I guess it goes without saying that it’s been a terrible terrible year. Amidst all this turmoil however, books shone through the darkness like a beacon of hope. For many including myself, they offered me comfort, respite and some form of distraction, at least for a little while. Many people quarantined in their homes for weeks and months held onto stories like drowning people holding onto the last floating fragments of a boat, and this is what helped them get safely onto shore. And now we’re all here, at the end of a bleak year, yet a year which has taught us the meanings of duty, fortitude, hope and love for the simple things in life.
Number of books read: 61
Number of reread books: I reread a total of 15 books this year, which is quite a significant number compared with previous years. Sometimes it felt like I was rereading books more than I was actually reading new ones, which in hindsight makes total sense seeing how I needed all the comfort I could get, and that includes revisiting my old favourite books. Rereading the Harry Potter series, The Night Circus, Frankenstein, This is Going To Hurt, and many others, felt akin to being embraced by a long-missed friend and they helped me survive some of the most painful periods of my life.
Number of translated books read: I read 14 translated books this year, and while I am relatively happy with that number, I definitely want to read more next year. Since I am only fluent in English and Maltese, translated work offer me the chance to expand my literary horizons and open the doors onto different cultures and perspectives. Translation is also a work of art in and of itself and you could say that reading a translated book is like reading the same story from two different authors. The majority of the translated work I read this year were Russian and French but there’s also a few Greek, Italian, Japanese and Portuguese.
Genres most read: Fiction dominates the scene here, but I did manage to read 13 non-fiction books this year, which personally is quite a feat considering how I used to avoid this genre like the plague. Most of the books I read were classics, followed by a couple of fantasy, literary fiction and historical fiction. I only managed to read 3 poetry collections this year, but the ones that I did read were simply incredible- Shelley, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sappho.
Average Book Length of 2020: 333 pages
Top 10 Books: This year I took my first tentative steps into the world of Russian literature and I have been utterly fascinated by the beautiful and honest way Russian authors depict the most essential aspect of the human experience. I think Russian literature is very distinct in the way it engages with the questions of the inner self while addressing the grand themes such as love, faith, morality and redemption. Suffering is quite a recurring theme, especially suffering as a means of redemption, which Dostoyevsky, amongst others, has explored quite extensively in his work. I started with The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, followed by Crime and Punishment and Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and finally, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Safe to say, these were the books that resonated with me the most this year. The Master and Margarita however is my top favourite and I will surely revisit it soon.
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
- A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
- Summer by Ali Smith
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare
- Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Collection
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
- Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- New favourite authors I discovered this year:
Rainer Maria Rilke: This year I am thankful to have discovered Rainer Maria Rilke-one of the German language’s greatest 20th century poets. I read Letters To A Young Poet back in March, which is a collection of letters Rilke wrote in reply to a student at a military academy, who had sent him some of his verses requesting an assessment of their value. These letters were written during a very important stage in Rilke’s artistic development and they are filled with remarkable insights into his ideas and his creative impulse. Rilke emphasises the importance for an artist to dig deep into himself and to seek a life of solitude which can best nourish his gift that allows him to create. However, his message is universal and anyone can immerse themselves into the flow of his writing. I am very much excited to read more of Rilke’s work next year, particularly The Book of Images and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment was my first book by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and surely not the last. The story follows the life of Raskolnikov, a destitute law student in Saint Petersburg who commits a murder without any remorse or regret. The story is less about the actual crime than the psychological condition of the main character as he slowly falls into a spiral of mental and emotional destruction. I was completely fascinated with the way Dostoyevsky delved deep into the complex mind of his characters in such a way that their thoughts and feelings became your own and it was very hard to avoid being immersed into the story. I felt Raskolnikov’s emotional turmoil, his crushing sense of ‘guilt’ and the fear of prosecution like they were my own. Dostoevsky has such a brilliant understanding of human nature
Mikhail Bulgakov: I owned a copy of The Master and Margarita for many years, bought purely for its exquisite cover with no inkling of its inner beauty. This book took me by surprise, mainly for it’s multitude of different elements that together make up something quite unique and striking. There are elements of political satire, dark comedy, magical realism and Christian themes and theologies intermixed with talking cats, a Faust-reminiscent Satan, vampires and Pontius Pilate with a migraine. I’ve been looking up more of Bulgakov’s work to read next year, and the ones on top of my list are Heart of a Dog and The White Guard.
Wishing you all a wonderful new year and may books bring you comfort in times of need x