Books, Read – Nos 1 – 10 of 2019

The first ten books for 2019 have now been read.

I have a few soft and a few hard goals, which I’ll outline below.  Essentially, I want to focus on translated fiction, and I need to read more widely from female writers.  The two hard goals I have are –

50% of all books I read should be translated.

50% of all books I read should be written by women.

Otherwise, I don’t want to read too many fantasy books (though I seem to be on a bit of a bender in that respect at the moment!), and small presses should be a focus.  That last in particular tends to go well with translated fiction.

So, how did I do for the first 10 books of 2019?

The books were:

  • 10 – Herta Müller – Nadirs
  • 9 – Karolina Ramqvist – The White City (trans. Saskia Vogel)
  • 8 – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
  • 7 – David Gemmell – Wolf in Shadow
  • 6 – Alejandro Zambra – Multiple Choice
  • 5 – Peter Higgins – Wolfhound Century
  • 4 – Albert Camus – The Outsider
  • 3 – Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings – Part Two
  • 2 – Roberto Bolaño – Distant Star
  • 1 – Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings – Part One

In terms of the hard goals, five of ten were translations, which is great, but only three of ten were by female writers.  My collection of unread books (which is, fortunately or unfortunately, in the hundreds) is heavily weighted towards male.  This is my problem, but it perhaps explains the lower female figure.  I need to improve here, and will.

Too much fantasy, I think.  I’d prefer that to be two or lower, but January has been pretty heavy for fantasy, largely, I think, because it is the first month of the year and I’m easing myself into 2019 with some books that are easier to read.  Is this an excuse?  Perhaps.

Only two small presses!  Well done to Bison Books for publishing Herta Müller.  She’s a really exciting writer and I’m very glad she won the Noble.  Otherwise, Granta pulled off an amazing feat with Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice, which is simply exceptional.

Some brief thoughts on each book:

10 – Herta Müller – Nadirs

I have a soft spot for Soviet-era literature from Eastern Europe, and while I don’t necessarily want to be too reductive, Nadirs certainly fits that bill.  On top of that, it’s very focused on Müller’s childhood and developing womanhood – fascinating.

9 – Karolina Ramqvist – The White City (trans. Saskia Vogel)

I had a lot of trouble reading this while having a very young daughter.  The protagonist is depressed young woman in a terrible life state due to her husband, who has abandoned her, being caught up with the police after a life of crime.  That aspect is nebulous in detail but clearly understood to represent an end to her pampered life.  We see the toppling wreckage in the days before it all falls.  The part that affected me the most was her disdain and disregard for her daughter and particularly the imposition on her body that comes from breastfeeding.  Hit pretty close to home.

8 – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

This very short book was excellent and exceptionally timely (for me!).  It is written as a letter to a friend of Adichie’s, a friend who has recently given birth to a little girl.  The book is broken into fifteen suggestions about how to raise a daughter to be strong and wise and ambitious and proud of herself.

7 – David Gemmell – Wolf in Shadow

Fantasy guff I loved as a child. It holds up – all of Gemmell’s work does, I think – and I definitely have a fondness for the gruffly competent heroic figure.  The bible portions are a touch heavy-handed, and the collapsed-world scenario is more overplayed now than perhaps when the book was first published, but it was good to return to it as an adult.  I think the last time I read this book I was a teenager, which is shocking to contemplate.

6 – Alejandro Zambra – Multiple Choice

Literary games can be so, so tiresome, but Zambra’s multiple choice questionnaire-styled novella was fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.  It is constructed in such a way that certain questions are sad, regretful, funny and hopeful all at once is something to behold.  Yes, there’s a lot of trickery happening here, so you need to appreciate that, but there’s also humanity, and understanding, and compassion.

5 – Peter Higgins – Wolfhound Century

I really liked how Higgins drew from Eastern European names and customs when creating his fantasy world.  I also liked the use of a detective/police officer as the primary character.  But much of it otherwise was a little flat for me, largely because the different characters didn’t have a lot of personality, and all kind of blended together for me.  The plot, as it started to ramp up, left me cold because of this.

4 – Albert Camus – The Outsider

My mother died in 2008, and when I first read this novella I thought about my own feelings in the days immediately following.  The Outsider is not a meditation on grief, and the protagonist’s mother’s death is never used as an excuse for his outlook or his behaviour, but nonetheless for me my own feelings are intertwined with this book, and colours it, and, in some senses, deepens certain aspects while, again at least for me, minimising others.

3 – Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings – Part Two

The climax of the book occurred.  I don’t know.  The writing has no colour to it, the characters have no personality to them, but the plot certainly exists.  That keeps me going, even though I find it a bit absurd at times (most of the time).

2 – Roberto Bolaño – Distant Star

An eternal writer, an eternal book.  I will write about this at length at some stage – but this is not that time.

1 – Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings – Part One

I suppose people read these books because the plot is good.  The first part of the first book needs to perform too much heavy lifting in order to put the 10 book series in its place, so, for me at least, this was quite the slog.

The first 10 books, in stat form:

  • Books by Nobel Prize winning writers – 2/10
  • Books by women writers – 3/10
  • Books translated from another language – 5/10
  • Books from the fantasy genre – 4/10
  • Books published by small presses – 2/10

Total statistics:

  • Books read for 2019 – 10
  • Books by Nobel Prize winning writers – 2/10
  • Books by women writers – 3/10
  • Books translated from another language – 5/10
  • Books from the fantasy genre – 4/10
  • Books published by small presses – 2/10

And the full list of books read were:

  • 10 – Herta Müller – Nadirs
  • 9 – Karolina Ramqvist – The White City (trans. Saskia Vogel)
  • 8 – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Dear Ijeawele or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
  • 7 – David Gemmell – Wolf in Shadow
  • 6 – Alejandro Zambra – Multiple Choice
  • 5 – Peter Higgins – Wolfhound Century
  • 4 – Albert Camus – The Outsider
  • 3 – Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings – Part Two
  • 2 – Roberto Bolaño – Distant Star
  • 1 – Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings – Part One
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5 thoughts on “Books, Read – Nos 1 – 10 of 2019

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