Category: Literature

Best Books of 2023

Posted January 31, 2024 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

One of my favourite things about the end of December and the beginning of January is seeing everyone’s best of lists. It seems like the only times I have posted on my blog are to share my best of lists of 2022 but once again, I am hoping to get back into posting more frequently. The most important first post of the year will be my best books of 2023. I am trying not to complain about my reading lately, and my goal for 2024 is just to have fun and enjoy my reading experiences. I do wish I read more in 2023 but I do have to say that I am very happy with this top 10 list.

10. Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez (translated by Megan McDowell)
I absolutely love Mariana Enríquez’s short stories; they are a blend of gothic horror told from a feminist viewpoint that depict the harsh sociopolitical realities that women face every day. Our Share of Night is her first full length novel to be translated into English and it is an overly ambitious one. This is a 700+ horror novel that is set through out the different Argentinean dictatorships. Enríquez uses the horror genre to explore the horrific nature of dictatorships and the effects they have on the people. If I was able to understand more of what each metaphor or scene symbolised, I am sure I would have loved this book more, but those horrors still sit in my brain, and I know I will need to reread in the future.

9. Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (translated by Angela Rodel)
The winner of the International Booker Prize this year and I had a lot of fun with this, even if I think it kind of waned in the last few chapters. I think this is an exciting novel about human connection, it focuses on a clinic designed to help people with dementia and other memory issues. But this clinic uses a relic that makes their patients believe they are living in the world of their younger selves. This novel may be clever but, sometimes I think it is too clever for its own good.

8. King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne)
This is a manifesto of pure feminist rage. Drawing from her own experiences, Despentes investigates sex work and porn, through a feminist lens. This is a book about the exploitation and sexual assaults on women, not just in sex work but all over the world. This is a gritty, emotional collection of essays and one that will sit with me forever. No words of mine could ever do this book any justice, so I will leave a quote from the author; “I write from the realms of the ugly, for the ugly, the frigid, the unfucked and the unfuckables, all those excluded from the great meat market of female flesh, and for all those guys who don’t want to be protectors, for those who would like to be but don’t know how, for those who are not ambitious, competitive, or well-endowed. Because this ideal of the seductive white woman constantly being waved under our noses – well, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist.”

7. Miss Kim Knows and Other Stories by Cho Nam-joo (translated by Jamie Chang)
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 remains a favourite of mine, it was one of those books, I finished and wanted to reread right away. In fact, I found the audiobook and listened to it with my wife while we travelled. It was a powerful book and when I saw this collection of short stories based around the book, I picked it up right away. I didn’t even know this existed until I randomly saw it in my local indie bookstore. This is what I loved about Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 but expended to different age groups, a mixture of different microcosms; a story set in a school, a work place, even one that is capturing growing old. I think Cho Nam-joo has found her style and I want to see more stories like this.

6. An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans (translated by David Colmer)
This is a novel I knew nothing about, but it was so mesmerising and haunting that I think maybe Hermans should be judged alongside authors like Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut. Set in World War II, this book follows a Dutch soldier that is so exhausted from the war, that he finds an abandoned hour and just decided to inhabit it. This is a dark meditation on survival, the horrors of war and I found it both profound and unsettling.

5. Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder
We all know who George Orwell is, but how much do we know about his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy? Anne Funder decided to research more about her and what she found was very depressing. Of the six biographies she read that were written about George Orwell, there is little to no information about his wife. Almost like she had no importance, and yet the more Funder researched the more she how just how much of an impact Eileen had in shaping some of the greatest works written by Orwell. This is an exploration of just one of many unsung women whose work goes unnoticed and never mentioned in the background of these so-called great men’s lives.

4. Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel (translated by Rosalind Harvey)
I probably only read about half of the International Booker Prize longlist of 2023, but this is the one that I wanted to win. It reminded me of Ariana Harwicz’s Die, My Love, but maybe less depressing. This is a novel of Alina and Laura who have decided they didn’t want to have children; they wanted to enjoy life. Although, things change for Alina and then we are struck with the horrors of a complicated pregnancy. This is a very emotional book, and so much is happening in this novel. I have only read one other book from Guadalupe Nettel (After the Winter) which I also recommend but I know I want to read them all.

3. Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens by Shankari Chandran
Normally when I get given a book to read from my book club, I’m a little nervous. Not that I hate most of them, I just tend to like what everyone else dislikes. Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award this year, so I knew this was a popular pick, so I went in a little worried, but this was an extraordinary book. It is very Australian, but it also really focuses on the systemic racism that has been built into the Australian culture. Looking at the way the White Australia Policies of the past has started to really shape the country now and the effects that racism has on a small Sri Lankan run retirement home. This is not a feel good read as the cover and title might lead you to believe.

2. Loop by Brenda Lozano (translated by Annie McDermott)
It is so hard to explain this novel, so much is happening, but nothing is happening. This is a narrative following the life of a woman waiting for her boyfriend to return from his trip from Spain. She buys a notebook and begins writing down her every thought and feelings. On the surface it just feels like an insight into her diary, but there is something deeper happening here. We are getting a look into her thoughts on the world, love, relationships, music and her writing process.

1. This is Not Miami by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes)
This is my first experience with the literary genre known as cronicás, a genre that blends journalism with fiction. I now need to read more of this style of writing. There is something about the way these stories blend humour with facts, but is told it in almost a conversational tone, I need more of this, and I need recommendations. Fernanda Melchor delivers her usual dark and creepy style but because of this literary genre, this might be my favourite of her books (so far).

On The Books That Made Us

Posted January 12, 2023 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation once aired a three-part special called The Books That Made Us. In this series acclaimed actor Claudia Karvan looked at the books that best defines our nation, Australia, under three topics: People, Place and Power. With over twenty books being used to form the Australian identity. This was a wonderful starting point to exploring Australian literature, I just with there was more.  

While I am not a big Australian literature reader, I really enjoyed the experience. I know I should read more literary works from my own country; I am just focused on my own niche of literature. I was surprised to discover books I hadn’t heard of before that I want to read, like They’re a Weird Mob by Nino Culotta and Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy. 

The series opened with the book that divides the country, a book I absolutely adored, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I think this was the perfect book to open the series with, just because it is one that caused readers so many different reactions. Though Claudia Karvan telling Christos Tsiolkas she didn’t like the book was a surprise, but I think he handled it well. I am sure he has heard all kinds of criticisms about the book but is probably happy to have written something that gets talked about so often.  

I have only read six of the books that were mentioned in The Books That Made Us, and highlights for me include The Slap, Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko and The Yield by Tara June Winch. The other three were The Choke by Sofie Laguna, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood and Crimes of the Father by Thomas Keneally. I enjoyed the variety of books being talked about and while I will probably never read something like Big Little Lies by Liana Moriarty or Honeybee by Craig Silvey, it did make me question if I should try Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey & Kathy Lette.  

I had a lot of fun watching this short series and want it to keep going but I also wonder what books define other countries, or even continents. As someone that loves world literature, I began wondering which books I would include to define the continents of the world. Europe has so many well-known pieces of literature, but which English, French or Russian classic would you put on that list? I thought Europe would be the easiest list to create (because it has so much popular literature), but the only book I could think of that should be on a list to define Europe was Older Brother by Mahir Guven (translated by Tina Kover). I would add that book because of the way it explores outsiders trying to integrate into European society, plus it goes into religious and political division in a country, even in a family.  

The Books That Made Us was a great series that reminded me that my exploration into world literature should include more works for Australian authors. If I was to pick a few books mentioned in the show to read soon, it would include The Lebs by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Monkey Grip by Helen Garner, Carpentaria by Alexis Wright and That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott. If you find an opportunity to watch The Books That Made Us I hope you give it a go, I am not sure if it is available outside of Australia anywhere. Nor do I know if it is relevant to many non-Australian readers but I wanted to document my thoughts on this series. The show went on to get two AACTA nominations (the The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards), one for Best Documentary or Factual Program and the other for Best Direction in Nonfiction Television.  

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Best of 2022

Posted January 4, 2023 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Film & Television, Literature / 3 Comments

It’s that time of year again where I tell myself I need to get back into blogging. I love talking about literature, and I tend to express my opinions on every social media platform known to humankind. However, I admit that I hate rewatching my old videos, and I never go back and listen to my podcast. This blog is meant to be a place to store my thoughts and remind myself of all the books I have read. In another attempt to get back into the habit, here I am, once again making it a new year’s resolution.  

2022 was not the best year for me when it comes to my reading journey, I read 63 books. While I have stopped making it a goal to read ‘x’ amount of books, it is hard not to compare myself with previous years. Honestly, I would love to read more, and I set myself a page goal on Storygraph of 20,000 pages. I fell short of this goal in 2022 by a few hundred pages, I am not worried, it is not important. What is important is the amount of books I enjoyed. Yes, this is the obligatory best of 2022 post, I am going to not only give you my top five books, but I want to expand and share my favourite movies, tv shows and music.  

Favourite Books 

  • Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro (translated by Frances Riddle) 
  • Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie 
  • The Forgery by Ave Barrera (translated by Ellen Jones & Robin Myers) 
  • The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft) 
  • Boy Parts by Eliza Clark 

Elena Knows was the highlight of the year. While it was one of the first books read in 2022, it is the one I think about the most. I really hope more from Claudia Piñeiro gets translated into English, I want to read everything she has written.  I am late to the party for Kamila Shamsie and I read Best of Friends because of a book club, so I will be trying Home Fire in the very near future.  

Honourable mention needs to be given to Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by Adrian Nathan West), The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen and Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. Looking at all these honourable mentions makes me wonder if I read enough translations this year, so I had to check my spreadsheet and only 30% of my reading were books in translation. 2022 was also the year I read Bear by Marian Engel, if you know you know.  

I have no real reading goals for 2023, I would like to enjoy my reading and maybe get into the habit of reading longer books. I always tell myself quality over quantity, but my brain keeps rejecting that.  

Favourite Films 

  • Everything Everywhere All at Once 
  • Broker 
  • The Menu 
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth 
  • Nightmare Alley 

Letterboxd has been helping me keep track of all my film watching, I watched 72 movies and 59 of them were new to me. In 2023 I hope to get to the cinema more, I love the experience and I would like to see more foreign films, which I find easier at the cinema where I am not being distracted by my phone.  

Favourite TV shows 

  • Our Flag Means Death 
  • Somebody Somewhere 
  • Heartbreak High 
  • A League of Their Own 
  • Yellowjackets 

I had a hard time remembering what I enjoyed this year in television. I feel like this list is not accurate but in 2023 maybe I’ll do a better job at tracking the TV shows I watched and enjoyed.  

Favourite New Albums 

  • Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos (1992) 
  • For Those That Wish To Exist by Architects (2021) 
  • Melodrama by Lorde (2017) 
  • Entertainment! by Gang of Four (1979) 
  • ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ by Ministry (1992) 

This is not an accurate depiction of my music taste; these are just five albums I listened to this year and realised I liked. I have been using the 1001 albums generator to make my way through the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die list. I am terrible at finding new music, so I have been making more of an effort. Who knows, maybe after I complete this list, I will even try some new releases.  

2023 Plans 

In 2023, my main goal is to get back into blogging, and I might post about more than literature. Who knows what will happen, maybe I will redesign this blog, maybe I will forget all about it. In 2022, I got a new job and I am unsure what the future looks like in this company. I plan to take advantage of any training opportunities and continue my journey of self-improvement. This career has meant I had to brush up on some of my technical skills, and maybe that will translate into some new skills. Personally, I would love to learn more about the data analysis side of this business, and maybe learn some new skills that I could use on my reading spreadsheet.  

The Invisible Cities Tag

Posted December 2, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

This year The Invisible Cities Project has been so much fun. I have really enjoyed watching what people have been reading from around the world and even trying some new food to eat. I would have liked to do more world cinema but sometimes it is hard to concentrate on the subtitles when you have easy access to a phone, this is why I prefer to see these films at a cinema. I am excited to see what 2022 will bring for the project. In January we will be talking about books, food, cinema from Algeria and Singapore before heading to Guyana and Uganda in February.

As we head into the last month of 2021, we are hoping to find some more time to relax a bit and catch up on our reading goals, I know I have plenty of countries still to catch up on. In addition to that, December is traditionally the month of “end-of-the-year” book lists, tags, and recaps, so we are also announcing our very own Invisible Cities tag!

This tag emerged from our internal host discussions about the future of the project and our experiences during this year, and we realized that it would more interesting and worthwhile to open this discussion up to our community, so we decided to create a tag.

You can join in on the discussion by making your own video, social media/blog post (please use the hashtag #InvisibleCitiesProject) and/or sharing your answers in the dedicated channel on our discord server.

Below are the questions (and my answers)

What’s your favourite book from all the ones you read for the Invisible Cities?

One of my favourite books from the year has to be Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated by Elisabeth Jaquette), which was my pick for Palestine. This was such an intense and powerful read and I hope many people had the opportunity to pick this novel up for this reading project, or for any other reason.

Which author that you read for Invisible Cities are you interested in reading more from?

This is a hard question to answer because there are so many great authors out there. I read Mariana Enríquez for Argentina and I am eager to read what ever has been translated from her. Other authors would include Yu Miri, Melba Escobar and Bae Suah.

What’s a non-book related favourite (food, music, movie) you discovered via the Invisible Cities?

I love some of the food my wife made for this project, I think it was so much fun to explore different cuisines while reading books from these countries. I am not sure which was my favourite, but the first thing that came to my mind was the Madagascan vanilla curry.

Any countries you read from for the first time?

This the joy of this reading project, I would love to read from every country in the world. I think this year was the first time I’ve read from Madagascar and Palestine.

A geographic area/country you want to explore more?

I think I need to focus more on Africa. Europe and Asia probably have the most translations and I have spent so much time in South America. Would love to see more translations from Australian countries, especially some of the aboriginal languages.

Recommend one woman in translation book you read for the project.

I tried to focus on reading women in translation, so I think most of my books would work for this prompt, but can I direct you to Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated by Elisabeth Jaquette) again?

Do you have any Invisible Cities goals for next year? (reading goals or other activities/media)

I want to do better at keeping up with all the countries. My finances made it difficult this year and I had to rely mainly on the library and Scribd for accessibility, but I am hoping that next year would be easier. I love this project and I am surprised I am still a host after my 2021 efforts.

For more information about this project you can check out my post here: 2021 Reading Project: Invisible Cities

Join the Invisible Cities Discord community here: Discord Invite

Or join the Invisible Cities reading challenge on Storygraph: Invisible Cities

Recommend me some essay collections

Posted November 10, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo and in the past I have harvested the desire to write a novel but my brain doesn’t work like that. I don’t have the ability to write anything to pad out an idea; like scenery or dialogue. As much as I want to be a writer, I don’t think I can write fiction. I think non-fiction or blogging is better suited for by writing style, but I’m a little out of practice, I am trying to get back into the habit of writing more blog posts. I want to improve and to do that I need to write more. I’m still reading Not to Read by Alejandro Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell), I read an essay and sit with it for a while, in awe of his writing style and it makes me doubt my abilities. This is a person that I wish I could write like.

I should read more essay collections and just absorb their style and learn from them. I recently picked up Lucy Ellmann’s essay collection Things Are Against Us and really enjoyed it. I loved her novel Ducks, Newburyport, the way she expresses her anger frustration with the world and her life really drove that book and she delivers that same feeling in Things Are Against Us. Ellmann has this amazing ability to blend anger and humour, she expresses her frustrations in such a way that keeps you reading and wanting to know more. These essays give off “angry feminist” vibes and for good reason. She is angry and frustrated with the patriarchy and she wants to express that.

Things Are Against Us is not the reason for this post. What I’m asking for is essay collection recommendations. I love the collections that I’ve mentioned, and I want to read more, I want to learn from their style. For example, I love In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, I think it’s one of the best books I have read in a long time, and I love the way she uses different styles with her essays. I want to learn by reading more essay collections and I want people to recommend their favourites. It doesn’t have to be bookish, there are many great writers out in the world, and I’d like to learn a little from them. If I look at the essay collections I have read, the majority of them are bookish, like Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, Through the Window by Julian Barnes, The Complete Pollysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornsby and The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. The only collection that I haven’t mentioned is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was such a hard-hitting book, but one I still think about.

I know I can read books like The Best Australian Essays, and I probably should read more of them. I am looking more of a collection by a single writer, to allow me to get to know their style and learn more about them. I find that these collections often follow a theme and that really helps me stay invested in the book. I know this is probably not an interesting blog post, but I hope you will recommend me something.

Non-Fiction November Week 2: Book Pairings

Posted November 8, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

I am going to continue doing the prompts for Non-Fiction November, as one of my exercises in getting back into blogging. This week’s prompt is hosted by Doing Dewey and it is Book Pairings. I am not sure how well I will go with this but I will attempt to pair a few non-fiction books with some other media.

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann

I will start off easy here, but if you loved Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann you should really check out this essay collection. As it is the same author you get the same anger and frustration in both. Ellmann is not happy with the way women are treated in the patriarchy and she will let you know, however she has this dry sense of humour that really works well in her writing. I enjoy her style and need to read some her older novels.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Remember the English TV show Black Books? Don’t watch it now if you’ve never seen it because turns out the creator is a TERF, however this memoir is a good alternative. Shaun Bythell owns a secondhand bookstore in Wigtown, Scotland called The Bookshop and he has a bit of a snarky personality. This is a collection of humorous stories about book selling, the eclectic people that visit the store and the constant battle with Amazon. Bythell has written two more similar books but I am yet to read them.

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Keith Gessen)

I have not seen the HBO miniseries Chernobyl but it is on my list. I am confident enough to recommend the pairing because this book by Svetlana Alexievich is credited as part of the research material used to write the show. In particular, the book was used to help capture the how the Pripyat locals reacted to this disaster.

At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell

If you’ve read and enjoyed any novels by an existentialist then this is worth reading. Novels like The Stranger by Albert Camus, Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre or The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir. This book looks at the lives of these philosophers and the philosophies they created. This is a fascinating read, and a great way to see how their lives, the way and other philosophical ideas, such as Phenomenology, help shaped their ways of thinking.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Finishing this list off with another easy one, but if you’ve been listening to the podcast Backlisted then I’m sure you already know about this book. The podcast is hosted by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller and they talk about older, forgotten books. I have to wonder if Miller’s book was a key factor in creating this podcast, particularly when The Guardian described his book as “a heroic and amusing attempt to get back to the classics”.

I know I need to read more non-fiction, there is so much to read but I really struggled to come up with decent pairings. I really wanted to recommend In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado but could not find anything similar and that is part of the beauty of that book.

Non-Fiction November Week 1: My Year in Non-Fiction

Posted November 2, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 6 Comments

I saw this over at Reading In Bed, and I thought I would join in; it’s this week’s #NonFicNov prompts which is being hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction. I have been really in the mood for some non-fiction and thought it would be a good excuse to join in this event, and hopefully help motivate me to blog more. The prompt revolves around my year in non-fiction, which I admit has not been too great. My whole reading year has been a struggle, and I have read less than I normally would. Which means, I have not picked up much non-fiction, but what I have read, I’ve really enjoyed. So, I thought I would quickly highlight the non-fiction books I have read.

Sex and Lies by Leïla Slimani (translated by Sophie Lewis)

Leïla Slimani is a Franco-Moroccan author and journalist who while on a book tour decided to interview woman about their experiences with sex. When talking about sex, we often only get a western perspective (or this could be a cultural bias), so it was interesting to read some thoughts from Moroccan women. The books offered insights into the thoughts and expectations of these Arab women, while Slimani collected these stories, she also added some relevant statistics.

The Women’s Doc by Caroline De Costa

If it wasn’t for book club, I might have never read this book. Caroline De Costa is a controversial name here in Australia as a reproductive rights activist, mainly for her vocal support towards Mifepristone (RU486) which at the time was not available here. This book is a memoir of her working life, five decades as an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.

Ex Libris, 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

I love books about books, but there is something about the subtitle of this one that really bugged me. In the 100+ books Kakutani mentioned, there was a large amount dedicated to American history and political. I find this to be a problem with Americans in general; not everyone lives in America! There is a world outside of America, and while some knowledge of your country can be useful, not everyone wants to read and reread these books.

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann

I loved Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks Newburyport, so I was excited to see this essay collection from her and she did not disappoint. This is a collection of 14 essays in which she unleashes her anger and frustration at the world. Ellmann has a great way of blending humour and anger together, and this collection covers topics on feminism, media, politics, labour, and the environment.

The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen (Translated by Tiina Nunnally & Michael Favala Goldman)

This is a collection of three short memoirs, Childhood, Youth and Dependency, covering a large part of Ditlevsen’s life. Stay tuned because there will be an episode of the Lost in Translations podcast on this book.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This might be my favourite book of the year; it was such an amazing read. This is a memoir of an abusive relationship, but Machado has done an amazing job in the way she wrote this book. Each chapter is written in a different style, using a series of narrative tropes to tell the story. What I really loved about this book is the way it is told in the second person as a way of letting the reader know they aren’t the only person suffering from abuse.

I am not planning on spending the entire month reading non-fiction but I have a few books lined up that I would really like to read, starting with Who Gets to Be Smart by Bri Lee. I am terrible at planning so I cannot reveal anything more, except the fact that Who Gets to Be Smart did mention No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (translated by Omid Tofighian) which is sitting on my shelves waiting for me, so I might pick that up as well. As for my other project The Invisible Cities, we are focusing on Sierra Leone and Paraguay in November. December is a catch up month (so no new countries) and we will be back next year, starting with Algeria and Singapore.

Hope you have a great reading month, don’t forget to read some non-fiction. November is also Novelllas in November (#NovNov) if you need an excuse to read some shorter books.


My #WITMonth did not go to well

Posted September 1, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 5 Comments

What I love about Women in Translation Month is that, for a short time, my social media is full of world literature. We have  a short period of time when people consider reading more diversely with books from all over the world. I honestly  love how many recommendations I find and seeing people enjoying books I have read. Is this the feeling lovers of popular literature have all the time? It seems like every year the amount of people involved is larger than the last, and I hope that slowly we see more and more considering world literature when diversifying their reading.

Having said that, I am disappointed in how much I participated in #WITMonth, I only managed to read two books. I feel like I am not reading enough but I did finish four books this month and I probably should be happy with that. Granted I am jealous of those people that manage to read 200 books a year. Nine years ago, I was close to achieving that, reading 170 books, but it has been over five years since I have managed anything over a hundred.

First book I read in August was Hell of a Book by Jason Mott, which was the pick for my book club. I was not sure what to expect from this one, but I did enjoy the experience. The novel had a style unlike anything else I have read. The way it blended a story of an unnamed author and his experiences, while comparing it to the experience of a young wide-eyed boy known only as The Kid or Soot. The novel had this weird magical realism vibe, it reminded me of a Charlie Kaufman film (or novel). It was a unique way to explore the issue of racism in America.

My first book for WITMonth was The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell), which was one of my most anticipated releases for 2021. Her first collection of short stories to be translated into English, Things We Lost in the Fire, remains one of my favourite collections. This was originally written earlier but because of the success of Things We Lost in the Fire, Megan McDowell translated this collection. I enjoy the writing style of Enriquez and while this was not as good, I like seeing the progression of her writing style. Her first novel (which she published in Spanish last year) should be released next year, which I believe is called Our Share of the Night, so that is something to look forward to.

I did have to take a detour from WITMonth to read At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop (translated by Anna Moschovakis) because it was due back at the library. This won the 2021 International Booker Prize and what a great piece of literature. I did not get a chance to read the entire International Booker longlist this year but from what I have read, this would be my favourite. It tells the story of two Senegalese men who have been sent off to The Great War to fight for France. This is the first time they are left their village and experiencing the outside world. Their experiences of the world are not what they expected, not only having to deal with war, but also the psychological damage, the inhumanity of humans, racism & even problems with colonialism. It is a tragic novel but one that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Finally, my last book for the month was also translated by Megan McDowell, it was Nervous System by Lina Meruane. This Chilean book had so much to offer, and I think reading it during a pandemic was the right time. It tells the story of illness, displacement, and struggling to hold ourselves together. The novel was packed with clinical information on the body and illnesses and while it was interesting to learn the plot felt too absent. I wanted to enjoy this book, I just struggled, and it was missing something to tie everything together. Without the success of Lina Meruane’s other book Seeing Red, I cannot imagine this would have been translated into English, but that is just my opinion.

For the Invisible Cities Project, I should have read something from South Korea or Nigeria, which I failed to do, I have read plenty of books from South Korea, and I am sure I own something from Nigeria too. September is focusing on Chile and Palestine, two countries I have covered already, but I could read some more, or maybe even start something from Guinea or Sweden for October. I do have to announce that in November the two counties we want to focus on are Sierra Leone and Paraguay. I feel like I am falling behind on trying to read a book from every country but thankful the Storygraph challenge helps me track my progress. This has been a great project and I really enjoy the discussions.

Reading Diversely, #WITMonth and Other Ramblings

Posted August 1, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

“Diversifying your reading” has always been a much talked about topic in the bookish community. From blogging to BookTube to BookTok, this has constantly been a popular topic, and for good reason. It is very easy to fall into a trap when it comes to our reading. I have talked about this before but when I first started getting into reading, I relied heavily on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list to help explore “good” literature. The problem with that was it is very heavily male dominated, and I also quickly discovered I was reading far too much American literature. So, when I see people talking about diversifying their reading and they keep referring to American literature (an African American author, an Asian American author, etc) I can see where this is coming from, but I also feel like this is a problem that I am still trying to break out of. I am not American, but I can see just how much American literature dominates the literary world. While I see people are trying to diversify their reading it can get a little frustrating to know that they are not paying too much attention to reading from other countries as another avenue to be more diverse. However, I’m not here to be judgmental of other people’s reading journeys, I’m here to talk about my own reading and the journey that I took.

For a long time, I thought people should be reading whatever they want to read, and I still believe this, but we need to be more aware if we are trying to be diverse. It was not till I started tracking my reading via a spreadsheet I discovered my own bias. I think it is important to be aware of our biases and work towards more reading equality. This is a journey that everyone needs to discover for themselves, and I constantly feel the need to revisit my own journey. I think I am doing well on reading the world, it is just nice to self-reflect from time to time and this has been on my mind for a while. I am probably rehashing some old thoughts that I have blogged about in the past, but I want to talk about what’s on my mind, and I think it’s useful to understand just how much this does affect my reading journey.

With WITMonth coming up, I thought it was a good time to remind myself of my own biases in my past reading and check my current journey. Because WITMonth has been a big part of my own journey in diversify my reading. I started to read translations when I discovered, through my reading spreadsheet, that 95% of the books I was reading were from American authors, but it was WITMonth that helped me continue that journey as I started exploring women in translation. For those who don’t know, WITMonth is dedicated to exploring more women in translation during the month of August. For me, I try to dedicate the whole month to only reading women in translation, but that is not always the case, so it’s not mandatory, just a major focus. I am excited to see what everyone is reading but I am not going to talk about all the books I hope to read, I know that I am a mood reader, and I cannot schedule my reading. I do wish I was less of a mood reader; it would be so much easier if I could stick to a reading plan. Past experiences have taught me not to push myself in ways where I know it would not work. I have many books on my shelves that I do hope to read and there is always the library, so I will just see where my reading takes me.

I may have to rant about this in a future post but being a mood reader really does not help me when it comes to all the projects I want to be involved with, book club or the Invisible Cities Project. I do try to make Invisible Cities my focus, even if I am not keeping up to date with the project, I am loving the community on Discord. It is just such a joy to see what people are reading and I love following people on their reading journey. Thankfully the Invisible Cities have made some changes, which means our focus will now be on two countries a month instead of three. So, in August we are doing South Korea and Nigeria, September is Chile and Palestine, followed by Guinea and Sweden for October.

I am really looking forward to seeing what everyone is going to be reading in the Invisible Cities Project as well as for Women in Translation Month. There are just so many amazing books to read, I try prioritising my own books, so I think I will be making a few trips to the library. I am excited to watch more people explore the literature I love to read. These both are great projects and a good way to push yourself towards exploring different writers from different countries. I hope it will encourage more people to read translated literature and continue their journey in diversification.

If you are looking for some recommendations for Women in Translation Month, here are some suggestions

2021 Mid Year Check-In

Posted July 1, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments

We have reached the middle of the year, well technically July 2nd is the middle, but we will avoid being too technical. I will try not to complain about the lack of reading I have done so far in 2021, or the fact that I have not written in this blog in so long. While these facts are weighing heavily on my mind, I am trying to be a little more positive. All in all, 2021 has been a good year for me, while I would like to have an income again, I have been blessed with a relatively stress-free year, full of love and support. I do want to go through my reading highlights of the year as a form of a half-yearly check in.

Firstly, there is the Invisible Cities project, which has been so much fun. I have really enjoyed seeing people read books from the different countries, and while I have not been keeping up with my goals for this project, it is a joy to be involved. There is still time to join (check out the Discord), in July we are focusing on Israel, Ethiopia and Panama. August will be South Korea and Nigeria, we decided to reduce the number of countries because people wanted to read from every country, and we did not want anyone to feel like this is a struggle when they try to keep up. I might as well announce that in September the countries we are forcing on are Chile and Palestine. If you are interested in reading books from around the world, you are more that welcome to join us, there is no requirements to read from these counties. They are a structured way to explore the world.

I have only read 27 books so far this year, for me that is a low figure and I feel like I was in a reading slump for most of the year. I tried to combat the slump but reading some crime novels, as they serve as palate cleansers for me. Crime novels often get me out of a slump but have not been that effective this time around. Thankfully I do feel like I am out of this slump, and I can get back to my normally reading schedule. Let’s look at some of the highs and lows of the past six months.

I started off the year reading Dead Man Switch by Tara Moss which was a fun little Australian crime novel set in 1940s Sydney, but then I read Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated by Elisabeth Jaquette). This book was amazing and devastating, it still haunts me, but worth it. I finally read Themystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh, a book I’ve been wanting to read but the 1669 page count was intimating, however it was very readable and because it’s a blend of emails, chat logs, photographs and more, I flew through the book. A low point in my reading was because of a book club book, called Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. This book was not my style, there was a point in the novel, where the narrator described everything, they picked up at a supermarket, and that type of writing feels tedious to me. I also did not enjoy Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, it was described as a feminist mythology retelling, but it was pretty much the same story, just from a woman’s perspective. I did not see any difference in the story at all, and I prefer a retelling to offer something different, instead of the same story told by a different major character.

The true reading highlight so far this year is discovering Carmen Maria Machado. At the recommendation of Stephanie from That’s What She Read and Books in the Freezer, I picked up In The Dream House and fell in love with that book, so much so, that I had to read Her Body and Other Parties soon after. While I loved the short story collection, her memoir just hit differently and quickly became a new favourite. I loved the way she wrote about her of experiences but the fact that she wrote it in second person really felt like she was including others who have suffered from domestic abuse into the story.

Having a look at my reading stats, I am surprised just how different my reading has been so far this year. The fact that 50% of the reading has been digitally (ebooks and audiobooks) was surprising, and almost 70% of the books came from the library, even though I have so much to read on my shelves. I am still focusing on world literature, but only 60% were books translated, which feels low to me, but I think due to the fact that I’ve read so little and trying to read my book club books, it does make sense. Hope everyone has a better reading experience and would love to hear what books have been the highlights so far in 2021.