Today’s reflection on a year in reading is by Melanie (Mel) Nicholls. Mel is a bookseller at Barnes and Noble from Georgia. You can follow her on Twitter @nichollsm86 where she often tweets about…books!
I was pleased when Dorian asked to do a write up of my 2022 reading, as I enjoyed reading the entries from last year. My reading in 2022 was mainly fiction in translation and short stories. When choosing what to read I mostly pick up books I think I’ll enjoy. And this past year I definitely succeeded! Here are some of the standouts.
January started strong with two books that are new favorites. The haunting Ganbare! Workshops on Dying is by Katarzyna Boni (tr. Mark Ordon). Boni reports on the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tōhoku region of Japan and its aftermath. She offers accounts of the effects on survivors such as learning to scuba dive to help find bodies, a gripping account of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and stories of other devastating earthquakes in Japan’s history. A heartbreaking and timely work. I followed this with the NYRB Classics edition of Edith Wharton’s ghost stories, unsettling and eerily quiet hauntings. A book I could read every year. The novel Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson and the stories in Cars on Fire by Mónica Ramón Ríos (tr. Robin Myers), continued my excellent streak of reading for the first month of the year.
In February I began the readalong of Dorothy Richardson’s thirteen book sequence Pilgrimage. I really started to click with Miriam’s journey with book three and my top reading goal in 2023 is to finish the sequence. Other highlights include the classic Passing by Nella Larsen [Ed. – GOAT!] and the absolute gem Byobu by Ida Vitale (tr. Sean Manning), two books I’m sure I’ll find new meaning in each time I read them.
In March I read another top book of 2022, Blood Feast: The Complete Short Stories of Malika Moustadraf. These stories about gender and class in society are expertly translated by Alice Guthrie. The outstanding translator’s notes make this a book I hope to study more and highly recommend. April was another strong month with the beautiful novel When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà (tr. Mara Faye Lethem) and the terrific History of a Disappearance: The Forgotten Story of a Polish Town by Filip Springer (tr. Sean Gasper Bye). I ended this month with the masterpiece Woman Running in the Mountains by Yūko Tsushima (tr. Geraldine Harcourt) which I often think of with Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Both novels portray a woman’s yearning for freedom and Dorian’s podcast One Bright Pod has superb episodes for both books. [Ed. – Thank you! Of course, Frances and Rebecca are the really important members of the team.]
May and June were the months of absolute banger short books:
Yesterday by Juan Emar (tr. Megan McDowell)
They by Kay Dick
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
Spear by Nicola Griffith [Ed. – Curious to check this one out.]
An Ideal Presence by Eduardo Berti (tr. Daniel Levin Becker)
Permafrost by Eva Baltasar (tr. Julia Sanches)
Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin (tr. Anton Hur)
Pollak’s Arm by Hans von Trotha (tr. Elisabeth Lauffer)
The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century by Olga Ravn. (tr. Martin Aitken)
July’s standout is A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, a perfect novel. [Ed. – Absolutely agree.] August is one I look forward to every year because it is Women in Translation month. I continued this year with four writers whose translated work I am slowly making my way through: Annie Ernaux, Yoko Tawada, Natalia Ginzburg, and Banana Yoshimoto. Another highlight was the collection Panics by Barbara Molinard (tr. Emma Ramada). Molinard was a close friend of Marguerite Duras and would destroy most of her writing. [Ed. – Thanks, uh, “friend”…] These bizarre and grotesque stories are a must read. Two books translated from Croatian, Call Me Esteban by Lejla Kalamujic (tr. Jennifer Zoble) and Divine Child by Tatjana Gromača (tr. Will Firth) from the new small press of translated fiction Sandorf Passage, were also excellent.
The last few months of the year offered standouts in nonfiction. I love Elaine Castillo’s debut novel America is Not the Heart and she delivers again with the essays in How to Read Now. This book, along with A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, This Little Art by Kate Briggs, The Missing Pieces by Henri Lefebvre (tr. David L. Sweet), and Voice of the Fish by Lars Horn, left me with a new appreciation for reading, translation, writing, and art. All are books I will come back to often. Other wonders at the end of the year include some short-but-mighty translated novellas: Space Invaders by Nona Fernández (tr. Natasha Wilmer), Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (trs. Richard and Clara Winston), A Woman’s Battles and Transformation by Édouard Louis (trs. Tash Aw) and Rogomelec by Leonor Fini (trs. William Kulik and Serena Shanken Skwersky). I’ll close with Nettleblack by Nat Reeves, a playful novel of queer awakening among strange crimes in a Victorian rural town.The most fun I had reading in a while, just a joy to read. [Ed. – Sounds great!] My reading has changed over the last couple of years as I have discovered more translated fiction, small press, and Book Twitter. I am excited to see where my 2023 reading will take me and to share the wonders. [Ed. – You’re welcome back next year, Mel!]
Better late than never, they say. I just now discovered the One Bright Book podcast through this reading list, and just looking at the episodes, I know that I have been missing out. So glad I found it.
Oh how nice, Daphna. I hope you find something interesting there.
Wait, wait, wait, Leonor Fini wrote a novel? Off to the library I go – also to find that Molinard book.