Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 Reading Year In Review

You know I can never write these posts until the 1st of the new year because I'm probably reading something at eight o'clock on New Year's Eve, and it might still be great...well, hello, Tom Jones!

Best of Year

We'll start out with the books that were new to me. Two of them were relatively recent releases. That's pretty good for me! (In the order I read them.)

Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (tr. David Slavitt)

I'd read Ariosto's Orlando Furioso before in a prose translation by Guido Waldman, and I'd liked it, but this was really a revelation. Rollicking and funny and done in the actual ottava rima that Ariosto used. If this is the only version you ever read, I did worry a bit about the liberties Slavitt took in his translation, plus the fact that it's only a little over half of the work, but if you want to read one of the lesser-known great classics and have a great time, this is a great choice!

(The remainder of Slavitt's translation of Ariosto was printed by a smaller press, and has been on my notional TBR since then, but I haven't read it...yet.)

Radio Iris by Anne-Marie Kinney

I really liked this novel when I read it in June, and I find it's particularly stuck to me since. It's a funny, almost Kafkaesque, novel about a woman (Iris) working in an office. Maybe the company is going bankrupt, but maybe it's a bit more surreal than that. We mostly see things through Iris' eyes, and she's quirky, somehow damaged, a bit affectless, but still engaging and engaged.

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

I had sort of been thinking of this as a year of Edith Wharton in any case, but the fall Classics Club spin brought this one to the fore. Undine Spragg, a girl from the provinces, claws her way up to something like success, leaving bodies metaphorical and actual along the way. Except when she gets there, she's not satisfied after all.

Oh, Undine Spragg, you are a villain.

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

I didn't get a chance to blog about this one. I'd put this on my library hold list earlier in the year, but it only got to me the week she won the Nobel Prize. I knew I wasn't going to be able to renew it. It's a shorter and easier read than Flights, which I read last year & liked, but I didn't want to race through it.

It's a mystery plot, ahem, suggestive of a certain well-known Agatha Christie novel. (No spoilers!) It's also engaged with environmental and animal-rights issues, as well as contemporary Polish politics.

Still, it's the plot and the voice of the narrator that make this so much fun.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

This was the Edith Wharton book I'd been intending to read all along--I'd put it down for my Back To The Classics challenge. And I was going to start it immediately after I finished the first, but then Cleo (thanks Cleo!) decided to hold a readalong and I waited. It was better to wait; the readalong was a lot of fun.

They make a good pair. Both Lily Bart, the heroine of this, and Undine Spragg are girls born to some wealth, but who want a lot more. But in every other way, they're different.

Two others I could equally have included are:

Claudio Magris' Snapshots


Olivia Manning's School For Love

Also some really great rereads:

Penelope Fitzgerald's The Gate of Angels
Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad
J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (blog post *probably* coming soon)


Oh, dear. Not a good year for challenges.

Let's concentrate on the successful ones, shall we? I went well over the top again this year with Gilion's European Reading Challenge. I successfully completed Bev's Read It Again, Sam Challenge. And I did respectably with Karen's Back to the Classics and Becky's Chunkster Challenge. And were there any other challenges? I'm sure I don't remember any other challenges...

Well, except for the perennial problem that my eyes were too big for my stomach, it was a good reading year. I continue to blog around half the books I read, which seems about where I've settled in.

I've signed up for a couple of challenges for the new year, and may do one or two more, though I'm feeling ever so slightly chastened.

Coming pretty soon...a best of the decade post.

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for reading!


  1. LOL re eyes/stomach reference!! all of these stimulate my curiosity gland... i've made a little list (they never will be missed_The Mikado) and maybe i can find some of them...

    1. Oh, the real danger of my eyes being too big for my stomach (which I got from my father) is when I walk into a book store or a book sale somewhere...too many challenges is less dangerous than that.

      Glad to make your little list a little less little!

  2. Oh, I have the same problem. I really enjoyed The Custom of the Country a lot; Undine Spragg is the best villain ever. I've got Drive Your Plow on my pile, I didn't know it was a fun book, and now I'm more excited :)

    1. Drive Your Plow is very different from Flights. Those are the two of hers I've read and they're very different. Drive Your Plow would have been a much gentler introduction...

  3. Happy New Year! I will never read Orlando Furioso for sure. It is enough for me to know it exists and to catch reference to it in other books. I am a dilettante, and I know it. I am, however, very interested in reading The Custom of the County now. And maybe a re-read of Tom Jones after all. :D

    1. And Happy New Year to you! I thought Custom of the Country was quite amazing. It's possible I even liked it better than House of Mirth, but then why choose?

      We'll get you to read Orlando Furioso yet!