” whereas it’d be available if it were attached to the post.

        I know it’s hard to keep up, I’m not a good blog reader. (Plus, I need to be on a computer to comment because I need to have the dictionary page open to check English words) I haven’t found a way to keep up with all the bloggers I find interesting. Any idea?
        I press “like” because sometimes, I don’t have anything to comment on a book I haven’t read but I still want to say to the blogger that I was there and that I read their review.


  4. December 31, 2019 at 3:31 am

    Terrific list, Emma. If it makes you feel any better, your posts on Fabrice Caro led me to pick up Figurec while in Paris – though I have yet to read it. Beale Street is on my list to read soon; Baldwin is the most essential American writer of the last half of the 20th century, if you ask me. Geek Love I read when it came out and promptly put out on the stoop for someone else to take it.

    “Translation Tragedy” is a good term; five of my favorites from 2019 fit into this unfortunate category.

    Happy reading in 2020!


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:21 am

      Thanks Scott and happy reading to you too!

      I’m glad you picked Figurec, you’ll get an idea of Caro’s brand of humor. It’s very French with pop culture references, it may be interesting for S. to read it as well. Have fun with listening the Top 50 monstruosities that Julien collects, I’m sure you can find the musics on YouTube.

      I really really really recommend Caro’s second novel, Le discours.

      Re-Baldwin. Yes, he’s a must-read writer, like Philip Roth. I’ll read other books by him and I need to read Lettre à Jimmy by Alain Mabanckou, I have it on the TBR.

      I’m curious: what are your five Translation Tragedies?


      • January 1, 2020 at 9:04 pm

        Thanks, Emma – I’ll move Figurec up higher in my TBR list. I had not heard of Mabanckou, and will check him out as well.

        The five books on my “best of” lists this year which have not been translated into English are two directly from French – Grégoire Bouillier’s Rapport sur moi and Cavanna’s Les Ritals – and three works from Italian I read in French as there are to date no English translations – Antonio Tabucchi’s Et enfin september vint, Giani Stuparich’s lovely L’Île, and the stunningly good Borgo Vecchio by Giosuè Calaciura.

        BTW, we’re headed to Wyoming and Montana too, in September, with friends from France. I’d love to hear of any highlights from your trip when you’re back.

        Bonne année à tous!


        • January 1, 2020 at 9:48 pm

          I loved Les Ritals when I read it. (I was a teenager)

          Lucky you, you’ll visit Montana & Wyoming after the peak season. Do you plan on reading special books for the occasion?


          • January 2, 2020 at 7:36 am

            Les Ritals is a hoot; I wish I’d been able to read it as a teenager. I think my approach to French and France might have been rather different!

            I had not really thought about books to read for the trip, but having seen your proposed list I’m going to have a look around.


            • January 2, 2020 at 11:56 am

              Les Ritals is a rare book about immigrants in France. You’d probably like Fatima ou les Algériennes du square by Leïla Sebbar.


  5. December 31, 2019 at 8:40 am

    I should wait ten hours, till after midnight, and then I might wish you a happy and prosperous New Year. I feel for you and your babies that weren’t appreciated. Honestly! Because I feel the same way. When I nominate my favourite post of my own for the year, it’s always one I believe has been overlooked. But in the end, I love that they generate any discussion at all. Beats talking to myself!


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Happy New Year, Bill! Now I can say it, we’re the 1st of January.

      I’m not disappointed that my babies were overlooked. Writing billets helps me understand my response to a book and it doesn’t matter if it’s read or not when I write about a book I didn’t like. But when I think the book is outstanding, I want to tell everyone to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. December 31, 2019 at 9:25 am

    I do enjoy your end-of-year categories, Emma, very inventive!

    Lovely to see Excellent Women in your list; I think it’s one of Pym’s best novels, certainly in terms of its insights into the inner life of a ‘invisible’ woman.

    Great to see Beale Street here, too. I know we’ve spoken about Baldwin before, but I’m glad to see him getting another shout-out in your end-of -year highlights. He deserves to be more widely read, especially considering his relevance to current society. (This book remains horribly relevant today, some 45 years after its initial publication.)

    Of the others, the Ron Rash definitely appeals. I’ve read some of his Appalachian stories, but not those included in this collection. He has the ability to convey such a strong sense of place.

    Happy reading for 2020. Wishing you all the best for the year ahead; I hope it’s a good one in every respect.


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:33 am

      Thanks Jacqui! I had fun imagining the categories.

      Excellent Women was such a treasure and I loved Mildred who does what she wants without any fuss. She seems pliable but not that much in reality.

      Baldwin. Yes, unfortunately, he’s still relevant. I love his style, his militant-yet-factual approach to the issue of racism. For me, he’s like Philip Roth: analyzing the American society through the lenses of fiction.

      I think you’ll like the Ron Rash. Lucky you, you’re a native English speaker, you can pronounce his prose properly. Try to read it aloud, he said at Quais du Polar that he reads everything he writes aloud to hear if it sounds good. And since he also write poetry, it means something.

      Happy reading for 2020 too, Jacqui! I hope I’ll have more time to read your reviews.


  7. December 31, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    I’d like to say that I’ve borrowed A World for Julius after reading your post about it. Wishing you a very happy 2020 reading year!


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:34 am

      Great news about A World for Julius. Did you like it?

      I wish you a happy reading year too.


      • January 1, 2020 at 8:05 pm

        Haven’t read it yet but it’s in 3rd position in my TBR! I hope it won’t be too difficult, because I could only get hold of a Spanish version.


        • January 1, 2020 at 9:45 pm

          I don’t speak Spanish, I can’t tell you. It’s a rather long book, though.


  8. December 31, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    Interestig list Emma! I too have noticed perhaps a dropping off of comments at times, and I think Lisa is probably right as to reasons. But at the end of the day I write for me and to share my thoughts on the books so there you go. BTW love the idea that you think in camembert charts! Happy New Year! 😀


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:37 am


      Like you, I write billets to share my thoughts and think about what I’ve just read before moving on to a new book. (that’s the spirit, at least. But I often get a growing TBW pile) My frustration was more about reading great books and wanting them to find new readers.

      Re-camembert: We’re cheese people, what can I say?

      Happy New Year to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Vishy
    December 31, 2019 at 6:22 pm

    Wonderful favourites list, Emma! I got Gabriel Tallent’s book after reading your review. Hoping to read it soon. Your post on Swann and Proust was one of my favourites! I want to read Ron Rash’s ‘Burning Bright’. It looks wonderful from your description. Congratulations on a wonderful reading year! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all the books you read! Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! Can’t wait to read your billets on the great books you read in 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vishy
      December 31, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      I forgot to add – Yes, Camembert sounds better than pie 😁


      • January 1, 2020 at 9:42 am

        What can I say? We’re “cheese country”! 🙂


        • Vishy
          January 1, 2020 at 3:45 pm

          Yes 😁 I want to say ‘camembert’ instead of ‘pie’ from now on 😊

          Liked by 1 person

    • January 1, 2020 at 9:41 am

      Thanks Vishy.

      I hope you’ll review My Absolute Darling because I’m looking forward to the discussion. It can’t leave you indifferent.

      Ron Rash’s short stories are worth reading. It’s well written, with a strong sense of place. He only writes books set in the Appalachians.

      I wish you a Happy New Year too and a great reading year.


      • Vishy
        January 1, 2020 at 3:43 pm

        Thank you, Emma 🙂 Looking forward to reading My Absolute Darling soon. I also can’t wait to read Ron Rash’s stories. Happy New Year to you and your loved ones too 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. December 31, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    My experience has been that some of my favorite books are the least commented upon.


    • January 1, 2020 at 9:51 am

      Isn’t that a bit frustrating? Not so much about the review but mostly because you want to share this wonderful find and shout in the desert?


  11. January 1, 2020 at 11:17 am

    some blog posts that you think will attract interest somehow just fail to make any impact yet the ones yiu think few people will be interested in get a good number of comments. I haven’t figured out why that is though.


    • January 1, 2020 at 11:22 am

      I’ve noticed that too and I never saw a pattern. However, the most personal posts often have the best response.


  12. January 2, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Excellent Women will be on my list too. If I ever manage to write it that is. But I think I will. My Absolute Darling sounds appealing. Congratulations on tackling the TBR. I noticed the lack of comments as well and find it a bit sad to be honest. I used to have so many comments and discussions. I wasn’t around much, so there’s that. I noticed that so many also post on Instagram and seem to be more active there and on Twitter.
    I hope 2020 will be another great reading year for you.


    • January 3, 2020 at 10:02 am

      My Absolute Darling is a punch in the face. You need to know it before you read it. Some scenes ar hard to read but the whole book holds together and I really was looking at Turtle and hoping she’d make it.

      About comments and discussions: there are other places like Twitter.
      But I also think that, the changes in WP features impact the conversations. For example, you see the answers to your comment directly in your WP and not by checking the post again. It means that you don’t see the comments of the others, you don’t bounce on them and bring your ideas into the discussion.

      I hope you’ll have a great reading year too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 4, 2020 at 10:05 am

        Yes, about the comments that makes perfect sense. And the like button doesn’t help. I’ve been thinking of deactivating it like Guy does. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  13. January 2, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    I always love your categories, Emma! And it was great to get an overview of your reading year because I’ve been so rushed this year that I’ve got behind with my own blog and with reading other people’s. I love the sound of the James Baldwin book, but more importantly I need to go back through your archives and see what’s up with all the fly fishing. Happy New Year!!


    • January 2, 2020 at 10:47 pm

      Thanks Andrew and Happy New Year.

      There are two Baldwin billets this year and for fly fishing, read the John Gierach billet.


  14. January 3, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    Happy new year Emma!

    I have Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man thanks to you, though I’ve only just skimmed it so far. The writing does seem, as promised, excellent.

    Glad too to see the Pym here. It really is brilliant.

    The Tapply would tempt except that I’ve already got several series on the go and I just can’t fit another in, however good. Still, there’s worse problems than too many good books.


    • January 3, 2020 at 7:41 pm

      Happy New Year, Max.

      Going to Meet the Man is a masterpiece, I’m looking forward to reading your review of this one.

      I’ll have to read more Pym, but not in the coming months as I want to concentrate on tackling the TBR. (Again)

      There are only 3 books in the Tapply series. Sadly, the author’s untimely death went in the way.

      I’ve just finished “Incident at Twenty-Mile” by Trevanian, a western I believe you’d like very much.


  15. January 21, 2020 at 4:07 am

    I love your original categories!


    • January 21, 2020 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks. I have a lot of fun making them up!


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