Last year went by in such a rush that I was surprised to look back on my list of 2013 blog posts and find I’d read so many fun books that it was difficult to pick favorites. Of course that’s partly because I abandon a lot of books I don’t like, skewing my public results, but it’s largely because publishers and publicists have been sending me so many good books. That’s especially nice because many of them are books I’d never hear about otherwise. The only downside is that I rarely seem to get to all the books I buy at the bookstore and the annual library book sale! Anyway, without further fuss, here are some favorites from 2013…
Favorite Lost Classics. I only read a couple in 2013 but I loved them both: Pitigrilli’s 1921 Cocaine, translated by Eric Mosbacher (previous post), and Antal Szerb’s 1937 Journey by Moonlight, translated by Len Rix (previous post). I noted some surface similarities in my post about Cocaine: “decadence between the World Wars… humor, soul searching, friends who become monks, and sad endings.” I’d recommend both.
Favorite Book Written in English. Probably J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (previous post), another between-the-wars book. This one got short shrift here because of my summer travel; I particularly enjoyed the combination of melancholy and humor. (That seems to be a constant…)
Favorite Book Translated by Someone I Know. Inga Ābele’s High Tide, which I read in Kaija Straumanis’s translation (previous post), was a stealth favorite in 2013: with its backwards chronology and blend of characters, the book couldn’t have been easy to translate but Kaija’s English version reads beautifully.
Overall Favorite. I think my top book for 2013 has to be Arnon Grunberg’s Tirza, translated by Sam Garrett: I called it “a spectacularly compelling portrayal of a spectacularly awful personal breakdown” in my previous post. And the book has stuck with me: thanks to Grunberg’s ability to convey both melancholy and humor (there they are again!), I can still see and hear Jörgen Hofmeester in all his anti-glory. Though Tirza was my clear favorite, I did have to stop and think about two other books (yes, they’re also funny-and-sad), just to be sure I was sure: Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray, translated by Angela Rodel (previous post), and Bragi Ólafsson’s The Pets, translated by Janice Balfour (previous post).
Up Next. Who knows what the rest of 2014 will bring, but it got off to a great start with Pedro Mairal’s The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra, which makes me happy because it’s from a new publisher, New Vessel Press, that specializes in translations. Doubly happy because I seem to read quite a few books from publishers that focus on translations. Two others books are waiting to be written up: Donald Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers, which I also liked quite a bit, and Romain Slocombe’s Monsieur Le Commandant, another one that gets a thumbs up.
Disclosures: The usual. Individual previous posts include individual disclosures about books.