A Year in Reading: Carolyn Quimby

2018 was the year I outgrew my bookshelves. Between my boyfriend and myself, we already had a lot of books but this year our shelves began to burst at the seams. Between reviewing gigs, landing on more publicity lists, and my propensity for buying books, there is just not enough space. Stacks of books have taken up residence on our headboard, next to my desk, on the floor next to the bed, on any flat surface we can find. I was not shocked by the swelling shelves as this was my first full year of reviewing books professionally. Sometimes it still feels weird to say my job (well, one of them) is reviewing books. A blessing with a rather wonderful downside: being assigned reviews means I have less time to read what I want when I want. Despite this, I was able to read some truly incredible books this year.

I kicked off 2018 with Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, which I read poolside on vacation. The stark difference between the collection’s tone and my physical setting was not lost on me. Everything that needs to be said about the book has already been said. All I’ll add is that it’s one of the best bodies of work (and debuts) I’ve ever read. Upon returning to the snowy tri-state area, I spent the seemingly never-ending winter making my way through a mishmash of books: Rebekah Frumkin’s The Comedown, an ambitious multi-generational epic from a writer to watch; Tayari Jones’ honest and searing An American Marriage; John Lewis’s March trilogy, which left me in tears; Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes (the smart, funny, and Rhimes-narrated audiobook is highly recommended); and Leïla Slimani’s claustrophobic and thrilling The Perfect Nanny.

In the summer, I escaped to the Catskills nearly every other weekend—sans wifi, cell service, and other people—and read. Whether it was on the porch, next to the wood burning stove, or over a cheese plate, I was curled up with a book. Said books included Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks, which was both gripping and timely; Rachel Cusk’s Outline, a sparse triumph ; Samantha Hunt’s genre-bending, achingly-poetic The Seas; Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s heartbreakingly empathetic The Fact of a Body; Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, which I devoured in nearly one sitting; and Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, a beautiful novel about banality.

Fall fell away in a flurry of pages and a stretch of indelible books. It started with R. O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries, a slim, luminous novel where every sentence felt like a carefully-crafted poem. I mean: “punch-stained red cups split underfoot, opening into plastic petals.” Nearly a week’s worth of commuting was spent savoring Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. A few essays made me openly weep on public transportation and I can think of no greater compliment. Essays gave way to post-apocalyptic debut with Ling Ma’s Severance—perhaps my favorite book published in 2018. Ma renders the peril and monotony at the end of the world with humor and heart. After passing its empty place on the library shelves for months, I finally borrowed André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name. It left me raw and with a desire to flee to Italy. Reading the novel felt like pressing on a bruise: painful and sweet. Sidelined with a cold, I waded then dove head first into Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a modern retelling of Antigone. And after avoiding it for far too long (and for no good reason), I picked up Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, which surpassed all expectations. In the midst of a depressive fog, the novel unlocked something inside me and buoyed me into December.

Looking back, I realize I mostly read women writers—not a conscious choice but a choice nonetheless. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of my best reading years in memory was slanted in such a way, and I suspect next year will look similar. Looking forward, I expect to read all the books I missed this year (there were many), and as 2019 books find their way into my mailbox, I am going to find new homes for some of our misfit books. Maybe even regain a flat surface or two, if we’re lucky.

More from A Year in Reading 2018

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2018 National Translation Award Longlist Celebrates Translated Works

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) announced the Poetry and Prose longlists for the 2018 National Translation Awards (NTA). In its twentieth year, the annual award celebrates translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction by examining “both the source text and its relation to the finished English work.”

Here are the two 2018 NTA longlists (with bonus links):



Poetry

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa; translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
Directions for Use by Ana Ristović; translated from the Serbian by Steven Teref and Maja Teref
Hackers by Aase Berg; translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio; translated from the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas
If I Were a Suicide Bomber by Per Aage Brandt; translated from the Danish by Thom Satterlee
Magnetic Point: Selected Poems by Ryszard Krynicki; translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh
My Lai by Carmen Berenguer; translated from the Spanish by Liz Henry
The Odyssey by Homer; translated from the Greek by Emily Wilson (An essay on Odysseys)
Oxygen: Selected Poems by Julia Fiedorczuk; translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
Sonic Peace by Kiriu Minashita; translated from the Japanese by Spencer Thurlow and Eric Hyett
Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems by Hirato Renkichi; translated from the Japanese by Sho Sugita
Third-Millennium Heart by Ursula Andkjær Olsen; translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen


Prose

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbún; translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
August by Romina Paula; translated from the Spanish by Jennifer Croft
Compass by Mathias Énard; translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (Featured in our own Lydia Kiesling’s 2017 Year in Reading)
Dandelions by Yasunari Kawabata; translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag; translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur
The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo; translated from the Korean by Janet Hong
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán; translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden (Fresán’s novel also won the 2018 Best Translated Book Award)
Italian Chronicles by Stendhal; translated from the French by Raymond N. MacKenzie
Moving the Palace by Charif Majdalani; translated from the French by Edward Gauvin
Old Rendering Plant by Wolfgang Hilbig; translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole
Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg; translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak
The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai; translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes, Ottilie Mulzet, and John Batki (The Millions‘ review)

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) will announce the 5-title shortlists in September.

As Good as Gold

Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient won the Golden Man Booker Prize, the one-off award celebrating the best work of fiction from the last five decades of the prize. About the prize, Ondaatje said “I wish in fact that those of us on this Man Booker list had been invited to propose and speak about what we felt were the overlooked classics—in order to enlarge what ought to be read, as opposed to relying on the usual suspects.” Read the rest of his illuminating and gracious speech over at Literary Hub