October 28 marks the day when I read 100 books for the year.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of what I read –
Books written by men – 81
Books written by women – 19
Translated works – 70
Nobel Prize winning works – 21
Books by Small Presses – 46
Fantasy novels – 5
Average pages – 168 pages
So let’s analyse the above
Obviously the glaring, massive, disappointing issue is the percentage of women writers compared to men. It’s not good enough and I am honestly surprised. If I was asked I would have said perhaps 40%, but here we are under 20% for the year.
I need to do better. I have enough books written by women to dramatically improve these numbers.
The next book, which I am almost done at the time of writing this, was written by a woman, but that would only take the year from 19% to 19.8%. Lots and lots of work here to do.
Some of the notable women writers I have read this year include the incomparable Marguerite Duras. I prefer her late works, which are sparse, pristine, close to formless. Open Letter publish a number of these and I would strongly, strongly recommend checking out her work.
I like Rachel Cusk, but A Life’s Work is not a book I connected with particularly well. In it, Cusk grapples with being pregnant and then having a child. And I mean, she really grapples with it. To the point where she struggles with whether or not she hates her child while loving it. And, for me, with a very young child, I just found it too much. I don’t love/hate my child, and I haven’t struggled with parenting. Perhaps when she’s 10 and I am distanced from the baby-phase I might be able to read such a book dispassionately, but alas at this stage in my life I cannot.
Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth was very strong. Boiled down it’s an historical dialogue between a famous man and an unknown (to us, historically) woman. They discuss art, love, life and it’s all absolutely fascinating.
Otherwise, 70% being translated work seems about right. I certainly actively go out of my way to read translated work, and this is shown here. I would anticipate most years of my life would show 60-80% translated books, particularly now that my Updike/Bellow/Roth obsession of my twenties appears to be over.
Nobel Prize winners at 21 is fine. I have no real goal here other than I want to read as many as I can. One book in five seems fine, fine, fine. I’m drawn to novellas, as can be seen above, and it sometimes seems that most Nobel writers write big chunky bois.
Small Presses at 46% is good. I’d like to push that up to 50%, but I’m fine with where it is. Special shout-out as always to Open Letter, which make up 12 of the books I’ve read this year. They are doing excellent work. Other big hitters for me is Dalkey Archive Press and New Directions. The stalwarts, in other words.
Fantasy at 5 books is ok. I want it lower than 10% and here we are. Not much to say here. I tend to use fantasy as a way to kickstart my reading slumps and get me back into literature, but at times I’ll really dive deep into fantasy. Not this year, as we can see – though I have bought a simply enormous amount of books in the SF Masterworks and Fantasy Masterworks series. One day.
The average pages strikes me as slightly lower than I thought, but broadly speaking about right. I have a fondness for novellas. I have for years and I will continue to do so. The kind of literature I enjoy most explores an idea fully and then gets out of the way. That’s a novella.
So what does the rest of the year bring? Likely twenty more books. And they really, really need to be more heavily female. I’ve disappointed myself here, and with only two months left in the year I don’t really see how I rectify this in any meaningful way. Reading 20 books, all by women, before the year ends, still only puts me at one third written by females. Which I mean is better but c’mon.
At any rate, reading is not a numbers game, or not entirely so. I have not engaged in enough reading projects this year (ie – Spanish writers, Holocaust literature, Oulipo, etc), and this is something I’d like to do more of. Twitter is aflutter with reading projects and months devoted to a country or language or theme. And sure, that’s pretty great. But I chafe under the rope of another individual’s project, and so I will go it alone, reading, reading, reading.
But definitely reading more women.
Update – And here are the books
|Barthes, Roland||Camera Lucida||28 October 2020|
|Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa||Weep Not, Child||27 October 2020|
|Handke, Peter||Don Juan||25 October 2020|
|Zweig, Stefan||Journeys||28 September 2020|
|Darrieussecq, Marie||Our Life in the Forest||26 September 2020|
|Leiber, Fritz||Swords Against Wizardry||26 September 2020|
|Eaves, Will||Murmur||24 September 2020|
|Didion, Joan||South and West||24 September 2020|
|Pessoa, Fernando||Selected Poems||5 September 2020|
|Calvino, Italo||Invisible Cities||3 September 2020|
|Bataille, Georges||Story of the Eye||2 September 2020|
|Aira, Cesar||Dinner||1 September 2020|
|Greene, Graham||Doctor Fischer of Geneva||31 August 2020|
|Ionescu, Anamaria||Zodiac||31 August 2020|
|Beckett, Samuel||The Lost Ones||26 August 2020|
|Madej, Ryan||The Marianas Trench||26 August 2020|
|King, Stephen||The Gunslinger||25 August 2020|
|Eliot, T. S.||Murder in the Cathedral||25 August 2020|
|Bolano, Roberto||The Spirit of Science Fiction||16 August 2020|
|Perec, Georges||An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris||16 August 2020|
|Levi, Primo||Moments of Reprieve||15 August 2020|
|Origo, Iris||A Chill in the Air||11 August 2020|
|Beckett, Samuel||Dante and the Lobster||9 August 2020|
|Pilch, Jerzy||A Thousand Peaceful Cities||8 August 2020|
|Saer, Juan Jose||The One Before||7 August 2020|
|Togawa, Masako||The Master Key||6 August 2020|
|Sebald, W. G.||Campo Santo||5 August 2020|
|Gappah, Petina||An Elegy for Easterly||3 August 2020|
|Bolano, Roberto||By Night in Chile||31 July 2020|
|Vila-Matas, Enrique||Because She Never Asked||30 July 2020|
|Armitage, Samuel||Book of Matches||29 July 2020|
|Coleridge, Samuel Taylor||The Rime of the Ancient Mariner||23 July 2020|
|Review of Contemporary Fiction||Georges Perec Issue||22 July 2020|
|Hamsun, Knut||Victoria||22 July 2020|
|Cusk, Rachel||A Life’s Work||21 July 2020|
|Sirieix, Fred||Secret Service||17 July 2020|
|Roth, Philip||Zuckerman Unbound||11 July 2020|
|Whitehead, Colson||Apex Hides the Hurt||10 July 2020|
|Xingjian, Gao||The case for literature||25 June 2020|
|Roth, Philip||The Ghost Writer||23 June 2020|
|Beckett, Samuel||The Expelled and Other Novellas||22 June 2020|
|Mieville, China||Iron Council||22 June 2020|
|Fernandez Mallo, Agustin||Nocilla Experience||16 June 2020|
|Turner, David||Victorian and Edwardian Railway Travel||13 June 2020|
|Nors, Dorthe||Mirror, Shoulder, Signal||9 June 2020|
|Modiano, Renzo||Of Jewish Race||4 June 2020|
|Ondjaki||The Whistler||3 June 2020|
|Sosnowski, Andrzej||Lodgings||2 June 2020|
|Navarro, Elvira||A Working Woman||1 June 2020|
|Modiano, Patrick||Honeymoon||1 June 2020|
|France, Anatole||Balthasar||31 May 2020|
|Baudelaire, Charles||The Flowers of Evil||26 May 2020|
|Wolf, Christa||No Place on Earth||26 May 2020|
|Brecht, Bertolt||Mother Courage and her Children||22 May 2020|
|Mella, Daniel||Older Brother||21 May 2020|
|Azam, Maryam||The Hijab Files||19 May 2020|
|Tenev, Georgi||Party Headquarters||18 May 2020|
|Alexievich, Svetlana||Zinky Boys||17 May 2020|
|Rey Rosa, Rodrigo||Severina||16 May 2020|
|Hesse, Hermann||Journey to the East||14 May 2020|
|Neruda, Pablo||Selected Poems||13 May 2020|
|Heaney, Seamus||New Selected Poems 1966-1987||12 May 2020|
|Baudelaire, Charles||Paris Spleen||9 May 2020|
|Duras, Marguerite||L’Amour||7 May 2020|
|Erikson, Steven||Gardens of the Moon||6 May 2020|
|Holub, Miroslav||Vanishing Lung Syndrome||6 May 2020|
|Krasznahorkai, Laszlo||Satantango||30 April 2020|
|Maupassant, Gu de||Pierre and Jean||29 April 2020|
|Barba, Andres||Such Small Hands||28 April 2020|
|Camus, Albert||The Plague||28 April 2020|
|Watson, Holly||Never Seen the Sea||26 April 2020|
|Saat, Mari||The Saviour of Lasnamae||25 April 2020|
|Saramago, Jose||All the Names||23 April 2020|
|Sebald, W. G.||Vertigo||18 April 2020|
|Ogawa, Yoko||The Housekeeper and the Professor||15 April 2020|
|Modiano, Patrick||Sleep of Memory||14 April 2020|
|Rothes, Joshua||The Art of the Great Dictators||19 March 2020|
|Pizarnik, Alejandra||The Galloping Hour||17 March 2020|
|Camus, Albert||The Outsider||16 March 2020|
|Bidart, Frank||Half-Light – Collected Poems||15 March 2020|
|Rilke, Rainer Maria||Sonnets to Orpheus||14 March 2020|
|de Juan, Jose Luis||Napoleon’s Beekeeper||12 March 2020|
|Modiano, Patrick||The Search Warrant||9 March 2020|
|Mieville, China||The Scar||8 March 2020|
|Transtromer, Tomas||The Half-Finished Heaven||2 March 2020|
|Igov, Angel||A Short Tale of Shame||20 February 2020|
|Wolf, Ror||Two or Three Years Later||11 February 2020|
|Vollmann, William T||Whores for Gloria||6 February 2020|
|Kadare, Ismail||Broken April||5 February 2020|
|Mahfouz, Naguib||Miramar||4 February 2020|
|Duras, Marguerite||Abahn Sabana David||3 February 2020|
|Ljubic, Nicol||Stillness of the Sea||3 February 2020|
|Mariani, Lucio||Traces of Time||1 February 2020|
|Duras, Marguerite||Yann Andrea Steiner||30 January 2020|
|Blatnik, Andrej||You Do Understand||24 January 2020|
|Nordbrandt, Henrik||When we Leave Each Other||23 January 2020|
|Zambra, Alejandro||Multiple Choice||16 January 2020|
|Hazan, Eric||A History of the Barricade||9 January 2020|
|Hesse, Hermann||Poems||6 January 2020|
|Zambra, Alejandro||The Private Life of Trees||2 January 2020|
2 thoughts on “2020 in Review – the first 100 Books”
A lot of great titles in there…. ;D
oh, it’s been an ok year of reading. Nose to the grindstone and all that.